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Archived Fishing Report

Bluegill/Shellcracker Spawn Begins; Lake Levels Recede

Written by Steve McCadams | Originally published 04/27/2017

After surging almost a foot above normal summer pool earlier this week Kentucky Lake is receding as TVA is spilling water through Kentucky Dam and really pushing water through the system. Heavy rains throughout the region influenced lake levels but so did high water on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers lately.

The reservoir has been above TVA’s normal curve for about two weeks, which inundated shoreline habitat late last week that was pretty much high and dry during mid-April. 

While the rising lake levels may have helped bass anglers who pursue the shallow bite pattern of grassbeds, buck bushes and willow trees it had a negative impact on crappie anglers who saw fish scatter the last week to ten days.

Presently the reservoir is falling several inches daily as TVA attempts to pull Kentucky Lake back down to its normal level. May 1 is the target date each year for summer pool elevation, which is 359.

Earlier this week the reservoir crested at 359.9 range at Kentucky Dam but has been falling steadily since. Projections for the weekend show a dramatic drawdown is underway as levels are predicted to be 357.7 by Friday night.

Water color remains quite clear across the reservoir. Surface temperatures have been in the 67 to 70 degree range this week but will likely increase to the mid-70’s the next few days. Saturday is expected to see a high of 82 degrees.

Bluegill and redear sunfish, referred to locally as shellcracker, are in their early spawning phases. Actually the shellcracker start a week or so prior to active phases for bluegill. That appears to be what’s happening too.

Although scattered, a few good shellcracker have been taken this week by anglers working the shallow grassbeds mixed with bushes. Baits of choice have been wax worms, red worms and crickets.

A few bluegill are hitting too but the best is yet to come. Once surface temps reach the mid 70’s watch for more aggressive activity as the males are just now beginning to occupy shallow shoreline habitat.

Not much bedding activity was taking place but by early next week more males will begin to blitz toward shallow spawning spots where mud and gravel bottoms will attract them.

Once males congregate active spawning phases are not far away. The first full moon in May usually triggers the switch too and the calendar says that will take place May 11. However, expect some good action to take place before and after that magic date.

Crappie are now in a post-spawn phase and somewhat scattered. Catch rates have diminished this week as fish seemed lethargic at times with most of the larger crappie backing away from structure and suspending in open water areas with very little interest in biting.

Several small fish are still being caught but most anglers have seen their stringer numbers fall off dramatically. That’s not unusual during the first week or two of the post spawn phase.

The bigger fish are somewhat stressed from the spawning ritual and pretty much give anglers the cold shoulder for a spell. That sluggish mood will last for a few weeks but by mid-May more fish will return to a structure oriented mood.

From long liners working the main lake areas to midrange and shallow water vertical style fishermen, seems all have dropped off this week as to their rate of success.

Rising lake levels likely influenced the post-spawn crappie to scatter a bit more than normal too so it was a double whammy to some degree.

Enjoying the quick rise have been bass fishermen who found a lot of stickups in which to toss a Texas rigged craw, worm and lizard this week not to mention a spinnerbait. It took a few days but bass started moving up and infiltrating weeds and bushes as baitfish quickly followed the rise.

Some anglers have been tossing topwater while others are rolling spinnerbaits over the abundance of shallow structure and landing several. Others are pitching and flipping jig and pig combos.

The falling lake levels will likely pull bass back to the outside structure line or near steep banks where a deep water comfort zone is close by.

A few boats have neglected the shallow bite pattern and chose to back off the banks and search for schools of fish that stayed out away from the shoreline on humps and secondary topography that offered deeper water.

Current will be a factor for a few days so bass anglers might be wise to target some island rims and points where baitfish will be pushed by the moving water.

With the warm days taking over and surface temps rebounding, anglers should see increased action in shallow areas from bass, bluegill and shellcrackers. The transition of the seasons is indeed underway.

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Bison Herd
Photo by Libby Mundy

Visitors to the Elk and Bison Prairie in Land Between The Lakes can almost always catch a glimpse of some bison. They are most frequently seen early in the morning and in the late afternoon.