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Archived Fishing Report

Crappie Spawn Nears; Cold Spring Delays Timetable

Written by Steve McCadams | Originally published 04/11/2018

Would it every get here? Spawning time that is. That’s what legions of crappie fishermen who visit Kentucky Lake have been asking themselves for quite some time.

A stubborn spring has pushed back the timetable this year and anglers have endured tough times courtesy of cold, wet and rainy days that wore out their welcome.

Just last weekend snow flurries entered the picture and since then below average temperatures have lingered, further adding to the misery. Most anglers are wearing a frown, beat up and bruised by nasty weather. To say the catch rates have been down thus far for both bass and crappie anglers would be an understatement.

Many veteran crappie anglers from one end of the reservoir to the other are saying it’s one of the worst springs they’ve ever seen in terms of catching fish. The weather has indeed been nasty but even on a few rare days when winds didn’t gale the fishing has still been well below average.

Maybe things are about to change for the better. Warm days were arriving at midweek with sunshine beaming temperatures up to the high 70’s and even low 80’s for a day or two.

No doubt that will help the whole scenario as surface temperatures should rise dramatically by this weekend and perhaps reach the 60 degree range. Crappie really get going into active spawning phases when surface temps hit the 62 to 66 degree range with some stability.

Traditionally Kentucky Lake crappie begin moving toward shallow areas in late March and by the first week to ten days of April they are sometimes spawning. However, this year things have been different.

Surface temperatures in late March never warmed like normal and even in the second week of April were below normal. This week started off with surface temperatures in the 52 degree range and struggled to reach the 54 degree mark at midweek. 

Crappie are confused as are those who seek their whereabouts. Male crappie just began to show hormonal changes this week with their color change toward a dark purple appearance. That’s one of the first signs spawning is at the threshold.

Water color has been in good shape lately with a slight stain. Lake levels are about normal on TVA’s curve that saw reservoir filling begin on April 1 with a target date of May 1 for summer pool, which is 359. Elevation for the weekend is projected to be 356.7 range at Kentucky Dam. Upstream at New Johnsonville the forecast is 356.5.

So where are the crappie now? Yet another question plaguing anglers who have cast a wide net in their search. This time of year the fish should be working their way up, stair-stepping from deep sides of main lake ledges toward the upper sides of drop-offs. 

The fish leave deep venues as waters warm and days grow longer with extended hours of sunshine. The trip to spawning territory is normally temperature driven as they move to midrange depths via submerged sloughs and creek channels.

A normal year would see the prespawn phase in late March with crappie leaving the 20 foot depth range and entering midrange zones of 8 to 14 feet by early April. Then by the second week the blitz begins and fish head toward structure in two to eight foot depths where sunlight penetrates.

This year the fish didn’t get the memo. Even during the extended periods of cold weather Kentucky Lake anglers have learned to locate the deep hideouts and catch crappie long before spawning phases kicked in. 

Yet this year the fish have not staged in normal areas and numbers of medium to large fish have been difficult to come by at any depth. A variety of techniques---from long lining jigs to spider rigging and bottom bumping vertical presentations---have failed to produce.

More than a few veteran crappie anglers are concerned about the fishery. They’re doubting whether numbers of fish in the 12 to 14-inch size are out there in sufficient numbers. No doubt weak year classes have occurred a few years back and now that reality is showing up in the creel of daily anglers.

Asian carp are on the minds of most all anglers. Just how much they hurt the shad population or indirectly influence bass, crappie and bluegill’s forage base is still an unknown. Practically all sport fishermen feel the carp are detrimental to some degree.

Meanwhile, with the spawn about to get underway Kentucky Lake anglers are long overdue for some good days of fishing. A week or two of decent catches could heal the wounds of a stubborn spring that has thus far dealt a lethal blow.

Time will tell. The fish and the fishermen have been off balance.

Watch for things to improve dramatically these next few days and carry over well into next week. This year’s crappie spawn will be a week to ten days later than usual but could still rebound as the weather settles down.

Don’t give up on the fish and toss the tackle box out the window just yet. They too have been hammered by the nasty weather so let’s hope the days and weeks ahead allow spring to take over and right the ship.

If you’ve had a tough time finding and catching crappie you’re not alone. Better days are ahead.

Let the spawn begin!

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Honker Bay
Photo by John Mahler

Honker Bay, located near The Nature Station, is a great place to hike or simply stop to observe a beautiful sunset.