Frankfort, Kentucky - For years, anglers at Kentucky and Barkley lakes sought crappie in spring by jigging baits around drop-offs, fishing with minnows in shallow brush and probing stake beds with grubs. While these traditional methods worked well for white crappie, they are not nearly as effective nowadays because of the growing population of black crappie in both lakes.
Anglers who want to catch more fish from Kentucky's most popular crappie fishing lakes this spring need to change their techniques.
"People are still looking for white crappie," said Gerry Buynak, assistant director of fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. "According to our data, there are more 10-inch crappie in Kentucky Lake right now than we've seen since 1985. But 97 percent of the ones we collected in our trap nets are black crappie."
While white crappie still dominate Lake Barkley, black crappie now make up nearly 40 percent of the population. Buynak says anglers will find fish if they put away their white crappie techniques and target the many black crappie the lakes have to offer.
"Black and white crappie differ quite a bit overall," he explained. "Black crappie move shallow earlier and stay longer. They also prefer clearer water. People don't usually cast to rocky shorelines when fishing for crappie, and this is where the black crappie are in the spring."
Western District Fishery Biologist Paul Rister says fishing for black crappie is starting to heat up as the days turn warmer.
"On warm, sunny days in late February and early March, black crappie are up on those rocky shorelines taking advantage of clear water and warmer temperatures," he said. "You've got to key in on the western shorelines that get sun early in the morning."
Anglers should try curly-tailed jigs with 1/16-ounce jigheads, Rooster Tails and other small in-line spinners. Good jig colors include white, white with chartreuse, white with red, lime-green, chartreuse, blue and pink.
"You need something really light," said Rister. "The old standard is a minnow fished underneath a bobber, using a slow retrieve. Let it sit for several seconds, give it a bump, let it sit there, and continue to work it slowly."
Anglers fishing from boats should cast toward shallow, rocky shorelines. Both lakes possess this type of shoreline on the sides bordering Land Between the Lakes, although Barkley Lake is less rocky than Kentucky Lake overall. The lakes' shorelines are rockier towards the mouths of embayments.
Bank fishing in these areas is also productive. However, anglers must be careful not to spook fish in the shallow, clear water. "If you are fishing from a boat, you must stay back away from the bank and cast," Buynak said. "If you get too close to the bank, you're going to spook the fish."
As cold winter days give way to early spring, the time is right to target black crappie at Kentucky's two largest lakes. Anglers willing to update their fishing methods will find good prospects this year.
Kentucky and Barkley lakes have a 20-fish daily creel limit, 10-inch minimum size limit for both species of crappie. For complete fishing regulations, pick up a copy of the 2009-10 Kentucky Fishing and Boating Guide, available wherever fishing licenses are sold.
Author Hayley Lynch is an award-winning writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. She is an avid hunter and shotgun shooter.
[The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources manages, regulates, enforces and promotes responsible use of all fish and wildlife species, their habitats, public wildlife areas and waterways for the benefit of those resources and for public enjoyment. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, an agency of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, has an economic impact to the state of $4.5 billion annually. For more information about the department, visit our web site at http://www.fw.ky.gov/. ]