Crappie time is here

By Lee McClellan

Spring has sprung all across Kentucky. Air temperatures nipped at 80 degrees earlier this week and water temperatures are over 60 degrees on many lakes.

Black crappie are moving along rocky banks now in lakes that have them.

“With the longer photoperiod and the warmer temperatures, the white crappie are moving up to the shallows,” said Jeff Crosby, central fisheries district biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

The big twins of western Kentucky, Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, along with Green River Lake and Taylorsville Lake all receive oodles of fishing pressure for the crappie that swim in their waters. However, Kentucky is also blessed with other less known waters holding bountiful populations of crappie that don’t receive the adulation and fishing pressure of their more well-known brethren.
While recognized for its excellent largemouth bass fishing, wood strewn 2,315-acre Yatesville Lake in Lawrence County holds good numbers of quality white crappie.

Population sampling in the lake showed a healthy number of crappie from 10 to 13 inches, with larger fish sprinkled in there as well. The crappie in Yatesville Lake earned a good rating 2020 Fishing Forecast compiled by the Fisheries division of Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. 

Yatesville Lake, near the West Virginia border, more resembles a flatland reservoir with abundant woody cover more than a mountain lake. Probe the fallen treetops and submerged trees with live minnows suspended under a bobber and adjust the depth until you get bites. The timbered coves and banks near the confluence of Blaine and Greenbrier creeks hold crappie. 

“In the upper part of Blaine Creek at the Rich Creek boat access, we’ve placed fish structures and cut down trees for bank anglers to catch crappie,” said Kevin Frey, Eastern Fisheries District biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “There are numerous pull-offs along KY 32 for bank anglers. It is good fishing in that area in spring.”

One of the crappie sleepers flows off Pine Mountain all the way to northern Kentucky. The Kentucky River holds considerable numbers of crappie a foot long or better. “The river goes in cycles, but there are some good fish in there,” Crosby said. “The crappie in the Kentucky like those creek mouths and backwater areas with little current.”

Tributaries at their confluence with the Kentucky River have abundant root wads, undercut banks and washed in treetops and brush. Probe all of these with live minnows suspended under a bobber or with 1/16-ounce chartreuse Roadrunner style spinner baits dressed with a matching 2-inch curly-tailed grub.

“Another flowing water to consider is the Ohio River. It is really, really good for crappie right now,” Crosby said. The Ohio River offers good crappie fishing from Ashland downstream to the Purchase Region in far western Kentucky.

Crosby recommends backwater areas along the river, often formed where tributaries meet the main stem of the Ohio. “Target brushy areas with live minnows in those backwater areas,” he said.

April is a good month to catch large white crappie 11 inches and longer on Barren River Lake in Allen and Barren counties. Known throughout the Midwest and upper South as a superior largemouth bass lake and written up in national magazines, Barren River Lake holds a stable population of black crappie as well, which now make up 60 percent of the total crappie population in the lake.

Casting banks composed of pea gravel with lime-green 2-inch curly-tailed grubs rigged on red 1/8-ounce leadheads is a productive presentation for black crappie. Check the map for recently installed habitat structures on Barren River Lake on the “Find a Place to Fish” ​page on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website at These habitat structures make productive places for fishing shallow for spawning white crappie on Barren River Lake.

Try these overlooked, but productive, places for crappie fishing this spring. This is the best time of year to catch a limit of tasty crappie.