It’s about time to catch some crappie

By Lee McClellan

Kentucky Afield Outdoors​

This is the fourth installment of the “Spring Fishing Frenzy" series of articles, detailing productive fishing techniques and opportunities across Kentucky. These articles will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. The series will continue until early summer.​

​It feels like spring is taking two years to arrive. We've experienced bouts of dismal cold rain and high muddy water, followed by glorious warm days that bring hope that spring has finally sprung. Some of these blissful days with temperatures breaking 65 seem to always fall during the work week, but by Saturday, it's raining with highs in the mid-40s. We've even witnessed snow spitting on the waning Saturday of March.

            Soon, the cold fronts will ease, the rays of the bright sun will warm the water and the crappie will bite. It is a great time of year in Kentucky.

            The annual Fishing Forecast produced by the Fisheries Division of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is a great way to find the state's productive crappie waters.

            “You have two options using the Fishing Forecast," said Jeff Ross, assistant director of Fisheries for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “If you are ahead of the game, you can read through the whole thing. You may find a familiar lake that catches your interest or a new one you haven't tried yet."

            Anglers who need to make a quick decision about where to crappie fish should consult the Fishing Forecast's Cheat Sheet.

“You can quickly find lakes that are rated good to excellent for crappie," Ross said. “On the online version of the forecast, click on the lake's name to information about it on the Find a Place to Fish page."

The page features driving directions, regulations for the waterbody and a list of the boat ramps. “The majority of the lakes have a link to the map of the habitat structures in the lake," he said. “Knowing the location of the habitat is good for crappie fishing since these fish are structure oriented."

Three waterbodies received “excellent" ratings for crappie in the 2022 Fishing Forecast: Taylorsville Lake in central Kentucky, Rough River Lake is west-central Kentucky and the Ohio River, which forms the state's northern border.

Due to Taylorsville Lake's proximity to Louisville, those who fish the lake in spring may question how the lake holds any crappie at all considering the fishing pressure. However, Taylorsville keeps cranking out nice white crappie year after year.

The lake holds an increasing number of crappie larger than the 10-inch minimum size limit. A good spawn in 2019 should sustain the fishery this year. Anglers should target the abundant shoreline cover in spring for these fish. Small white swimbaits fished on a 1/16-ounce Roadrunner spinner leadhead is a sleeper lure for Taylorsville Lake crappie.

Rough River Lake in west-central Kentucky has many crappie in the 7- to 10-inch range that should grow beyond the lake's 9-inch minimum size limit this year. Fish shallow water structures and rocky areas for crappie in spring on Rough River Lake. The tailwater downstream of the lake holds surprising numbers of large crappie.

The Ohio River doesn't spring to the mind of anglers when thinking of a premier crappie fishing destination, but the river earned an “excellent" rating in the 2022 Fishing Forecast. The backwaters and embayments hold crappie year-round; fish the brush and woody cover in these areas with live minnows. There is light fishing pressure on crappie in the Ohio River. This is a big river with barge traffic, so it's always a good idea to keep your life vest on while you're in a boat.

Eastern Kentucky has several lakes that earned a “good" rating for crappie in the 2022 Fishing Forecast.

Yatesville Lake in far eastern Kentucky resembles a cover-strewn flatland reservoir and holds many 10- to 13-inch crappie. Anglers should fish the woody cover in shallow areas near the confluence of Greenbriar and Blaine creeks. Fisheries crews have dropped abundant cover – including trees and other fish habitat - in the upper end of the Blaine Creek arm near the Rich Creek Boat Ramp. This cover offers productive crappie fishing in this stretch of the lake's headwaters.

Paintsville Lake is a unique crappie fishery with some black nose crappie to complement the 12- to 15-inch white crappie. It holds some smaller black crappie as well.

Anglers should travel to the upper end of the lake and into the Open Fork and Little Paint Creek arms for the best spring crappie fishing. This is not an arduous task as the upper end of the Paintsville Lake is exceptionally scenic with mature trees throwing shadows on the many boulders lining the bank of the lake.

Dewey Lake holds good numbers of white crappie from 11 to 13 inches long. The lake also offers some smaller black crappie mixed in with these fish. Dewey is a bank angler's dream, with abundant access along KY 302 on the southern shore of the lake offer brushy crappie cover within casting distance.

In southeastern Kentucky, Lake Cumberland's sprawling waters holds a burgeoning population of 12- to 14-inch crappie. Strong crappie reproduction in 2019 and 2020 should power the fishery in Cumberland this year. The upper lake offers excellent crappie fishing; the Fishing Creek arm is particularly productive.

South-central Kentucky's Barren River Lake possesses excellent crappie numbers and is one of the few waters in which the percentage of white and black crappie are nearly the same. Fisheries Division surveys show the number of larger white crappie are on the increase in the lake. The Find a Place to Fish webpage for Barren reveals the many fish attractors placed in the lake over the last several years. These are productive spring crappie fishing spots.

Venerable Kentucky Lake in west Kentucky is a regionally known destination, drawing spring crappie anglers for decades. Black crappie, which now make up the majority of the fish in the lake, move shallower earlier and stay shallow longer than white crappie. Anglers favor a lime green-colored grub – locals call the color “Kentucky Lake Green" or “John Deere Green." Anglers rig this green, curly-tailed grub on a red 1/8-ounce leadhead jig and toss it to the pea gravel banks. They retrieve it back slowly, similar to fishing a crankbait for bass, to fool the large black crappie in Kentucky Lake.

The new license year started March 1, so remember to purchase a fishing license if you plan to fish. Licenses and permits can be purchased online via and in person at various locations throughout the state.​

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