Some folks are catching crappie; others are wondering what’s up.
The early phases of spawning this year for Kentucky Lake crappie have many anglers off guard as to just what timetable the fish are on. Warmer days this week have really heated up surface temperatures and lake levels have been rising slowly.
That combination normally stimulates a transition for crappie to leave deep water venues and slowly stairstep their way toward spawning territory. To some degree that has been happening but fish have been reluctant to target structure in the form of stakebeds, stump fields and brushpiles in midrange depths this week.
Reports have been coming in from a few successful anglers and, yes, there’s been some improvement but the overall scenario has been somewhat inconsistent. Seems the fish haven’t gotten the memo that it’s time to blitz toward structure and shallow shorelines.
Most of the crappie caught this week were taken by boats long lining Road Runners and curly tail grubs as the fish still seemed to be staging out away from spawning spots and suspended. Those using spider rig techniques have done well too, as the multi-pole presentations trolled slowly with their buffet of jigs and live minnows continuing to pay dividends.
Covering a lot of water seems to be the key as fish are not relating to structure. They’re overdue to head toward a structure-oriented pattern but thus far, that hasn’t happened.
Pontoons and boats drifting or dragging which have mastered the art of slow trolling and locking in on the right depth and speed have been the most successful these last few weeks.
However, there are a lot of boats that seem to be doing the right thing but in the wrong location. Not every boat trolling the vast waters of Kentucky Lake have found buried treasures. So, if you’ve had tough luck at times you’re not alone.
Depths of 8 to 14 feet were holding several fish earlier in the week but fish seemed to move up as water temperatures climbed. By midweek, anglers working the 7- to 10-foot depth range — some even less than that — seemed to be finding increased activity.
Up Big Sandy anglers that were finding scattered fish in 18- to 25-foot depths last week had to adjust and move toward shallower water this week. Places that were void of fish last week seemed to be attracting a few fish this week.
Some increased activity was reported the last few days in the New Hope and Country Junction sector.
Surface temperatures started the week off near the 60- to 61-degree range and warmed to the mid-60s by Tuesday courtesy of nice warm sunshine and light winds.
A few male crappie were caught in the last few days that showed the biological clock was ticking. Males exhibit a slightly darkening color phase as spawning time nears and that started showing up late last week here in the Paris Landing sector.
Still, male crappie have been reluctant to blitz toward shallow spawning grounds and take on their territorial attitude, as is usually the case the first week to 10 days of April.
Water color has cleared considerably the last few days in the Paris Landing sector as well as up Big Sandy and West Sandy.
Lake levels climbed a few inches each day and at midweek were up to the 357-feet range. That’s up about a foot from last week at this time and somewhat ahead of TVA’s normal curve for early April.
SHALLOW WATERS ROUGH, TOO
Meanwhile, somewhat confused are shallow water crappie anglers who have been casting curly tail grubs around shallow stakebeds and gravel banks. Some have used slip bobbers while working the prespawn spots that traditionally produce this time of year, but shallow zones have been mostly unproductive thus far.
Also slow have been vertical fishing techniques where boats have been stalking main lake dropoffs in the main lake sector. Manmade fish attractors such as stakebeds and brushpiles have not paid their normal dividends at this stage of April.
There have been a few exceptions for some lucky anglers, but the overall bite hasn’t been what it should be, given the recent upswing in weather conditions and slow rising lake levels.
However, those boats using the pulling, long lining and spider rig techniques experiencing success seemed to like what’s going on just fine. Some fish have been staging out over open water flats and playing their game the last few weeks.
Anglers should see improvement each passing day so perhaps the fish are just a bit slow to kick things in high gear as to active spawning phases. Until that happens the lion’s share of spring crappie anglers are waiting in the wings for fish to occupy traditional spawning territory.
Sharing some concern for the spring fishing saga have been bass fishermen here on Kentucky Lake who have experienced tough times of their own.
Catch rates have been off in several recent tournaments with low numbers taken across the field of competitors. Despite some decent weather and lake levels the bass bite has been sluggish too.
A lot of veteran bass teams are having trouble catching a limit in weekend tournaments. Some are grumbling about the Asian carp saga. Others yearn for the return of aquatic vegetation that seemed to really help the overall bass fishery.
With rising lake levels and warmer surface temps, bass should be moving up to shallow gravel banks and perhaps out from pockets in bays, awaiting prespawn phases. Male buck bass should be showing up in decent numbers as bays heat up but it seems that’s not the case.
Crankbaits are still the ticket but more anglers are turning to shallow runners this week plus Texas-rigged craws and similar variations. Spinnerbaits and swim baits are popular choices too, and topwater should sooner enter the picture.
Several good bass and crappie anglers have struggled this spring to find the missing parts of the Kentucky Lake fishing puzzle. Seems a lot of fish just haven’t been playing by the old rulebook.
STEVE McCADAMS is The Post-Intelligencer’s outdoors writer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.