Kentucky Lake is the Crappie Capital of America and I feel very lucky this big, beautiful body of water is in my home state of Tennessee.
Fed by the Tennessee River, the lake is 160,000 acres in size and has more than 2,300 miles of scenic shoreline.
And though crappie is king, the reservoir is also very well known for its bass, catfishing, bluegill and other fisheries.
The Tennessee Valley Authority elevation curve begins to rise annually in April and typically the lake is raised to summer pool by May 1. This is an elevation of 359 ft. which is approximately five feet above winter pool.
As it starts to rise, crappie fishermen move in to fish the shoreline habitat like weed beds, buck brush, gravel banks and points.
(Credit: Chuck Sutherland)
Bass anglers do the same thing, by the way.
The shallow waters begin to collect more and more fish, as they make their spring migration inward from greater depths, and the fishermen follow suit.
Once April gets underway the crappie, King of the Panfish, go into the peak of their spawn, traditionally around the time the dogwoods bloom. Of course, the peak depends largely on the weather patterns for a particular year, and this year everything seems to be running about two weeks behind.
The crappie spawn hinges on water temps and the mark falls in the 62 to 63 degree range. This is also good for bass, and as noted these temperatures typically coincide with the month of April.
(Credit: Chuck Sutherland)
Since Kentucky Lake is such a massive waterway, several different techniques are going to be working in various regions of the lake at the same time. Crappie anglers may be vertical fishing over fish attractors in water depths of 6 to 10 feet in one region, while other anglers are successfully slow-trolling spider rigs elsewhere. Still others might be casting spinning tackle into the shallows, or fishing curl-tail grubs beneath slip corks over gravel beds. As noted, all techniques are apt to work, depending on your whereabouts on this large reservoir. Also note, multiple techniques for bass will also work because the reservoir is so large that conditions are apt to vary from region to region.
When you go, be sure to carry you long jigging poles as well as your spinning tackle for varied techniques of fishing you'll find along Kentucky Lake.
As of this writing surface temps are in the low 60-degree range and the elevation is 1 ft. lower than the norm for April, but look for both elevation and temps to rise as spring progresses. Sunny days and milder nights are definitely going to make the water temps rise, and that's going to influence fishing success.
Whether you are fishing for the white or black subspecies, or for trophies or fresh fillets, Kentucky Lake offers it all to the crappie angler.
My good friend and crappie guide Steve McCadams agrees the spring crappie spawn is in for a jump-start. He said productive and popular crappie areas have been the Big Sandy and West Sandy regions, as well as the area around Paris Landing. Reports say the biological clock for crappie is about to go off and the spawn will be full-steam ahead.
Kentucky Lake has long been known for producing large crappie, with 2-pounders not uncommon and some even tipping the scales at 3 pounds. There is no doubt this lake has withstood the test of time and continues to produce year after year for thousands of anglers.
McCadams also reports bass anglers boated some really nice 7 and 8 pound, pre-spawn bass in early spring while fishing soft 5-inch Bass Pro Shadee Shad jerkbaits on shallow gravel, or ¼ ounce spinnerbaits around vegetation and buck brush. Others are beginning to fish with Carolina-rigged plastic craws and worms with good results, and the topwater bite can't be that far away.
Small coves and pockets really seem to hold some nice fish so far this spring.
McCadams had also heard of some success coming from bass anglers fishing gravel banks with shallow-running, square-lipped crankbaits.
This time of year has Kentucky Lake crappie in the spotlight, but bass fishing is great, too. And, as summer approaches don't forget Kentucky Lake can offer some great catfishing, also.