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Art Lander’s Outdoors: April is crappie month in Kentucky; vary tackle and techniques for success

A crappie is a crappie… well not exactly.

The two species found in Kentucky waters look a lot alike, but their seasonal movements and habitat preferences are slightly different, so anglers need to vary their tackle and techniques for success.

Here’s some strategies and observations about fishing in April, arguably our best month to catch crappie:

Black Crappie (Image from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

White Crappie (Image from Wikipedia Commons)

• Black crappie (Promoxis nigromaculatus) are the first to move up into shallow water in the spring, followed by white crappie (promoxis annularis).

From tagged crappie, monitored by radio telementry, fishery biologists have learned that black crappie not only move up earlier but into much shallower water than white crappie.

• Some of the best crappie fishing lakes in central Kentucky include Green River Lake, Lake Cumberland, Taylorsville Lake, and backwater areas and creek mouths of the Ohio River from Cincinnati, downriver to Louisville.

• Finding concentrations of fish is the first order of business in the spring since it’s a period of almost continual transition.

Generally in major reservoirs, crappie move seasonally, spring and fall, from deep water to shallow water, using creek channels as highways.

A good technique for finding crappie is long-line trolling. The advantage is being able to cover a lot of water at various depths, at one time.

Start fishing at the mouths of tributaries when water temperatures climb into the 50s. As water temperatures warm into the 60s, crappie will begin to move up into shallower water, with the male fish moving up first.

he Blakemore Road Runner (top) and Leland’s Lures Fin Spin Jig Head, tipped with a plastic bait, are top lures for vertical jigging for crappie. (Photo by Art Lander, Jr.)

Long-line trolling targets suspended fish, pre-spawn and later, post-spawn when they come off the nest.

The longest rods, 10 to 16 feet in length, are arrayed on both sides of the front of the boat, held in place by rod holders, with 8-foot rods placed in rod holders in the back of the boat.

Crappie trolling rods have soft tips. It’s a reaction bite, so crappie often hook themselves as the boat drifts along in the wind, or is powered by the trolling motor.

Spinning reels are spooled in 4-pound test line and the jigs fished typically range in weight from 1/32 to 1/8-ounce, depending on the depth you want the bait to run.

In a typical spring scenario, crappie may be holding at a range of depths, suspended over a channel as deep as 20 to 25 feet, or over the shallower adjacent flats.

Long-line trolling helps the angler pinpoint the exact depth at which crappie are holding on a given day since the jigs are fished at varying depths. Measure out the line on each rod, then wrap a rubber band around the reel spool to set the depth.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

The highly effective fishing technique also helps anglers dial in the color and size of the jigs crappie prefer on a given day, and the trolling speed.

During the spring, when weather conditions can change dramatically overnight, a successful pattern one day may not catch fish the next. For example, if a cold front moves through, crappie will pull back into deeper water.

• As crappie begin to move up on the flats pre-spawn or move away from the banks post-spawn, an effective fishing method is vertical jigging, which is most effective in stained water conditions.

This style of “single-pole” fishing allows the angler to probe structure more efficiently and is especially productive on submerged standing timber, submerged brush piles and the tops of old creek channels, now in 10 to 15 feet of water, where stumps may still be present

Fish with a 6-foot spinning rod, with the reel spooled in 8-pound test monofilament line. Jigs should have blades to add “thump,” and should range in weight from 1/8-ounce to 3/16-ounce.

The rod tip should be moved up and down continually, as the cover is probed and the bait is kept just off the bottom.

The Blakemore Road Runner and Leland’s Lures Fin Spin Jig Head, tipped with a plastic bait, are top lures for this type of crappie fishing.

• Think of 65-degree water as a good indication that the crappie spawn has started or is about to start, as some black crappie may already be on the nest, and most white crappie will be soon.

The duration of the spawn is usually a week or two but the start and end of the spawn may vary from year to year. In large reservoirs, differences in water conditions — temperatures, water color (turbidity) and lake levels — may vary dramatically from the headwaters to the dam, and affect the timing of the spawn.

Some of the best crappie fishing lakes in central Kentucky include Green River Lake, Lake Cumberland, Taylorsville Lake, and backwater areas and creek mouths of the Ohio River from Cincinnati, downriver to Louisville. (Photo from US Army Corps of Engineers photo/Green River Lake)

The waters of west-facing banks of lakes, which receive more afternoon sun, may warm up sooner and attract early-spawning black crappie. Chunk rock and gravel, which holds heat, is a favorite nesting habitat.

The male black crappie guarding the nest can make the spawning period an aggressive bite, but anglers are cautioned to not get too close to the banks, as black crappie tend to spook easily. The best strategy is to keep the boat 15 to 25 yards off the bank and cast jigs to likely cover.

When black crappie move to the banks they can be caught from a variety of depths and cover such as — laydowns, trees that fell from the banks to the water, flooded grass, brush and willows, and rip rap along lakeside roadways or boat ramps.

When white crappie come to the banks, they tend to prefer wood cover. At that time a traditional fishing method is fishing live minnows rigged on fiberglass or cane poles with a float, placing the baited hook down into flooded limbs, around dock pylons and in holes around logs and other floating debris.

April is crappie month in Kentucky. Get out there and catch some slabs.

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