Mar 20, 2024

Let's Go Fishing

Kentucky Lake 3/14/24 

By Steve McCadams, Professional Guide/Outdoor Writer (


Time to turn the page. Spring officially arrive Tuesday despite chilly temps that sort of want to hang around. Best not trade in the coveralls on a screen door just yet; March is still in charge. Sometimes she’s an unpredictable month; known for her Ides that blow the treetops sideways with a howl while also blowing the cap off your head.

Fishermen can’t complain much as the last few weeks have delivered a dose of early spring weather. Trees are screaming spring with all their budding displays and until the last few days it has been short sleeve shirt temps. It’s fair to say the weather roller coaster has a few more thrills left. Sometimes even early April can deliver surprises.

Kentucky Lake’s late winter and early spring fishing scene has been mostly kind to bass and crappie anglers. For weeks now fishermen have been out in force, often picking their days and soaking up warm sunny conditions when tolerable winds allowed pleasant outings. Crappie fishermen are logging some nice stringers and they already had a nice start before spring arrived on the calendar.

Surface temps this week have climbed to the 57-degree range. Actually, there was a day or two when readings were higher than that back in shallow bays. A couple of recent cool snaps sort of put the brakes on the rapid warm up that was underway. Lake levels are up slightly from last week and were dancing around the 354.8 range at Kentucky Dam this week. Watercolor remains clear across the reservoir.

TVA’s curve for reservoir management has Kentucky Lake staying at the low ebb of winter pool—around the 354-elevation range---until April 1 when filling begins. The curve allows the reservoir to slowly rise to summer pool elevation of 359 on or around May 1 each year. All the lake level predictions are always subject to heavy rainfall so there are several variables in the equation each spring. Right now, things are pretty much on schedule.

Most of the nice stringers of crappie are coming from midrange depths of 9 to 13 feet but there are other depths giving up fish too. As surface temps warm more movement takes place as both crappie and bass are on the threshold of migrating toward spawning spots.

Once surface temps warm into the 62-to-66-degree range active spawning phases for crappie kick in. Some bass are known to start around that range too of not earlier. Smallmouth have a reputation of spawning sooner than largemouth. Bottom line is Kentucky Lake’s fishing scene, while still in prespawn phases, is about to kick into high gear.

Each spring male crappie move into shallow areas somewhat ahead of the females and while on the magic march their pigmentation begins to turn darker. Due to hormonal changes male crappie take on that beautiful purple or dark shade as active spawning phase arrives, which for us on Kentucky Lake has traditionally been the first two weeks of April. Weather conditions can alter the timetable.

In times past I’ve seen active spawning phases for bass and crappie kick in the last week of March. That’s somewhat unusual but an extended spell of warm weather delivers rising surface temperatures which accelerate the biological clock. Then there are times when fish have moved up shallow and right on the doorstep of spawning only to have drastic cold fronts descend and upset the apple cart. Fishermen really grit their teeth when that happens, often threatening to take the weather forecasters off their Christmas list! 

Both overnight cold fronts and flooding conditions greatly alter the fishing scene when they show up uninvited to the party. Rapidly rising lake stages tend to scatter fish, making it tough for anglers to establish a pattern. Cold fronts are detrimental too. Quick changes in surface temperatures confuse spawning crappie. Often times egg laden females will back off the banks away from spawning habitat and suspend, opting to ride things out instead of dropping their eggs under adverse conditions. Stability of weather accompanied by a slow or gradual rise in lake levels has proven to be the best combination for spawning and fishing here on the big pond.

Meanwhile, dandy stringers are being taken as fish continue to move up and stage in midrange depths. Once surface temps reach the spawning range of 62 to 66 degree the fish will make a blitz toward spawning structure. Just how shallow crappie and bass venture toward shorelines has a lot to do watercolor (turbidity) too. Dingy or stained water seems to warm a bit faster, and it lures the fish to shallower depths for spawning.

A few old timers on Kentucky Lake recall fond memories of fishing the buck bushes and other shoreline habitat when muddy waters brought the fish right up on the shorelines to spawn. Dingy water filtered out sunlight, so the fish headed to shallow areas to find their comfort zones. While some of that still occurs at times here, the lion’s share of crappie nowadays choose to spawn out away from shorelines in the 5 to 10-foot depth range. Manmade fish attractors such as stake beds and brush piles or natural stump fields can fulfill most of that need.

In future articles I’ll talk more about specifics and how the reservoir has changed over the years. Meanwhile, already producing are a variety of techniques as fish continue to stair-step their way toward spawning zones. This week success stories have come in from boats long lining Road Runners and twister tail grubs out over main lake ledges and flat in 10-to-14-foot depths.

Those slow-moving spider rig style presentations are producing too. Anglers experiment with color combinations and push a buffet of baits out over suspended crappie staging in la-la land filling coolers in the process. Vertical presentations of tube and hair jigs always work great as anglers locate structure on their sophisticated sonar units and cherry pick the fish relating tight to cover.

Not to be forgotten are the light tackle guys who sometimes back off and cast jigs or minnows toward shallow venues or out over submerged structure. They too scored hefty stringers at times. Kentucky Lake has always offered a variety of depths and patterns that pay dividends at the same time. That’s one of the many reasons we’ve got a great fishing lake!!!

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