Spring can never come fast enough for crappie anglers. It’s the season we all wait for, when crappies emerge from the mysterious depths and congregate in shallow water where they are easily caught.
As water temperatures creep up toward 60 degrees, crappies inch their way toward the backs of spawning coves and creeks.
And while spring is certainly prime crappie time in Kentucky, it’s not the only time to catch these beloved panfish on the state’s lakes, rivers and reservoirs.
Kentucky offers some truly exceptional crappie fishing, including many places where you can catch them year-round.
Though most crappie lovers look forward to March and April, there are also opportunities to drop minnows around deep brush piles for winter crappies, or fish after dark using lights to attract them on summer nights.
Whatever your timing and tactic of choice may be, these are the best places for crappie fishing in Kentucky.
Cave Run Lake
Located within Daniel Boone National Forest east of Lexington, 8,270-acre Cave Run Lake is known for being a top muskie lake in Kentucky. But this impoundment on the Licking River is also a great crappie lake, and its reputation has only grown in recent years.
Where crappies are concerned, Cave Run Lake is generally better known as a numbers lake than a trophy fishery. Still, on a good spring day, it’s not unusual to walk away with a limit of fish all over 12 inches.
The best crappie fishing is generally in the upper end of Cave Run Lake, and finding woody cover is a prerequisite to finding fish. As in most Kentucky lakes, the transition toward shallow spawning grounds takes place throughout the month of March.
Before moving shallow, the mouths of creeks are key spots. Smaller creeks within the Beaver Creek Arm, like Skidmore Creek and Leatherwood Creek, are excellent.
By April, crappies are likely to be much closer to banks and the backs of creeks. The island near the Poppin Rock Boat Ramp and woody cover near the Bangor Boat Ramp—both on the North Fork Arm—are key areas.
As Cave Run Lake has aged, the lake has lost a lot of its naturally occurring cover. The Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources has been working to remedy the situation by placing structures like Christmas trees, stake buckets, and wooden pallet stacks in the lake.
Structures have been placed at a range of depths to attract crappie in various seasons. They’re all over the lake, with concentrations in the Scott Creek, Ramey Creek and North Fork Arms. Tight-lining with minnows and jigs around these structures is popular.
Green River Lake
Spanning about 8,200 acres on its namesake river, Green River Lake is similar in many ways to Cave Run Lake. It’s known mostly as a numbers lake for crappies, but it also produces some big fish.
White crappies have historically been dominant in Green River Lake, but numbers of black crappies have been on the rise in recent years. The lakeshore is almost completely undeveloped, and laydowns along the tree-lined banks are great targets during the spawn.
Green River Lake also has some stump fields and old flooded foundations that attract crappies. Human-created structures are also important here, and the state has sunk numerous brush piles and stake beds throughout the reservoir.
Spider-rigging is the go-to tactic in spring, with tube jigs tipped with Crappie Nibbles being a favorite offering. Be prepared to try multiple color patterns until you figure out what pushes the crappies’ buttons on any given day.
Areas where the water has some stain to it tend to be attractive to white crappies in particular and usually produce well in March and April. Key areas include the Green River Arm upstream from Corbin’s Bend and the middle to upper portion of the Robinson Creek Arm.
There’s often a great winter crappie bite here as well, though relatively few anglers target them this season. Starting in December, as the weather evens out, crappies stack up on deep brush piles. The bite is slower than in spring, but patience often pays off.
Green River Lake and the tailwater below it are also among Kentucky’s best walleye fisheries.
The Ohio River is famous for catfishing but seldom given its due as a great crappie fishery. In actuality, it offers some of the best crappie fishing in the Midwest in terms of both numbers and size. The key is to get off the main river and into its brushy backwaters.
Countless small and medium-sized creeks feed the Ohio River, and many of them form backwaters and embayments sheltered from the main river’s current. These quieter waters are loaded with brush and, it should come as no surprise, crappies.
The Ohio River is divided into pools by a series of locks and dams. Each pool offers crappie potential, but the Meldahl, Markland and Cannelton pools are among the best.
Look at any of these pools on a map, and it’s not hard to see where the creeks and backwaters are that might harbor crappies. Known crappie strongholds include the mouth of the Kentucky River in Carrollton, Yellow Bank Island in Owensboro, and the “Bayou” area in Paducah.
On the Meldahl Pool, a perennial hotspot is Cabin Creek, which enters the Ohio River just east of Maysville. Locust Creek has been known to produce crappies too, and White Oak Creek is another great spot on the Ohio side of the Meldahl Pool.
Shallow water in many of these creeks and embayments starts to warm up very early in the year, and a string of sunny days can trigger action as early as February.
The shallow crappie bite typically holds up around brush and timber well into May. Crappies often burrow deep into the thickest, snaggiest cover they can find, and anglers target them by tossing minnows beneath small floats as close to the brush as they dare.
A crappie powerhouse that extends across the state line from Tennessee, Kentucky Lake is a massive impoundment of the Tennessee River. The lake spans a gargantuan 160,000 acres, of which roughly 50,000 lie within Kentucky.
This reservoir is one of the few lakes in the state where black crappies are the dominant species. In most years, 15-inch fish are not uncommon. That said, the crappie populations here can swing wildly depending on the success of any given spawn.
Kentucky Lake is long and relatively narrow—generally 1.5 to 2 miles across—and its east and west banks are notched with dozens of feeder creeks that form embayments.
These creeks are ground zero for the spring crappie spawn, and most offer good fishing in fall, too. Almost all of them attract crappies, but the Blood River and Jonathan Creek embayments are almost universally regarded as the best.
Kentucky Lake doesn’t have a lot of visible cover, so it pays to look at the lake from a structure-oriented perspective. Crappies will be on flats adjacent to the creek channel early in the season, usually 10 to 15 feet deep. As the water warms and rises, they’ll head to the banks.
Live minnows and various jigs do the trick on crappies here. Lime green-colored curly tail grubs on 1/8-ounce jig heads are a local favorite.
Kentucky Lake is also one of the state’s most renowned bass-fishing lakes.
Lake Barkley is a reservoir on the Cumberland River. Spanning 58,000 acres, Barkley is Kentucky Lake’s next-door neighbor. The two lakes lie roughly parallel to one another and often considered to be twins.
They have similar crappie populations and typically go through identical year-class cycles. When the fishing is good on Kentucky Lake, it’s usually good on Lake Barkley, too.
But Lake Barkley gets considerably less fishing pressure than its more famous neighbor, making it a great place for serious crappie anglers who want to beat the crowds. Lake Barkley also has more visible cover in the form of brush, timber and laydowns, making it in many ways easier to fish.
Numerous embayments up and down Lake Barkley’s east and west banks provide crappie habitat, with Crooked Creek one of the best and most consistent. Several brush piles and Christmas trees have been sunk here. Eddy Creek is a great area, too.
Although Taylorsville Lake’s proximity to Louisville makes it one of the most pressured fishing lakes in Kentucky, this 3,050-acre lake on the Salt River continues to turn out great numbers of crappies. Big ones, too.
White crappies dominate the lake, favoring areas where the water has some color to it. Black crappies are also available, especially in lower lake areas where it’s a bit clearer.
As in many lakes, some of the best crappie fishing is in Taylorsville’s creeks and embayments, especially during the spring spawn. Woody cover is the ticket, and you’ll find a lot of old trees and other wood in places like the Beech Creek and Little Beech Creek embayments.
Ashes Creek is another hotspot. The state has sunk numerous brush piles and other habitat structures throughout Taylorsville Lake, including many in Ashes Creek and along the main Salt River arm between Timber Creek and Watts Creek.
Deeper brush piles are often productive for cold water crappies in wintertime, whereas timber in 5- to 6-foot depths fares better in spring. Try various colored tubes and curly tail grubs, and use a Roadrunner jig head for extra flash.
Created by the Wolf Creek Dam on the Cumberland River, 65,530-acre Lake Cumberland is the largest lake entirely within the state of Kentucky. It’s best known as a striper powerhouse plus for its trout mecca tailwater, but there’s also an excellent under-the-radar crappie fishery here.
The crappie fishing has been booming here ever since the lake was drawn down for dam repairs in 2007. By the time the lake was refilled, whole forests of brush and young trees had populated shallow areas of the lake.
The Fishing Creek Arm of the lake is especially good for crappie. Plenty of 12- to 14-inch fish are available, and if strong year classes continue, the fishing should just keep getting better.
Eastern Kentucky’s Fishtrap Lake is a relatively small reservoir of 1,130 acres on the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River. Crappies are noted for their high growth rate here, and fish measuring 13 to 15 inches are usually common.
Fishtrap Lake is drawn down over 20 feet in winter. Early in spring, before the lake is brought back up, crappie will concentrate on cover along the river channel. As soon as shallower habitat becomes available in April, they’ll head to the banks.
Low water also opens up a ton of bank access for shore fishing. For those with a boat, spider rigging and longline trolling are good tactics to cover water and pin down crappie locations.
Rough River Lake
The 5,100-acre Rough River Lake is a meandering, Y-shaped lake in western Kentucky. Though crappie populations are very cyclical here, plenty of keeper fish are usually available.
Crappie fishing is excellent throughout spring, but as the season changes, so do the best tactics.
Spider rigging on structure leading toward spawning flats is the way to go before crappie have spawned. Once spawning starts, tossing minnows under floats around shoreline brush is more effective.
There’s also good late spring fishing for post-spawn crappies along drop-offs. Some locals troll small crankbaits this time of year. Keep an eye out for brush piles sunk by the Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, especially in the Axtel and Laurel Branch areas.
Catch More Crappie
Be sure to read our easy guide to top crappie fishing tactics, including the best lures and baits and how, when and where to use them.