Where Are the Crappie?

By Lauren Plunkett

The question on every angler’s mind is where to crappie go during the year. Several states have recently conducted studies to answer this vital question.  New research done by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources shows the movement and behavior of both white and black crappie in Kentucky Lake over the spring and summer months.

Fish studies provide good information for fish management along with information that can help fishermen. Tim Huffman photo.

Fish studies provide good information for fish management along with information that can help fishermen. Tim Huffman photo.

The study was conducted to help determine crappie patterns in correlation with changes in water temperature, level, and flow as well as structure and food preference.  The 1500 crappie used in this study were tagged and tracked in a variety of ways including hook and line catching, electrofishing (shocking), and radio telemetry (fish tracking).

The study begins during final week of February.  During this time, fish collected with hook and line were being caught in depths of 12-15 feet with the water temperature hovering around 40 degrees. The results revealed black and white crappie were most often located near primary and secondary channels of water 10 feet or deeper.

Once the water temperature hit 50 degrees, black crappie began to move to water of less than 10 feet while white crappie remained in the deeper water. A week later, many crappie could be found in 5 feet less of water, a majority of them being male black crappie. Fishing picked up once water temperatures reached the upper 50s with the crappie gathering around old creek channels of approximately 10 feet in depth.

By early April, water temperatures began touching on 60 degrees.  Male crappie of both species had began to move to shallow water, showing signs of pre spawn activity and nest building.  Female crappie remained in deeper water close to river channels and flats. Many anglers were having luck with jigs and minnows near shallow structure.

Mid-April surveys found that the female crappie had finally moved to shallow waters, with many of them having already spawned.  Several male crappie were also found very shallow. The most concentrated areas of fish were found around shoreline vegetation and timber. Through the spawn, males consistently stayed shallow while the females would return to deeper water to feed and recover from spawning activities.  Suggestions were made to fish the shallows and flooded timber with jigs, minnows, and small crankbaits to catch the males guarding the nests.  Fishing flats and points produced the most females.

The Department also tracked eight crappie over a 24 hour period during this month.  Results showed that female crappie moved much more over the course of the day than males. One female moved over 3.5 miles during the 24 hour period, eventually returning to where she had started. Male crappie moved very little and stayed closer to flooded timber, whereas the females preferred deeper water.