Winter is a season of nesting for many Kentuckians. Hot cocoa and a book by the fireplace is more appealing than getting outside in the wet and cold.
However, for those who enjoy solitude and having lakes completely to themselves, winter is the best time to get outside and fish. Contrary to the stubborn belief of many anglers, fish bite all winter long.
“There are plenty of fish in the winter, especially crappie,” said Mike Hardin, assistant director of fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “It took longer this year to run off the boat traffic, but we’ve got it to ourselves now. I love winter fishing.”
He also said the old school rule of fishing, getting on the water at or before daybreak, is as important for winter crappie as it is any other time of year.
“It doesn’t matter if it is winter, you still must get up early for the best crappie fishing,” Hardin said. “You can’t think like a person and wait until it warms up.”
With modern synthetic base and mid layers, the cold doesn’t penetrate like it used to when all you had to ward off cold was waffle-style long johns. Layer up and protect exposed skin and you can fish in relative comfort in winter. Hardin cautions anglers to always wear their lifejackets when on the water in winter, whether the boat is under power or not.
If you want to try winter crappie fishing, these three lakes give anglers a great chance at a productive day:
Taylorsville Lake: The populations of both black and white crappie in Taylorsville Lake are on a major upswing over the past few years. Flooded timber is key for winter crappie on Taylorsville.
“I had some buddies catch a limit a piece earlier this week,” said Maj. Shane Carrier, assistant director of law enforcement for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “They caught them on minnows fished along timber about 4 feet deep.” Anglers should keep in mind there is a 15-fish daily creel limit for crappie on Taylorsville.
Carrier recommends the timbered sections of Beech and Little Beech creeks, Ashes Creek and Timber Creek for winter crappie on the lake. Change the depth of your offering if the crappie won’t bite or fish timber in deeper water toward the main lake.
“It is on fire right now for crappie,” Carrier said. “Keep moving until you find them.”
Cave Run Lake: The placement of habitat over the last several years by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife injected some fantastic places to catch crappie in the lake. The timing of the placement coincided with an increase in the crappie population.
“The deeper habitat is where they will be in winter,” Hardin said. “Look for bait on your electronics if you have the capability. The crappie are going to be where the bait is.”
The placed habitat consists of Christmas trees, stake buckets, wooden pallet stacks and even wooden cable spools. You can access the GPS coordinates and printable maps by logging on to the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website at www.ky.fw.gov and clicking on the “Fish” tab, then “Recreational Fishing” and then “Lakes with Fish Attractors.”
“Tossing a marker buoy at the GPS coordinate helps a lot for fishing the deeper habitat,” Hardin said. “It gives you a visual reference which helps when fishing the middle of a cove or out in the main lake.”
Live minnows suspended deep under slip bobbers score on these fish. “They sometimes suspend well over the cover or well out from it,” Hardin said. He recommends varying depths and spots near the habitat until you find crappie.
Ohio River: Anglers may be surprised to hear the Ohio River is a good place for winter crappie.
“The crappie are still in the embayments on the Ohio River,” said Jay Herrala, stream fisheries biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “The river is an underutilized resource for crappie fishing. Quality wise, the Ohio stacks up with Taylorsville Lake for crappie.”
Herrala recommends the embayments in the Markland Pool and the Cannelton Pool as the best on the river for crappie. The Markland Pool is upstream of Markland Lock and Dam near Warsaw in Gallatin County and the Cannelton Pool is upstream from Cannelton Lock and Dam near Warsaw in Hancock County.
Herrala also said the embayments in the Meldahl Pool upstream of Meldahl Lock and Dam at Foster in Bracken County hold decent crappie populations as well.
“Find a deep pocket in the shoreline cover and drop a minnow down into it for crappie,” Herrala said. “Look for channel swings that gouge out the deep pockets in these embayments.
Herrala also said to monitor water conditions for the best crappie fishing on these embayments. “These embayments muddy up quickly,” he said. “They are best when the water is stable with some clarity.”
Don’t pout around the house in a robe, lamenting the winter weather. Don some appropriate winter clothing and go catch a limit of crappie.
Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.