Guide Rich Bay and writer Tim Huffman display a 16.5-inch Kentucky Lake crappie caught by Huffman.
Capt. Bay says crankbaits may not catch as many fish as some other methods,
but it provides a higher ratio of big crappie.
Kentucky Lake Late-Summer Crappie
by Tim Huffman
Crappie fishing runs in cycles. Lows and highs can be barely noticeable, or they can be drastically different. Kentucky Lake was in the lowest of low cycles for a few years. Last year was a better year and fishing in 2022 is good. The turnaround is great news for everyone, especially crappie fishermen.
Captain Rich Bay, Kick’n Bass Guide Service, is set up for family and group trips. His pontoon allows up to six people, so several buddies or a family can enjoy the day together on the lake. His spring fishing is crappie, summer dogdays are for white bass, and he switches back to crappie in late summer and fall.
Capt. Bay likes keeping things as simple as possible.
“Line-counter reels are important because line length determines the depth of the crankbaits. Today we are fishing a bay with water up to 22 feet. Our lines will be back 60 to 80 feet putting baits at 10 to 12 feet deep. We will go as deep as 15 feet today before we quit.
“My baits are Arkie and Jenko crankbaits. They do a good job and have two different actions. Lately, the Jenko has been doing best so that’s what we will be using.”
Poles are staggered lengths. Off the front side of the pontoon, Capt. Bay runs a Jenko 14-footer off the front, a Jenko 10 in the middle position and then a Berkley Cherrywood 7-foot drop-rod with a 3-ounce weight. He runs 7-foot rods off the back and typically has a total of ten rods in action.
“Summer hot water has the crappie scattered around the lake, so the bites don’t come too often,” says Capt. Bay. “White bass fishing gives more action for the customers. But by late August, water will start cooling a little and I start pulling crankbaits again. It’s like spring fishing, but water depths may vary a little depending upon the water level and where the shad are located.
“Fish are moving back to the bays from the main lake. A good structure is often the first drop in the deeper bays. Also look for long flats just off the drops or channel. Finding fish is often a matter of covering a lot of water and finding the pattern.”
Capt. Bay says when the water reaches the mid- to lower-70’s, action gets good. The crappie are actively feeding, getting ready for winter. They are already bigger than they were in the spring, so the size will be better than any time since the spawn. The Kentucky Lake crappie are healthy, so this fall should provide fishermen with excellent-quality fish.
“Our numbers are up again with crappie. Bad spawns due to years of spring floods, and maybe the (Asian) carp situation, has hurt our fishing for several years. However, we’ve had several good spawn year classes and less fishing pressure on the lake, so our numbers are coming back and there are some good-quality fish. We are missing a few year classes, but we have 15- to 16-inch fish and a lot of 9- to 12-inch crappie. They are all healthy, too.
“I’m pulling at about 1.8mph in the spring, 2.1mph in the summer, but in the fall, I may go as slow as 1.4mph. The reason for slow speeds is that any little front or condition will send crappie to the beds or other cover. Pulling slower, and right at the depth of the beds, will pull the crappie out to hit the crankbaits. Get away from the cover during these times and you won’t get a bite. However, normal weather will have the fish up and active. Vary speeds until you see what they want.”
Late summer and fall fishing usually mean line lengths of 50 to 80 feet, boat speed at 1.4 mph and Capt. Bay is looking on the drops and flats for shad balls and active fish. He changes bait colors to find what the fish prefer.
“…we have a lot of 16-inch and 9- to 12-inch crappie.”
“I’ll always have some pink,” says Capt. Bay. “It might be a combination of pink-chrome or pink-black, but pinks are good here on the lake. Blue-chrome has been hot this summer and will probably continue being a good bait color this fall. My next color is orange. I’m not sure why it works, but orange is usually good here.”
Capt. Bay says, “Late summer through the fall is a good time to fish. However, the best month to fish is October. The fish have had a long growing season. They get very active when the water cools in October and the fish are aggressively feeding, getting ready for winter. The catch ratios for crankbait crappie go up in the fall.
“The number one thing for visitors coming to the lake is to be careful with navigation. Pay attention and use good mapping. As water drops, navigation becomes extremely difficult because shallow areas and cover are just under the water in many areas of the lake, including big flats out in open water. Just be careful when motoring and use mapping or you’ll get in big trouble.”
Fishing with Capt. Bay, I was part of a media group of four. We learned: (1) Kentucky Lake crappie are back and the lake offers good action. (2) There are some big crappie, because I caught a 16.5-inch slab. (3) A group of friends can have great fun while fishing from a pontoon and trolling cranks. (5) The Freight House Restaurant in Paducah serves delicious, great-tasting (Asian) carp. I know what you’re thinking because I didn’t believe it either, until I tried it. It tastes great when it’s prepared correctly.
(Tim Huffman has specialized in crappie-fishing writing and photography since 1988. He is Senior Writer for CrappieNow Digital Magazine, freelance writer and book author. His 2022 book, Crappie Annual & Product Guide, is available in paperback or e-book from www.Amazon.com