Kentucky Lake Crappie

kentucky lake
Spring can bring the year's best crappie action as well as the best chance for violent storms. Photo by author

With our beautiful spring season, legions of anglers will take to the water for some of the year’s hottest action. Besides great fishing, this time of year is also known for violent weather.

It was only several weeks back when our local forecasts called for cold temperatures, strong winds and even snow. It was the perfect time, or so I thought, for my annual five-day sojourn to west Tennessee to take part in the springtime crappie bonanza on sprawling Kentucky Lake. Joining me were my brother Jim, cousin Jim and family friend Jim Baker. Needless to say, spending time with three people all sharing the same first name brought many humorous moments.

It was 14 years ago my cousin Frank Martino and his wife Kim purchased Mansard Island Resort and Marina. Since then I have not missed a spring crappie outing. And this year would be even better because while those back home endured the miserable weather, I hoped for a warmer climate and passive weather conditions.

Kentucky Lake stretches somewhere around 175 miles long, depending on who you ask, and is one of the nation’s premier crappie factories. So to say I anticipate this yearly adventure is an understatement. During past years the fishing has been fantastic, with our group netting many fish including some nearly topping the scales at three pounds.

After the seven hour drive it was exciting backing my boat into the water for the first time this season. Rippling water lapped against the transom with a pleasing sound. With several hours of daylight left we decided to make a short run to start figuring out the pattern that would bring us the most fish.

Even inclement weather can sometimes provide a silver lining. Photo by author
Even inclement weather can sometimes provide a silver lining. Photo by author

Early the next morning my cousin and I were seated comfortably in my 17 foot aluminum bass boat. With darkness slowly giving way to daylight we travelled several miles from the marina to a spot I knew held good fish. Temperatures were in the low 40’s, definitely not spring like, especially in West Tennessee.

With each fish we caught the wind continued to build in strength. We were several miles from the main lake, tucked in back of a sheltered area called Swamp Creek. As time went on the wind only gained its intensity. Kentucky Lake, as well as other big impoundments, deserves the upmost respect, especially during periods of high winds.

“We have to cross the main lake and should probably head back,” I mentioned, trying to err on the side of safety. Not mentioning the early morning forecast called for small craft advisories and gusts nearing 50 mph. As we motored several miles to the mouth of Swamp Creek, the main lake looked ominous. Strong winds and white capping waves roughly three feet in height roiled the vast expanse of water. Travelling the lake in a cabin cruiser is one thing, but a different story in a low-sided bass boat, barely larger than a living room sofa.
There is something about “rough seas” that sends a shiver down my spine. I have shot whitewater by means of canoe, rubber raft and a variety of other craft, sometimes even on purpose. I have also been on the Great Lakes during times I shouldn’t. But this time I did have concerns because there was no way back without attacking the towering waves head on.

We rose then dropped with each passing swell. Every time we hit a wave we would rise up then crash down, jarring teeth, bones and stomach contents. Several times water crashed over the boat and the last thing I wanted was to “porpoise” bow first into a rising swell. After a few tense minutes we motored into the sheltered water where the marina was located. “That was a good call,” said my cousin, as he released his firm grip on the boats handrail. It was then I uttered those famous words of small craft fishermen everywhere, “I’m going to buy a bigger boat.”

For the next four days it was much of the same, fish the first four to five hours of daylight before the winds and rough water became unbearable. Weather forecasts continually called for high-wind warnings and small craft advisories. Every afternoon groups of fishermen would gather at the marina and lament the foreboding weather as storms would roll in.

Even though the weather was less than conducive for fishing and the number of crappies that ended up at the cleaning table was less than previous, it was still a good trip. It was all a matter of keeping things in perspective.

I had an opportunity to make new friends from Missouri, Tennessee and Illinois. One afternoon, as one of the frequent storms passed through rocking the marina and battering the boat docks, I mentioned to the group that anytime we have an opportunity to go fishing, our lives are in good order, if not we would not be fishing, regardless if we couldn’t remain on the water.

The next afternoon it was the same replay. Fish in the morning before impending storms and strong winds would drive us back. The usual group would gather to sip amber colored beverages and talk about the weather. Looking to the north I noticed the sky turning black and the wind again building in ferocity. “Batten down the hatches,” I said, as we retreated to the interior of the floating marina.

After the storm rolled through one of the most beautiful and vivid rainbows appeared at the mouth of the cove. It was unlike anyone had ever seen. It was close you could actually see the bottom with the red, yellows and blues exploding off the water’s surface. “See, it’s all good,” I mentioned as we all stepped outside to get a better view. “I don’t care about the pot of gold,” quipped one of the guys from Missouri, “but I would take a pot of crappies,” he added among laughs from the group.

In reality, anytime we have an opportunity to enjoy the great sport of fishing, making new friends and enjoying our natural resources, regardless of weather, there is always a silver lining. Sometimes they may just be a little harder to find.

John Martino
Martino is a well-known outdoor writer throughout Indiana and has served as longtime outdoor columnist for the Kokomo Tribune newspaper. Martino has won numerous awards for both his writing and his service to youth, conservation and the community. He recently retired as Superintendent of Parks and Recreation for the City of Kokomo and now works as Ivy Tech Executive Director for Facilities for the Kokomo region.

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