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NEW LIMIT ON CRAPPIE IN EFFECTÖANGLERS ANXIOUS AND OPTIMISTIC
By Steve McCadams
Crappie anglers testing the water on Kentucky Lake this year are advised
of changes in the daily creel limit. On Wednesday the daily creel limit of
twenty fish (20) went into effect, a reduction from the thirty (30) daily
limit that had been in effect since the mid-80ís.
A 10-inch minimum length limit remains in effect.
The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to reduce the daily creel
limit last fall after a series of public meetings that followed numerous
calls of concerns from anglers as to the overall direction of the crappie
For the last few years catch rates had been declining on the ďCrappie
CapitalĒ and fishermen across region were vocal in their concern. Numbers
of keeper size fish had diminished drastically but a lot of smaller size
fish were showing up, a scenario that indicated several weak year classes
of crappie had taken its toll.
A variety of factors were discussed by TWRA fisheries biologists in public
meetings showing several years of inferior recruitment in the population.
As a result, anglers were not landing big numbesr of big fish here on the
big pond! In the eyes of anglers it was a big problem!
Weak spawns really show up in the daily creel of anglers here some three
to four years later. It takes approximately three years for a crappie on
Kentucky Lake to reach the 10-inch length.
In summary, anglers here were battling high hurdles as their crappie
fishery had experienced several back to back years of below average spawns
and recruitment. Biologists attributed the decline to a few years of
drought conditions that had negative impacts on both lake levels and
survival rates of young of the year fish.
Fisheries biologists conduct trap-net monitoring each fall to gauge---to
some degree---the success or failure of the previous springís spawn.
Some electro shocking is done as well to observe the various year class
strength yet trap netting helps evaluate the direction by counting the
fingerling size crappie via a series of trap net sets done at several
locations over some two to three days in mid-October.
Biologists then compare what they observe to several years of data. The
data base helps establish a long-term average of what the reservoir ought
to look like after several years of monitoring. From that a pretty good
idea of what lies ahead can help formulate the future fishery, or at least
indicate forthcoming trends.
There are other factors that can affect recruitment as those tiny fish
grow through the months and years ahead. Predation by larger fish can be a
factor so thereís a little more to it than just a good spawn in the
When lake levels are below normal it pulls water out of shoreline habitat.
That means crappie might not get off a productive spawn or those small fry
just hatching out might be gobbled up by other predators if they donít
have shallow grass, bushes and roots of larger trees in which to seek
Such a scenario means a lower survival rate. When low survival rates and
weak spawns occur several years in a row it paves the way for lower catch
rates down the road for sport fishermen. Thatís what happened a few years
ago for Kentucky Lake crappie anglers.
However, crappie are prolific. They might have a year here and there when
inferior conditions occurred and weak spawns or recruitment were the
result only to have a good year somewhere in the mix that saw a
significant rebound occur.
In laymanís terms thatís why fisheries biologists refrain from making
knee-jerk regulation changes when a year or two of tough fishing results
occur. They know Mother Nature can be mean at times but she can also show
one of her many faces, bouncing back with ideal conditions in the form of
nice weather and stable rainfall. History has shown the fish will respond
favorably when such occurs.
Meanwhile, fishing pressure enters the conversation among the ranks of
anglers. Some feel fishing pressure is a real factor nowadays, especially
if the pressure increases at a time when the success rates of spawning and
Although fisheries biologists are reluctant to point the finger at fishing
pressure as a factor in the decline, a concerned and confused fishing
public often felt otherwise.
Todayís crappie angler---and all anglers for that matter---are better at
finding and catching fish than his predecessors. Anglers of yesteryear did
not have the benefit of modern sonar units with side scan imaging, state
of the art tackle and boats and motors like present day fishermen.
Winter fishing has increased dramatically too. This past winter is a prime
example as it was one of the warmest on record. As a result, more anglers
than ever were out in force and they were catching fish too.
In times past not many anglers braved the cold winter months to wet a
line. There were a few who battled cabin fever at times and ventured out
but nothing like modern day masses.
The more crappie taken during winter months means fewer left once spring,
summer and fall arrive. Yet Kentucky Lake has had the reputation as a fish
factory, producing good numbers year after year despite the thousands of
boaters who venture here.
When compared to other lakes across the country Kentucky Lake has stood
out among the rest in the long haul.
Thatís why anglers began to wonder what was going on these last few years
when fewer and fewer fish were caught or lots of little fish showed up but
not many slabs!
Bottom line is that it appears Kentucky Lake crappie suffered several
years of low blows. Weak year classes back to back didnít get that rebound
needed and it reflected in the coolers of crappie fishermen.
The last year or two anglers saw lots of small fish coming on. Two years
ago they were tiny and last year most were approaching but hadnít yet
reached the 10-inch minimum length limit, although last fall and this
winter more eclipsed the magic mark.
As the spring of 2017 approached it appeared things would get better as
biologists documented a pretty good spawn some three to four years ago.
Thatís why anglers are seeing an increase in numbers already of keeper
In an effort to spread those numbers out among the fishing public a lower
creel limit was enacted. Itís still a pretty liberal number as two anglers
can still go out and bring home a total of 40 fish on a good day! Thatís a
lot of fish in anyoneís book.
Lowering the daily creel by ten fish wonít likely alter the spawning and
recruitment say biologists. They say the fishermenís hook doesnít have
much effect! Neither does the number of poles used; thus no regulation
changes were made in that aspect.
Meanwhile, most anglers have welcomed the change and felt it would better
assist the long-term management of crappie here. Several states and lakes
across the nation have lowered both creel and length limits on crappie the
last few years in response to both public concern and biological data.
The Kentucky portion of Kentucky Lake implemented a twenty fish daily
limit several years ago. Several other reservoirs in middle and east
Tennessee have lowered their daily creel limit to fifteen.
Lowering daily limits is nothing new. Some anglers donít like it. Others
say they never landed a limit anyway.
Overall, todayís anglers have embraced reductions in creel limits and
increased length limits across the country. Theyíve learned itís in their
best interest to sustain the quality of their fishery.
Times have changed. Fishing regulations must change too!