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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 fishery.

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 spring.

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 refuge.

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 recruitment decreases.

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 size crappie.

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!

 


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