Crappie Fishing Kentucky, Barkley Lakes

On one bank, the rising sun back-lighted the foliage, making trees appear to burn like Moses’ Biblical bush while soft rays landing on the far shoreline ignited the leaves into blazing orange and scarlet gems.

On this crisp autumn morning, the guide scrutinized his electronics as he idled into the cove through wisps of fog rising from the chilled water. Finding the right spot, he tossed a marker into the water.

“This is it,” said Steve Brasfield, a crappie pro and guide from Milan, Tenn. (731-686-8895/731-571-47950) “In the fall, most often, we vertically jig around structure that we put out ourselves. We build a lot of stake beds, frame beds and brush piles.”

Brasfield and Dale Oliver, his tournament partner from Milan, dropped jigs sweetened with live minnows into the water. Near the bottom, oak planks created an artificial forest to attract fish. Before long, a fat crappie took the bait.

Steve Brasfield, a professional crappie angler, shows off a couple crappie he caught while fishing on Kentucky Lake near Paris, Tenn. (Photos by John N. Felsher)

“I like to fish Kentucky Lake more in the fall than in the spring because the weather is more consistent and the fish really bite well,” Brasfield said. “The fish have been feeding and growing all summer, so we catch some big crappie in the fall. This system has good numbers and sizes. I’ve caught some crappie over 3 pounds on this lake.”

From southeast of Paducah, Ky., to near New Johnsonville, Tenn., Kentucky Lake runs for 184 miles along the Tennessee River. The largest artificial lake by surface area east of the Mississippi River, the reservoir created in 1944 spreads across 160,309 acres. It offers anglers more than 2,064 shoreline miles, more than twice as long as the California coastline.

The lake connects to the 57,900-acre Lake Barkley through a 1.7-mile long navigation canal. Lake Barkley dates to 1964 and runs for about 134 miles along the Cumberland River between Princeton, Ky., and Dover, Tenn. Lake Barkley generally parallels Kentucky Lake and offers anglers another 1,004 shoreline miles. If flattened into a straight line, the combined shoreline from the two lakes and associated waters would stretch almost from Boston to San Francisco!

Dale Oliver, a professional crappie angler from Milan, Tenn., admires a crappie he caught while fishing on Kentucky Lake.

“These lakes have been excellent crappie waters ever since they were created,” explained Darrel Van Vactor, the Crappie USA president and a guide with Van’s Guide Service in Benton, Ky. (270-395-4204/ “The deeper channels still contain a lot of old natural structure on the bottom. The lakes are also full of manmade structure. Anglers add a lot of structure to the lakes each year.”

Angle For Black, White Crappies
The lakes contain both black and white crappies. Historically white crappie outnumbered their cousins by about 80 percent to 20 percent, but that flipped in recent years. Now, the lakes contain about 70 percent black crappie, Van Vactor said. Black crappie tend to stay in more shallow water than white crappie. In the fall, look for them in less than 6 feet of water around docks, natural cover and brush piles.

On the other hand, white crappie prefer slightly deeper water, about 10-to-15 feet deep. Whites frequently move. In the fall, they follow threadfin shad to gorge themselves before the coming winter.

“In the fall, white crappie follow shad back into the bays,” Van Vactor explained. “They use creek channels just like people use highways to travel from the main lake back into the bays. To find fish, follow the creeks off the main channel. The fish may be in the back of the creeks, halfway up the creek or near where the creek hits the main river channel.”

With abundant channels and thousands of artificial reefs created by fishermen, anglers should find good action just about anywhere on the lake. At times, Barkley offers better fishing, but sometimes anglers need to fish Kentucky Lake. Some better places to find slabs include the West Sandy Creek, Country Junction, Springville, and New Johnsonville areas.

Steve Brasfield, (left), and Dale Oliver, (right), love fishing Kentucky Lake.

“Both lakes are just about equal,” Van Vactor said. “In the fall and winter, Barkley is usually a little better. In the spring, Kentucky is usually a little stronger. On Barkley Lake, I recommend the Little River and Hurricane Creek areas about 20 miles south of the dam in Kentucky state waters. On the Kentucky Lake side, I’d fish the Paris Landing area around Eagle Creek or Blood River.”

Numerous lodges, parks and resorts where people can stay surround both lakes. Many people run out of Paris Landing State Park in Buchanan, Tenn., Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park near Waverly, Tenn., or Lake Barkley State Resort Park near Cadiz, Ky. People also find lodging and services at Gilbertsville, Ky.

Give the lakes a try — you will not be disappointed!

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