Running through the mountains like a giant centipede, Lake Cumberland offers anglers a variety of crappie fishing options in an incredibly beautiful setting.
“Lake Cumberland is a beautiful, deep water lake with high banks and protection from the wind,” advised Darrel Van Vactor, CEO of Crappie USA. “Crappie fishing on Lake Cumberland has really taken off in the past few years.”
Fishhound.com named Lake Cumberland the 44th best crappie lake in the nation. The second largest lake on the Cumberland River, Lake Cumberland stretches 101 miles across southern Kentucky and covers 65,530 acres. The Cumberland River flows 688 miles through southern Kentucky and central Tennessee before hitting the Ohio River near Paducah, Ky.
Built as a flood control reservoir in 1952, the lake offers anglers about 1,255 miles of shoreline surrounded by forested mountains. Much of the lake averages about 90 feet deep, but some holes drop to more than 200 feet deep near the Wolf Creek Dam. In terms of water capacity, the reservoir ranks ninth in the United States with enough water to cover the entire state of Kentucky 3 inches deep!
“Lake Cumberland is a super crappie lake with some really big fish in it,” said Travis Neal, a crappie angler from Monticello, Ky., a winner of numerous professional events held on the lake. “It has both black and white crappie. The lake is just a valley flooded in mountainous terrain so water depths can quickly go very deep.”
As a riverine impoundment, Lake Cumberland offers anglers many bays, coves and creek channels to fish. Some creek channels can drop rapidly into exceedingly deep water. Anglers might want to fish the channel edges in major coves or points that give fish access to both deep and shallow waters. Some better creeks to tempt crappie include Caney Creek, Wolf Creek, Pumpkin Creek, and Fishing Creek.
During the fall and winter, many crappie hold in water about 15- to 25 feet deep along the creek channels. Some crappies go deeper and some rise into the flats to feed. Anglers just need to find where the fish want to feed on that day at that time. To find crappie schools, some anglers pull jigs or drop spider rigs and work the channel edges. After finding a crappie school, thoroughly probe the area by vertically jigging single baits, either alone or “sweetened” with minnows.
“Lake Cumberland has steep rock bluffs on the sides, but the backs of creeks get a little shallower,” Neal advised. “Some creeks are more than 150 feet deep. A few points stick out from the banks, but in the channels, people will be in deep water. Many people fish spider rigs, but I like to stick with one rod and one lure. I find deep structure and vertically jig all around it.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers keeps most of the lake shorelines natural, but anglers can find some docks and marinas that provide great cover for crappie. Frequently, moored boats sit unused for long periods. Algae may grow on the hulls, lines, trim tabs, and lower units. That growth feeds minnows and other baitfish, attracting crappie.
To get at crappie under docks or boats, many anglers use light, flexible spinning rods to propel small baits under decks or between a moored boat and a dock. With this method, anglers can reach fish few others can even tempt. Open the bail on an ultralight spinning reel and grab the jig by the leadhead. Bend the rod back almost like a bow and let the bait go. The slingshot effect of the rod unbending hurls light jigs or other baits under tight cover with amazing accuracy.
Most people fish the docks and marinas with 1/64- to 1/8-ounce jigheads tipped with plastic trailers. Some anglers use Road Runner jighead spinners or other lures. For fishing the clear waters of Lake Cumberland, anglers might want to downsize their lines and lure selections. In clear water, use baits colored to mimic natural forage such as shad.
“The clear water in Lake Cumberland can be a real challenge for a lot of crappie fisherman not used to fishing those kinds of conditions,” Neal explained. “Sometimes, we can see a jig 13- to 14 feet deep. I prefer 4-pound fluorocarbon line for fishing Lake Cumberland. People might need to alternate their favorite colors as well.”
During the winter, the Army Corps typically lowers the water levels. Once the water stabilizes crappie hold near deeper structure. Find fish one day and anglers can often catch them in the same spot for months.
Shop Sportsman’s Guide for a great selection of Fishing Gear!