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Kentucky Lake Crappie Project


Project Overview

(1) We will implant 30 white and 30 black crappiei with radio transmitters. We will track these fish daily throughout the spawn and into the summer to determine their movement patterns in relation to weather and water changes such as clarity, level and flow. This will also reveal what white crappie are doing in relation to black crappie. This will help us understand some of what we already know — that black crappie prefer clearer water with gravely bottoms, spawn in deeper water and spawn slightly earlier than white crappie.

Anglers can help the project succeed by immediately releasing any crappie with a 12-inch long, thin wire hanging out of its belly. Please call the telephone number on the tag if the crappie does not survive. This study is for the sake of all anglers, but we can’t learn anything if the tagged fish get caught. If we get the tag back we can re-implant it into another crappie. But it will be best to just release the crappie if you catch one.

(2) We will implant small plastic yellow tags into 750 white and 750 black crappie to determine angler catch rates. Tags are attached in the back, near the base of the dorsal fin. A reward will be given for the return of each tag. There will be a phone number on the tag to call, or you can use a return envelope available at many of the marinas and bait shops around the lake.

(3) Food preferences of crappie will be looked at throughout the year to determine if there are differences between what the white and black crappie are eating.

(4) We are asking several anglers that fish frequently for crappie throughout the year to keep a diary of their trip. Diary information will show us how many white crappie are caught compared to black crappie, and if there are any differences in habitat where anglers catch the two species.

(5) We will conduct an annual creel survey on Kentucky Lake to collect angler information regarding all types of fishing. So this study will help us assess the crappie population and other sportfish populations in the lake.

(6) Finally, we will be doing some extra electrofishing and netting in the spring. This will help us determine the accuracy of our annual fall netting data.

Past Studies

Since the mid 1990s, trap-netting data has indicated a change in species composition at Kentucky Lake. Prior to 1997, black crappie collected in trap nets made up only 18 percent of the catch, on average. Since that time, black crappie have made up 72 percent of the catch, on average. Why the change? We know that black crappie prefer clearer water, which we have had in the past few years. Black crappie also prefer aquatic vegetation, which we have.

So is this change in species dominance real? We hope to determine this and much more by doing some intensive sampling of the crappie population later this year. Although trap-netting data suggested a change in species dominance from white to black crappie, the harvest during the 1998 creel survey did not show this change. Black crappie made up 12 percent of the crappie caught and 17 percent of the harvest.

During the 1991 creel survey, black crappie made up 13 percent of the crappie caught and 16 percent of the harvest. So even though our trap nets were catching a higher percentage of black crappie in the late 1990s, anglers were still catching the same percentages of white and black crappie.

In 2001, our trap net studies revealed the number of crappie in the population is more than double the long-term average. But the majority of these fish were black crappie. This data suggests that the number of white crappie had declined, while the number of black crappie had greatly increased.

Our creel surveys showed that very few anglers caught black crappie. In spring 2002, most anglers caught very few crappie of any color. Some of the poor fishing experienced during that period was caused more by muddy water, water level fluctuations and cold fronts. So, if there are really all these black crappie out there and nobody is catching them, maybe we need to change the way we fish. Our fishing methods need to adapt to the changing reservoir just as the fish populations have.

These studies will help us answer many of these questions about black and white crappie, and their seasonal movements. It is our goal to pass this information along to you weekly.

Crappie Project Activity Log

February 28, 2003

Shoreline electrofishing collected seven crappie to be tagged with reward tags. Very few fish were shallow.

Week of March 3, 2003

Set 10 trap nets and utilized hook and line (fishing) to collect crappie. By the end of the week, we tagged 21 crappie with radio transmitters and 41 with reward tags. Water temperature was in the low 40s during the week. Water color was muddy, but clearing some by Friday. Fishing was slow, with fish being caught in 12-15 feet of water. Trap nets caught 362 crappie, of which 11 percent were keeper size. There were numerous 8- to 9-inch crappie in the lake. Approximately 60 percent of the catch was black crappie, and 40 percent white crappie.

Week of March 2-8, 2003

Between fishing 14 trap nets and the assistance of a few anglers we collected all the crappie to complete the radio tagging part of the study. We should begin tracking these crappie next week. Also, close to 200 crappie have been tagged with reward tags. For the week we collected from our trap nets a total of 1,129 crappie. Of these crappie, 10 percent were legal harvest size and 18 percent were white crappie. This spring netting supports our annual fall trap netting data, which suggest the crappie population consist of more black crappie than white. One interesting fact is that the anglers fishing in the shallow water of less than 10 feet were catching more black crappie, as were our nets. However, anglers fishing in deeper water — out toward the mouth of Blood River — were catching mostly white crappie. Water color this week cleared up some. Water temperature was in the low 50s by the end of the week. There was no pattern as far as the preferred bait, some used minnows others used jigs. Angler harvest was spotty, some anglers caught their limit, others only caught a few crappie. Everybody seemed to be catching small 8- to 9inch crappie, as well as our nets. Next week we will be catching crappie in other areas of the lake to tag crappie with reward tags.

Week of March 17, 2003

After surgically implanting radio tags in 30 black crappie and 30 white crappie, we removed our trap-nets from Blood River and set the trap-nets in Jonathon Creek on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Our catch rates of black and white crappie were similar to catch rates in Blood River, with the majority of crappie collected in the nets being black crappie. The trap-nets were effective: on Wednesday alone, we collected more than 360 crappie in eight nets. We also managed to tag 354 crappie during those three days, including 149 white and 205 black crappie.

On Tuesday, we began collecting crappie by electrofishing, as a strong wave of crappie moved shallow. Most crappie were in 5 feet of water or less, and were around stumps, logs and stake beds. Every location with some form of structure was loaded with crappie. The interesting point was that we collected equal numbers of white and black crappie during our electrofishing samples.

Our crew also electrofished the Blood River that day and found similar results to our electrofishing in Jonathon Creek. More than 80 crappie were collected and tagged. All fish were collected around some form of structure in water shallower than 5 feet.

We began tracking our 60 radio-tagged fish in Blood River on Thursday and Friday. We located 36 of these crappie during those two days. Although crappie were scattered throughout Blood River, some interesting results were noted. A high number of male black crappie were found in shallow water, 5 feet deep or less. Fish were dispersed around structure and in the open on mud flats near river channels. Most of the female white crappie were located near the mouth of Blood River, in water 12 feet deep or more. They appeared to be relating to underwater stumps, brushpiles and stake beds. The highest concentration of fish were in water 12 feet deep or less, and were located from Sheep Ridge Pointi back to Crappie Hollow. One female white crappie was located back in Crappie Hollow in water less than 1 foot deep.

As this was our first tracking survey, no patterns can be established as of yet. However, we will continue tracking next week and hope that trends do begin to develop.

Anglers have already caught a total of four reward crappie (those with yellow tags). Currently, 770 crappie have been tagged. Our target goal is 1,500 crappie. We are halfway there and expecting to finish our tagging efforts next week. Take care and good fishing!

Week of March 23-29, 2003

This week was a slow one for tagging crappie. The crappie seemed to move back out into deeper water, which is just the place were we cannot collect them using electrofishing techniques. Our tracking information also indicated this move.

To date we have tagged 858 of the 1,500 crappie to be tagged, and there have been 34 crappie reward tags returned. Please return the yellow tags when you catch one of these crappie. The plastic yellow tag inserted into the back of these crappie are reward tags. To return these tags, you may use envelopes available at most marinas around Kentucky Lake and at the Wal-Mart stores in Murray, Mayfield and Benton. If you cannot get an envelope, call the phone number on the tag and we will mail you a return envelope. We prefer that you use our return envelope because it has a few questions that we would like for you to answer about the tagged crappie you caught.

We had a fairly successful week of tracking the 60 crappie with radio transmitters. We located 38 of these radio-tagged crappie. There were close to a dozen more we heard still beeping, but did not locate. We have received one radio transmitter back from an angler who had harvested one of these crappie. Please contact the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources if you catch a crappie with a thin steel wire extending out of the belly area. Please try to release these crappie back to the same area unharmed.

The tracking data suggest that 78 percent of the crappie are associating with a creek channel or flats near a channel. The movement from the previous week indicated fish were moving into deeper water and onto the flats. Very few fish were found in shallow water. The locations of both black and white crappie seemed to be very well mixed. There were no patterns noticed that one species was doing something different at this time.

Week of March 30 - April 4, 2003

Lake conditions this week have not been the most favorable for fishing. A 15-25 mph southwest wind made the lake a little choppy. Because of the wind, the water color was mud-stained in some areas. The water was clearer in areas more protected from the force of the wind. Water temperature was in the upper 50s. The water elevation is 355.5 fasl. This is about one foot higher than normal, based on TVA’s water level operations chart.

Creel survey information indicated that some anglers were able to catch a few crappie despite the wind. Survey results indicate anglers caught a high number of 8- to 10-inch crappie, as well as numerous crappie in the 1- to 2-pound range.

Only 65 crappie were tagged this week because of the wind and due to the fish moving into deeper water. However, we did find a few crappie in shallow brush piles. This brings the total number of crappie tagged to 917. Anglers have returned 71 tags from crappie since the start of the study.

High winds also delayed the tracking study of crappie implanted with radio transmitters. We found 21 of the 60 transmitter crappie during the one day of tracking this week. The majority of these crappie were oriented near the old creek channel in about 10-12 feet of water, or in the flats adjacent to the creek channel. No differences were seen between the movements of either the white or black crappie.

Week of April 6-11

Electrofishing on Monday and Tuesday (April 7-8) revealed that many crappie were moving shallower to stakebeds and shoreline brush. We tagged 70 crappie in the Blood River on Monday and 50 more on Tuesday. Since the study began, we have inserted small yellow tags (floy tags) into 1,064 crappie. We use these tags to help track fish, and anglers have caught and returned 53 of these tagged fish for a reward.

The majority of fish tagged this week were male white crappie, followed by male black crappie. Most of the female crappie remained in deeper water near river channels and flats adjacent to the river channels. Water temperature on Monday and Tuesday varied between 59 to 61 degrees.

A cold front passing through the area later in the week dropped the air temperature some 20 degrees. Wednesday’s high hovered in the upper 30s to low 40s, and we even experienced snow flurries throughout the day. Thursday brought slightly warmer weather. However, a strong north wind kept the Blood River area rather choppy. The cold front dropped water temperatures to the 55- to 58-degree range. As the front passed through, most of the fish apparently pulled away from the banks and gathered near adjacent flats. The lake continued to rise with Wednesday’s rain. By Thursday morning, the lake elevation rose to 358.13 and is expected to rise slightly on Friday (April 11).

Results from the radio telemetry fish showed that both black and white crappie appear to be occupying similar habitats. These are the fish implanted with radio transmitters to track their movements.

The majority of fish of the transmitter fish are staging in 6-12 feet of water near river channels and flats. On Tuesday, many fish were located in shallow water. The majority of these were male white crappie. Several fish have even begun to journey back into the shallower "Crappie Hollow" area as a result of rising water levels. A few fish were still found near the mouth of Blood River in 15-plus feet of water; however, the majority of the radio telemetry fish are now between Sheep Ridge Point and "Crappie Hollow." Tracking on Thursday showed that a few fish had moved significantly since Tuesday, although the majority still remained near their previous location. We even had one of our radio-tagged fish caught right in front of us while we were tracking it.

We ask all anglers to return transmitter fish to the water immediately. These fish have a wire protruding from their stomach. If we can keep these fish in the water, we can better track crappie movement.

Overall results from tracking this week appear to show us that many male white and black crappie have begun to move shallow near stakebeds and shoreline brush and timber. This suggests crappie are beginning to prepare nests for spawning. Most of the female crappie are still being found in deeper water near river channels and adjacent flats. Several anglers reported good catches of crappie using jigs and minnows fished under bobbers in shallow-water stakebeds. Other anglers report good catches of crappie by casting jigs to the bank. Hopefully better weather will arrive next week, which should begin to push the majority of crappie shallow in preparation for the spawn that is fast approaching.

Good Fishing.

Week of April 13-18

Tracking results from crappie implanted with transmitters showed for the first time since the study began that black and white crappie appear to be doing their own thing. This week we tracked more black crappie (mostly males) in shallow water in the back of Blood River and into the backs of several smaller embayments. This would indicate that the males have moved shallow to locate and prepare nesting sites.

I would report that fishing has been good this past week. However, two cold fronts brought lots of wind and the lake elevation dropped almost one foot — putting a damper on fishing success. Monday’s lake elevation of 358.9 feet dropped to 358.3 by Thursday (April 17). The prediction for Easter weekend is stable at 358.4 feet, which is still more than a foot above normal.

The water temperature is in the mid-60s. Water color is good in some bays and clear in the more northern embayments. A suggestion for fishing clear water is to anchor off the shoreline, or area to fish, and cast to it.

Last week, we finished tagging crappie with floy tags, which resemble a strand of yellow spaghetti protruding from the top of the fish. We tagged a total of 1,065 crappie, of which 51 percent were white crappie and 49 percent were black crappie. By April 17, anglers had returned tags from 13 percent (or 143) of the fish marked during this year’s study. Of those returned tags, 54 percent came from white crappie and 46 percent came from black crappie. We are now 40 days into this year’s project.

In 1988, a similar study was conducted on Kentucky Lake with 998 tagged crappie. After 40 days, 11 percent, or 114 tags, were returned by anglers. Fifty percent were from white crappie. What does this tell us? Angler harvest of white and black crappie has not changed much in 15 years, even though we have seen a big increase in the population of black crappie during this period.

The creel survey being conducted on Kentucky Lake this year is telling us a different story about the harvest of white and black crappie. Seventeen crappie anglers checked in the first part of March revealed they had a combined catch of 65 crappie, of which 94 percent were white crappie. Thirty-five crappie anglers checked in mid-March revealed a combined catch of 136 crappie, of which 78 percent were white crappie. And, the 72 crappie anglers fishing the last week of March and into the first week of April had a combined catch of 310 crappie, of which 88 percent were white crappie. Fishing success did increase from March into April, which is to be expected. As crappie move shallow to spawn, they become more susceptible to being caught.

April 20-23 (mid-week report)

Electrofishing surveys conducted this week showed crappie are very shallow. The majority of the crappie seen in shallow water were male crappie, probably guarding nests. These fish were found around shoreline habitat such as willow trees, buttonball bushes, water willow and submerged mustard flowers.

Sampling around stake beds and brush piles in 5-8 feet of water yielded few crappie. The crappie that were collected were both male and female. About half of the female crappie appeared to have already spawned. Some had eggs oozing out while others still had the majority of their egg pouch.

Crappie implanted with radio transmitters were also tracked to similar locations as indicated by the electrofishing. Several of the male crappie were very shallow and found near shoreline vegetation. A few crappie were found on flats around stumps in about 5 feet of water. There were also a few crappie found on ledges in deeper water along the creek channels.

Given the electrofishing and tracking information, crappie are definitely spawning. The spawn, however, can last a few weeks. Anglers should try fishing around shoreline habitat. Clear water and rough water conditions make this type of fishing difficult without spooking the fish. One practical way to fish this habitat is without a boat. Try wading with hip boots or chest waders, and use a cane pole and bobber.

The current water elevation is 358.8 fasl. The water temperature is in the mid-60s. The recent cold front will probably slow fishing, as will the severe storms predicted for Wednesday night and Thursday.

April 20-25 (full week report)

Crappie are still in the shallows. Electrofishing (shocking) performed this week revealed a few female crappie in the shallows, but the majority of fish near the banks were male crappie, both black and white.

These males are likely guarding nests and pursuing females. All fish were found amongst buttonball bushes, willow trees and submerged mustard flowers. Although several crappie were also collected from stake beds, the highest concentration of fish continue to be found near shoreline vegetation and timber.

It appears the spawn began last week and continued this week. Spawning likely will continue for another week or two, but the biggest pulse is probably finished. Male crappie should remain shallow for the duration of the spawn, while many of the female crappie that have already spawned are making their way to adjacent flats and river channels. Female crappie should feed aggressively while they recuperate from the spawn.

Casting shoreline structure with jigs, minnows and small crankbaits should produce nice catches of male crappie. The key is to get your bait into the flooded timber and vegetation where the fish are hiding. Drifting and casting flats, points and river channels will likely produce catches of females.

Radio telemetry (fish tracking) surveys performed Tuesday, April 22, showed the majority of male and female crappie remained close to the shore, particularly around vegetation and flooded timber. Black crappie were further back in Blood River and smaller bays than white crappie. On average, black crappie were also found in much shallower water than white crappie. Males apparently are remaining closer to shore — guarding and preparing nests — while most of the females were in deeper water. Within the Blood River area, the highest concentrations of radio telemetry fish were located in the area from Wildcat Boat Ramp to Crappie Hollow.

We also conducted 24-hour tracking of eight crappies this week in order to follow their movements during an entire day. We recorded some interesting information. Although we have not fully analyzed the data, it appears that females moved more during the course of a day than the males. This seems likely, since most males are guarding nests while females are spawning then leaving the area.

We tracked one female black crappie that moved more than 3.5 miles in 24 hours. She eventually returned to the area where she was first found. Overall conclusions of the 24-hour track were that both male white and black crappie moved little and were consistently found amongst flooded timber. Females were found in deeper water than males, although they remained near shoreline habitat. An interesting note: few male crappie were spooked away from their nests as a result of us getting close to them with our tracking boat. This indicates these fish are being good parents and effectively guarding the developing eggs.

Many anglers reported a difficult week of crappie fishingi compared to last week. This may be because many of the crappie are not interested in feeding while they are spawning. Also, males guarding nests will probably not travel far to feed. You must get your lure near the front of the fish before they will eat it. Anglers reported better catches prior to the heavy thunderstorms that arrived in the area Thursday and Friday (April 24-25). Many of these crappie were caught early in the day and in shallow water around flooded bushes.

This week’s heavy rains will likely cause the lake to rise, unless gates are opened at the dam. The rain stained water in the Blood River area, which should help anglers fishing shallow (allowing people to get closer to the fish before spooking it). The lake elevation at 8 a.m. Friday (April 25) was 359.8 fasl. Water temperatures remained in the upper 60s.

Week of April 28-May 2

Crappie are still in the shallows. Electrofishing (shocking) performed this week at Lake Barkley revealed many crappie were still in the buttonball bushes and willow trees along the shoreline. Conditions at Lake Barkley are generally the same as those on Kentucky Lake.

Spawning likely will continue for another week, but the biggest pulse is probably finished. Male crappie should remain shallow for the duration of the spawn, while many of the female crappie that have already spawned are making their way to adjacent flats and river channels.

Radio telemetry (fish tracking) surveys performed Monday and Tuesday (April 28-29), showed the majority of male and female crappie remained close to the shore, particularly around vegetation and flooded timber. Tracking was attempted on Friday, but poor weather prevented us from finding many fish. It seemed that some of the fish that were in the bushes early in the week had moved onto adjacent flats.

Many anglers reported a difficult week of crappie fishingi compared to a few weeks ago. This may be because many of the crappie are not interested in feeding while they are spawning. Also, males guarding nests will probably not travel far to feed.

Lake elevation on Friday (May 2) was near 359.3. During the week there was a minor drop in the water level. However, it has come back up. Water temperature is in the low to mid-70s. Water clarity is clear in most areas of the lake.

Week of May 5-9

Heavy rain and rising water are having an impact on the lake. On Friday (May 9) the lake was muddy, 71 degrees and two feet above normal pool. The lake will rise another five feet during the weekend of May 10-11.

Radio tracking surveys performed this week shows most black and white crappie — both male and female — are hiding in shoreline bushes and shallow flooded timber. Of 21 crappie equipped with radio transmitters for this study, only one was found in deep water (15 feet). The rest of the fish were located in water less than three feet deep.

Approximately half of the study fish tracked this week remained in the same area. The remaining fish moved somewhat, but remained in the same type of habitat and water depth. Crappie are following the rising water into newly flooded cover, such as trees and bushes. Several fish have been located in shallow water between flooded tree trunks and the shore.

Week of May 12-19

Throughout the week of May 12th, rising water levels continued to dominant Kentucky Lake. The lake went from 364.5 on Monday (5/12) to 367.00 by the end of the week. This resulted in even more flooded vegetation and trees for crappie to hide in and forage feed heavily. Similar to our previous weeks results, all of our crappie remained in and among the flooded trees, bushes, and vegetation. The farther into the trees, bushes and vegetation you can get, the better your chances of catching one of the fish implanted with radio transmitters.

By the end of the week, we started to see signs of declining water levels, mostly due from a much needed relief in the amount of rain we are getting. With the declining water levels and break from the rain, crappie continued to remain shallow amongst the flooded vegetation and bushes. Again, similar to our previous week’s data, we are finding more of our black crappie further back in "Crappie Hollow" and in the back of Sugar Creek, while the majority of our white crappie seem to be utilizing shoreline habitat from "Fannin Point" out to "Sheepridge Point."

Not many crappie anglers were seen in Blood River throughout the week. Those fishing in Blood River report fair catches of both white and black crappie. Many of them are flipping small jigs in the bushes, using bobbers and minnows, and trolling small jigs around the outside edges of flooded bushes and trees. A few anglers trolling on the flats and river channels report catches of large white crappie on crankbaits being trolled for white bass. Water temperatures have not drastically increased from the previous week and still remain in the mid-70's.

May 27-June 3

With the return of normal water levels to the Blood River area of Kentucky Lake, we anticipated a gradual migration of crappie out of the flooded shallows to the secondary and primary river channels. However, many of our fish continue to remain in the same areas that they have been inhabiting during the higher water levels.

We are still finding the majority of our crappie between Sheepridge Point and Fannin Point. The large flat immediately south of Fannin Point continues to harbor the greatest concentration of white and black crappie. Fish are staying near the river channel that meanders through this area. Several other fish in the area are also relating to the flooded shoreline vegetation and brush.

We are still seeing more black than white crappie further back in the Crappie Hollow area. Most of our white crappie are staying along shoreline brush and open water flats in the middle section of Blood River. A few female white crappie have moved off the banks and relocated in 12 to 22 feet of water, along the old river channel that runs through Blood River.

There appears to be no difference between black and white crappie preferences when it comes to water clarity or surface water temperature. Surface water temperature has been relatively stable around the lower to mid-70s. Temperatures may dip further because of the unseasonably cool weather earlier this week.

Few crappie anglers are on the water. Those still fishing for crappie report incidental catches of large crappie while trolling small crankbaits for white bass. A few crappie anglers are still catching fish on jig and minnows in shallow areas near brush and stakebeds.

As our project approaches its halfway point, we are still getting continuous data on approximately two-thirds of the crappie implanted with radio transmitters. We have not been able to locate seven white crappie and 12 black crappie for the past month. There are three possible explanations:

The fish left the Blood River area for the main lake. We will perform a tracking study on the main lake soon to test this theory.
The transmitter failed and we can no longer pick up a signal.
An angler caught the fish and removed it from the lake.
If you have one of our radio transmitters, please contact us at (270) 753-3886 so that we can pick it up from you. The transmitter has a foot-long wire antenna and a thumbnail-sized unit implanted in the fish.

This project only works if we can collect as much data as possible during the short study period. If you do keep a radio telemetry (transmitter) fish, we can put its transmitter into a new fish and begin collecting new data if the equipment is returned to us. Again, we thank everybody for their patience during this project.

June 20-25

The hot days of summer have finally arrived and are here to stay. Air temperatures hovered in the mid-90s while surface water temperatures ranged from the low to upper 80s in Blood River during our last two tracking surveys. The lake elevation is still high, ranging around 359.2 to 359.35.

Our radio-tagged fish are finally moving. Although most of these crappie are located between Sheepridge Point and Fannin Point, they have started to move deeper. Some crappie previously found around brush and stumps in 3-5 feet of water have now moved to the first major drop-off adjacent to the structure. Most of our larger female white crappie have moved out towards the river channel, with some found in 22 feet of water. The area out from Sheepridge Point, where numerous ledges and the meandering river channel can be found, held several fish this week, mostly white crappie.

The greatest concentration of black crappie remain in the area stretching from "Crappie Hollow" to Fannin Point. Most white crappie are being found from Fannin Point to Sheepridge Point. On Tuesday (June 24), most fish were relating to the river channel that meanders through that area, or the flats that lie adjacent to the river channel.

Several crappie remain shallow near submerged brush and stake beds despite the gradual overall movement toward deeper water. A few crappie on Tuesday (June 24) were found among flooded willow trees, presumably feeding on the recent hatch of mayflies (willow flies) that occurred on Sunday and Monday.

Few crappie anglers are fishing the Blood River. White bass anglers trolling small crankbaits near ledges and river channels are catching most of the crappie. A few crappie anglers using jigs and minnows reported decent catches of 15-inch fish in water over 15 feet deep.

Information provided by Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources

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