Reelfoot Lake is folded into the northwest corner of Tennessee between the towns of Samburg and Hornbeak. It floods around 15,000 acres but is only about five to six feet deep. A tiny corner of the lake spills into Kentucky but Reelfoot is all Tennessee, born and bred in history and legend.
As the duck flies Reelfoot is only a couple of miles from the Mississippi River. Getting here follows one of two methods: either you’re looking for it or you are seriously lost.
The lake had a violent birth that came by way of the legendary New Madrid earthquake of 1811-12. Some of the massive bald cypress trees standing today somehow survived that upheaval. They give the place character.
Reelfoot is one of my favorite places and a delightful fishery. Largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish are the mainstays. In June it’s mostly channel catfish and bluegill. First time visitors will find something missing. There are no water skiers, tubers or Jet Skiers at Reelfoot. Reason? Reelfoot is a shallow, natural lake, littered with stumps and other woody stuff just below the surface. Hardly anyone runs above idle speed and those who do follow carefully marked routes.
I spent a few hours Monday on the lake in the very capable hands of guide Billy Blakley out of Blue Bank Resort www.bluebankresort.com, where owner Mike Hayes and his crew will be glad to see you. Billy and I (with help from Seth Lamphier, one of Blue Bank’s workers) started the day by putting out some yo-yos. These are basically spring-loaded limblines – something akin to high tech trotlines.
After the yo-yos were set we spent the balance of the morning yanking in some of the lake’s legendary bluegill. Hand size ‘gills, thick bodied and strong, are the norm. The bluegill action was a little slow (we were between moon phases coupled with sweltering heat), but we managed to yank in 18 – each one a keeper. The only place where I’ve seen comparable size bluegill was at Burnt Cabin Lake, a canoe-in outpost in southern Ontario.
Several of our yo-yo lines had been bit; all channel cats, most in the 1-2 pound range. The largest might have gone 3 pounds.
The only problem I have with Reelfoot is that every place looks fishy. There are worse problems to have.
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By the way . . . when waterfowl season arrives you won’t find a better duck hole than Reelfoot. Blakley knows all about that, too.