REELFOOT LAKE, A CRAPPIE MECCA
When my buddy Don Dziedzina called me and said “I need a camera man.” I replied, “Where are we going?” When he said Reelfoot Lake, I started packing.
Don and I headed south to hopefully film some excellent crappie fishing for his TV show, Illinois Outdoors. Reelfoot Lake, an 18,000-acre body of water just a few hours south of St. Louis, is one of the premiere crappie fisheries in the Midwest. The weather was cold and rainy on our way down, which would slow the bite. We were hoping for better weather.
Our destination was the Blue Bank Resort, on the south shore of Reelfoot. After checking into our rooms we met with resort owner Mike Hayes. He gave us a quick tour of the facility and brought us up to speed on the fishing. Then we met our guide Billy Blakley, “Y’all ready to catch some crappie?” he asked, with a smooth Tennessee drawl. We were.
The next morning we woke up to better weather conditions. The water was 55 degrees, the temperature has risen and the wind had
diminished—ideal conditions that would definitely help our chances. After a hearty breakfast, we hit the water. The calm water definitely helped as we hooked up our first fish in about 5 minutes, a nice 11-inch crappie.
The most productive method on Reelfoot is to use a “spider rig” setup with the poles, loading 8 rods in holders out of the front of the boat. In Tennessee, there is no limit as to how many rods an angler can use at one time. We drifted through an area loaded with old cypress stumps, fishing in about 8-10 feet of water. At the end of our lines we had a double-hook rig below a slip bobber. The rig hooks were set about 12 inches apart, and baited with minnows. With the slip bobber knots set at about 6-7 feet, the double hook rig not only gave us the advantage of more bait, but helped present our baits at varying depths. Once our presentation was dialed in on the strike zone, we went to town and boated one crappie after another. Most of the fish caught were between 9 and 11 inches long, and we boated several over 2 pounds. As the wind kicked up, the bite slowed down a little bit.
Preferred crappie rods are 14-footers, which are perfect for this kind of fishing. The advantage of the length was to keep the bait further away from the boat, so as not to spook the fish in the relatively shallow water. Our fishing continued into the afternoon as we filled the livewell – a great introduction to Reelfoot Lake.
Reelfoot, a natural lake full of stumps and underwater structure, was created back in the early 1800’s. When a series of earthquakes struck the region, the topography drastically changed, enough to actually cause the Mississippi River to backflow into the valley and fill the region with water. Over time, the river changed direction and erosion caused the lake to become isolated. Home to thousands of cypress trees, the newly formed lake held an abundance of submerged trees and logs. This unique structure, combined with the lack of natural predators has allowed the crappie and bass populations to flourish over the years. There is also an abundance of catfish, huge bluegill and yellow bass. The lake is fairly shallow, only 18 feet at it’s deepest point, so it warms up quickly and is a great option when we still have ice on the water in Northern Illinois. The crappie start to bite in early March and continue through June, then the action heats up again in September-October. And the creel limit is liberal, 30 crappie per day per man, with no minimum size.
Blue Bank Resort owners are now in their fourth generation, and have always run a family business. “My grandmother had hotel on the lake in the 1930’s,” explains resort owner Mike Hayes. “The Blue Bank has been open since 1958,” says Mike. “ Reelfoot was a commercial fishery for years, that was our main business. We stopped commercial fishing in the early 80’s, and began focusing on sportsmen.” Mike’s son Michael handles sales for the resort. “We love seeing people catch a lot of fish,” says Michael. “Today, our resort caters to sportsmen, outdoor enthusiasts and families.” The resort has a restaurant, pool, hot tub and excellent lakeside accommodations including single rooms or cabins that sleep up to 10 people.
Reelfoot is a unique body of water that any die-hard panfishermen must experience.