While it's great fun to research, interview, and ultimately write about great fishing travel opportunities for the entire family, when you get to instead do the catching firsthand, well that's of course much better. I was lucky enough in March to get to fish Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee. A short 3+ hour drive from St. Louis, Reelfoot provides a variety of outdoor opportunities for anglers. Big Crappie, Catfish, duck hunting, and eagle watching are synonymous with Reelfoot Lake. The Crappie are especially the draw during the spring season so I was grateful to try it out with my friend Hosea Bartlett.
Another draw to this area is the unique natural beauty that surrounds you. Reelfoot was formed in the earthquake that ravaged this part of the country in 1811. An earthquake so significant, the Mississippi River flowed backwards for hours due to the violent shift of the landscape starting near New Madrid. The United States Geological Survey describes the event like this:
The earthquakes caused the ground to rise and fall - bending the trees until their branches intertwined and opening deep cracks in the ground. Deep seated landslides occurred along the steeper bluffs and hillslides; large areas of land were uplifted permanently; and still larger areas sank and were covered with water that erupted through fissures or craterlets. Huge waves on the Mississippi River overwhelmed many boats and washed others high onto the shore. High banks caved and collapsed into the river; sand bars and points of islands gave way; whole islands disappeared. The region most seriously affected was characterized by raised or sunken lands, fissures, sinks, sand blows, and large landslides that covered an area of 78,000 - 129,000 square kilometers, extending from Cairo, Illinois, to Memphis, Tennessee, and from Crowley's Ridge in northeastern Arkansas to Chickasaw Bluffs, Tennessee. Only one life was lost in falling buildings at New Madrid, but chimneys were toppled and log cabins were thrown down as far distant as Cincinnati, Ohio, St. Louis, Missouri, and in many places in Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee.
A notable area of subsidence that formed during the February 7, 1812, earthquake is Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee, just east of Tiptonville dome on the downdropped side of the Reelfoot scarp. Subsidence there ranged from 1.5 to 6 meters, although larger amounts were reported.
Visitors today take in the view of a lake that is punctuated with stands of Cypress trees throughout. The bald eagles make their nests in these trees and make for some great viewing while you wait for the fish. The lake is mostly shallow, averaging about 5 feet with the deepest part of the lake not even 20 feet deep.
Our package included a two night stay, boat use, minnows and crickets for bait. You can't forget the all important free coffee in the morning too! The room was perfect for two guys just looking for a comfortable place to sleep between fishing and eating. What stands out at Cypress Point is the great service and attentiveness to your needs. The staff are full of energy and always happy to help you get setup for fishing. They usually have what you need before you remember you need it. The lures, gear, and of course the boat ready to go when you are. An all around great service experience here.
We booked an outing with David Blakely who Hosea had hired before. We got plenty of rain Friday so on Saturday morning the lake did not look good. David was actually concerned we might not be happy with the result and offered to take us out Sunday instead. We chose to still give it a go and while it was still raining on the way to the lake, this was our view setting up at the first spot.
This fishing experience was much more than I expected. Crappie don’t grow to 10-20lbs. They’re not known for their leaping ability. They don’t particularly fight hard and don’t take you along for the ride on 25 yard runs. We weren’t wielding ultralight gear but extra long baitcasters, pulling these fish straight up from a depth of only a few feet.
The challenge showed up however in the ebbs and flows of the bite. 10 minutes, maybe 30 go by with nothing. Suddenly there’s 3 rods bent with Crappie totaling 5 lbs. You have seconds to respond or they’re gone as the hooks will pop out or tear through their paper mouths.
David thrives as a guide in this environment. He’s got a net under your fish by the time you react to a bite. He’s as committed to you getting these slabs in the boat as humanly possible. Quickly moving from Port to Starboard and in between the 3 seats on the bow, he keeps the keeps the lines rigged, at the productive depth, and off the timber. It’s quite an operation!
While the fight is short bringing in these fish, keeping up with the action on the bow will undoubtedly keep you entertained. Hosea and I just had a blast. To boot, the end result of 24 Crappie totaling 39.7lbs was far beyond our expectations.
Later we had a true southern style lunch at Boyette's Dining Room. I considered the frog legs and quail before going with the fried shrimp po boy. While the fishing is of key importance, the food is up there in priority too!
After our early day on the water with David, we took out a boat ourselves, already included in our package. David even helped us get started with mapping out a locatiuron and an approach to use to catch Crappie. Cypress Point provided the minnows and we were off. We found a quiet cove in an about 20 minute boat ride. Fishing was slow and we only had a drum to show for our efforts but the lake was just gorgeous!
Cypress Point has staff on hand who will filet your catch. That day the going rate was $.50 a fish so for about $10 we enjoyed a beer that evening and outsourced the mess. Hosea shared some lively conversation with the team there while I grabbed a hot shower.
We grabbed dinner at Blue Bank Resort and enjoyed a great variety of appetizers, including some deep fried pickles and chicken wings. The strawberry spread on the free rolls are just killer too!
The next morning we repeated the process taking out a boat on our own, this time trying a spillway. The temperature had dropped almost 20 degrees overnight so the fish were not cooperating. We were grateful for having gone out Saturday while the getting was good! The experience of 2 trips with really no success helped underline how essential the expertise of a fishing guide can be. That is especially true of Reelfoot Lake. The boat ride between the ramp and our spots was a labyrinth where a newbie could quickly get lost. Your guide can literally be the difference between catching the largest poundage of Crappie you’ve seen and getting skunked entirely. We’d gladly recommend David if you’re considering a trip to Reelfoot Lake.
The experience was one that any angler would appreciate. I admit I’m only lukewarm on Crappie fishing but wanted to try something different. I was really impressed by the great time I had. My family really enjoyed the Crappie bake that Sunday night too. It really changed the minds of 3/4 of us about keeping and eating fish. I’ll always be a CPR (Catch-Picture-Release) practitioner primarily but on rare occasion, keeping a good eating fish is highly rewarding. Crappie are hard to beat in this regard!
If you already love Crappie fishing and are looking for a great opportunity to get into some big ones or some solid numbers in a beautiful setting, Reelfoot Lake is hard to beat. You may have some time left in this spring season but even if not, there's plenty of other great fishing there year round that's worth a look. You'll be impressed. I know I was!