The year was 1811. Mother Nature, cold-hearted gal that she can be, decided to create a little bit of ruckus in the northwestern corner of Tennessee in the form of an earthquake. For three straight days, the mighty Mississippi River ran backwards, and in doing so inundated an 18,000-acre shallow sinkhole which became known as Reelfoot Lake.
Located in the northwestern corner of The Volunteer State, Reelfoot Lake is a panfish and catfisherman’s dream come true. Billy Blakley has lived all of his 38 years as a Reelfoot local, the last 24 of which he’s spent guiding anglers and waterfowl hunters through the maze of cypress trees scattered across the waters. To say Blakley knows the lake well is an understatement of immense proportions—I don’t know my own living room as intimately as Blakley knows the big lake’s murky waters.
In late May, my wife Julie and I drove to Reelfoot, an enjoyable 500-mile adventure in-and-of itself, from our home near Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Meeting us down south were my folks, Mick and Sue Johnson. Our first impression of our home away from home, Blue Bank Resort, could only be described as comfortable, friendly and immersed in total relaxation. After tending to licensing paperwork ($17 for a 3-day non-resident fishing license; $10.50 for a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency permit), we unloaded, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and called it an evening, anxious to see what the next morning would bring.
At this point, let me lump the next three days fishing into one elemental statement—if you like catching big crappies, 10-inch bluegills, and channel ‘cats that average two pounds and run to 19, then Reelfoot Lake is the place for you. Blakley, long-time guide Jackie Van Cleave, and Blakley’s crew of young but extremely experienced and knowledgeable guides put all four of us into ‘gills and ‘cats immediately.
Tackle and methods were surprisingly and enjoyably non-technical, crickets fished under small slip bobbers for bluegills, and ‘crawlers hung under slightly larger slip floats for ‘cats. Cane poles would have worked just fine for the bluegills; fly-anglers will definitely want to pack their lighter gear. Although we were a bit late for the peak of the crappie action, the bluegills and ‘cats more than made up for our tardiness.
Blue Bank Resort sits right on the water and offers easy access to the lake via a boat slip located just a few steps away from the restaurant. Like to eat? Miss Brenda can certainly take care of all your breakfast and lunch wishes. Monday and Thursday nights feature an incredible southern barbeque, all part of what I would call a ridiculously low-priced fishing package. Ready for this? For four days and four nights (Sunday through Wednesday) from May 24th through July 31st at the Blue Bank Motel located just two miles west of the resort, you pay only $209 per person. This includes your room, a rental boat and motel, fuel, bait, ice, maid service, and two complimentary BBQ dinners. Starting on September 1, the same package drops to $189 per person. Let me say this again, all of your lodging, boat, motor, fuel, ice, bait, two free dinners, and incredible crappie, bluegill, and channel catfishing for less than it would take me to fill the fuel tank on my G’pa’s Chevrolet half-ton. It simply can’t be beat. Blakley’s services, as well as those of his guide crew, are extra. However, it’s well worth the additional funds for the education you’ll receive on how and where to fish Reelfoot.
Waterfowlers will want to check out Reelfoot’s possibilities during November and December. Situated as it is just off the Mighty Mississippi, the big shallow lake receives steady bird traffic throughout the fall and winter, including such avian visitors as mallards, grey ducks, green-wing teal, widgeon, and northern shovelers, as well as a mix of divers and good numbers of Canada geese.
This is traditional waterfowling at its finest, with some of the permanent blinds having been passed down through several generations of Duck Men. Decoy spreads are impressive on Reelfoot, with rigs of 400 to 1,500 blocks and a half dozen or more Robo-Ducks being the norm. It’s without question a one-of-a-kind waterfowling experience, one unlike any other found in the U.S.
Blue Bank Resort; 877-258-3226; www.bluebankresort.com