Josh Gowan: Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee

May 12, 2015
Blue Bank guides David Blakely and Nelson Northern with a stringer-full of big, Reelfoot Lake bream

Blue Bank guides David Blakely and Nelson Northern with a stringer-full of big, Reelfoot Lake bream

I was back on the “Foot” this past week, where the weather was hot and the fishing was slow, at least for my target species, the majestic crappie! Now every other type of fish in the lake was jumping in the boat, and a less stubborn man would have altered his tactics and target to attain success, but while I may not be very patient, I am bull-headed!

I always see the weather-folks warning people of the heat, “stay inside,” “carry plenty of water,” “avoid the midday sun,” and so on. Being a moderately young and extremely tough (it’s my column, and I can describe myself how I see fit) outdoorsman, I pay no attention to such trivial warnings. This past week I was taught a rather poignant lesson about both the “trivial” warnings and my own physical limits.

After attaining a magnificent sunburn last Saturday on Kentucky Lake, I spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday on Reelfoot, fishing through the heat of the day to find concentrations of black crappie seeking shade. It was perhaps I who should have been seeking shade!

After catching over 60 specks on Monday (54 of which were between 4-8 inches,) and a disappointing day on Tuesday, Wednesday I opted for a long ride from the cabin to the swamp on the north end of the lake. The crappie bite was slow, although I was inadvertently catching a good mess of big bream on the cypress trees, which was enough excitement to keep plucking away at it.

At around 2pm I was jigging yet another cypress tree, when I started feeling a bit woozy. I sat down and fired up the outboard, figuring I should start the very long ride back to the house. I’d neglected to drink any water over the previous few days, an oversight on my part, and the heat was getting the best of me.

Within 30 minutes I was coming across the “log-yard” in the middle basin, looking for Willow Bar Ditch, which would bring me into the south end of the lake and the last leg of my journey. I got up to 5 mph, which is faster than I like to go across the stump-laden lake, especially with a new lower unit. Although I’d traversed this stretch (and every other stretch) of the lake a million times, I had to use my depthfinder’s map to locate the ditch.

I finally pulled into the cove and stumbled up to the cabin, stripped down and sat in a cold shower while pummeling bottles of water. I spent the next few days at home in the AC and must have drank 20 gallons of water, and I wasn’t really myself until the weekend. It was a stupid mistake that I will not make again!

Now although the crappie fishing was tough for me, at least as far as “keeper” fish are concerned, the amount of small crappie I caught was staggering, which is very promising for the future of the lake. If ever there were a time to put a 9-inch length limit on the lake, it is now. While most people would never keep a 4-inch crappie, there is no doubt some of the tourists visiting the lake clean many 7-8 inchers, and these fish need to grow.

While the bream (or blue gill depending on your dialect,) bite is consistent and there are plenty of those tenacious panfish available in the trees, the lily pads, and along the shore, the most active and plentiful of gamefish is still the catfish.

It is unbelievable how many catfish there are, and if there is anyone going hungry that owns even the most rudimentary of fishing poles and can find their way to the lake, it is their own fault.

A bit of stink bait (Sonny’s being the preferred flavor) smeared on anything at all, and flipped under a cork or on the bottom, will result in 2-5 pound channel cats in practically any water on the lake. An occasional blue catfish, which run bigger on the lake, is not uncommon, and if you’re very lucky the prized flathead will vary from its menu of live fish and indulge in a bit of the stinky cheese, and dinner my friends, is served!