One of the most popular crappie fishing destinations in the country also offers a variety of family fun
The float/jig combination gently settled beside the exposed stump. In less than a second the float wiggled. It didn’t dive under but just wiggled.
Billy Blakely raised the B’n’M rod that immediately bent like a question mark, but there was no question that Blakely had hooked another Reelfoot Lake slab crappie. If you are a serious crappie fisherman it is almost a sure bet that you have heard about Reelfoot Lake in the northwest corner of Tennessee. And you’ve probably heard of Blakely who has more than 35 years’ experience as a guide and has been featured in more than 100 outdoor shows and countless articles and magazines.
However you may not have heard of some of the other great family attractions in the area such as Discovery Park of America, Century Farm Winery, eagle-watching tours or Blue Bank Resort. Owner Mike Hayes and his staff pride themselves on providing more than just another hotel.
“We like to think of ourselves as the swiss army knife of resorts,” said Brianna Roser, marketing director for Blue Bank Resort. “There many things to do here, for the fisherman, hunter, kayaker, family, bird watchers, garden enthusiasts, the elderly and anyone in-between.”
Outside of duck season, fishing is the focus on Reelfoot. Blakely enjoys taking kids of all ages. The historic Reelfoot Lake, created by a massive earthquake in 1811, is literally Blakely’s backyard. As the lead guide for Blue Bank, it is a rare day when he is not exploring the cypress swamps and backwater bayous catching slab crappie. But Blue Bank owner Mike Hayes says it hasn’t always been that way.
“When I was a kid in the 60’s you’d have to catch eight crappie to add up to a pound,” said Hayes. “It was just way overpopulated. It was like fishing in a stocked pond. It was nothing to catch five of six hundred crappie a day. We just had too many crappie.”
At that time even commercial fishermen, mostly using barrel nets, were allowed to catch crappie to sell to restaurants. But Hayes said popularity grew among sport fishermen and in the mid-1980’s commercial fishing for crappie was stopped.
Sport fishing grew even more popular. Hayes said more pressure reduced the number of crappie, but increased the size. Even though there still is no crappie size limit on Reelfoot, Hayes says most crappie that anglers put in the livewell are above the ten-inch mark with a 30-crappie-per-day creel limit.
With thousands of acres of very unforgiving cypress stumps hidden beneath the lake’s surface, Reelfoot is not a lake you want run your boat hither, thither and yon. Still, Hayes says more and more anglers are bringing their own boats these days.
His advice is to, “Trailer your boat to different parts of the lake, near where you want to fish. That way you can idle where you’re going versus running long distances over unknown water. We have boat ramps all over the lake.”
The most common crappie fishing techniques are flipping jigs or minnows under slip floats around the cypress trees, or spider-rigging through stump fields.
Blakely says do-it-yourselfers can do well on the lake.
“Yes, they can, just be persistent & move around a lot because it all looks fishy,” said Blakely.
In my humble opinions, everyone NEEDS to visit Reelfoot at least once in their life. Whether you are a fisherman or not, you will find no other place like it. And every season of the year brings new and unique sights, sounds and opportunities.
One of the newest in the area is Discovery Park of America in nearby Union City, Tenn. The centerpiece of Discovery Park is Discovery Center, a 100,000-square-foot building showcasing ten exhibit galleries including Children’s Exploration, Military, Native Americans, Natural History, Regional History and Space. You will find a theater simulation of the 1811-12 earthquakes that shaped Reelfoot Lake as well as a 20,000-gallon aquarium revealing the underwater life of Reelfoot Lake. There are dinosaurs, fossils, Native American artifacts, military equipment, vintage automobiles and dozens more hands-on experiences for children.
About a one-hour drive from Reelfoot you will find the Century Farm Winery offering free tastings for Blue Bank guests. Visitors to the Century Farm Winery can experience true-life West Tennessee farming through the rows of cotton and corn, as well as the allure of the vineyard.
Back at Blue Bank, whether you are a guest or not, you are invited to explore their unique butterfly garden.
“Our ever-expanding half-acre butterfly garden is rich with beautiful blooms on the monarch migration trail, giving you an experience right here in West Tennessee like no other,” said Roser. “We are so excited to offer many new events in addition to the outstanding fishing & hunting our resort was founded on.”
If you’ve been to Reelfoot I am probably telling you what you already know. If you haven’t, you really need to go find out for yourself.
(Editor’s Note: CrappieNOW features a monthly “Destination” story with great crappie fishing locales, but also areas that might be good for the whole family to enjoy whether they are crappie fishing or not. If you have suggestions for places you would like to see featured, we would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.)