Reelfoot Lake


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A region to the north known as Bayou du Chein supplies a modest flow of water into Reelfoot. Most water enters the lake through springs and from periodic floods of the nearby Mississippi River.

Water is very fertile and murky with a greenish color. Despite the lack of depth, a thermocline may develop during summers with limited rainfall.

Size and Depth: 15,500 acres at a normal lake elevation of 282.2 feet above mean sea level. About 68 percent of the lake (mostly on the lake's north end) is 3 feet deep or less. The average depth is 5.5 feet and the maximum depth is 18 feet.

Shoreline: Significant areas of wetland are present on the north and west sides. Mainly undeveloped and inaccessible. Development is limited to the south shore and the eastern sides of Blue and Buck basins.

Cover: Aquatic vegetation is extremely abundant throughout the lake. Curly-leaf pondweed and coontail are the most prevalent submergent varieties, and are particularly heavy in Buck Basin and Buzzard Slough. Dense growths of pondweed also exist along the eastern shore between Samburg and Willow Bar Towhead. Beds of American lotus are found around the lake and can impede navigation. White water lily, bladderwort, fanwort and arrowhead are also present. Large areas of submerged stumps, lay-down timber and flooded cypress provide excellent cover for fish and numerous fishing spots for anglers.

Bottom: Primarily muck. Erosion from nearby agricultural lands and build up of organic sediments from decomposing aquatic vegetation are causing concern with state officials. Infilling has resulted in a loss of depth that hinders navigation and may have a negative impact on the fishery.

Featured Species: White Crappie, Black Crappie, Bluegill, Largemouth Bass.

Other Species: Yellow Bass, Hybrid Striped Bass(Cherokee Bass), Longear Sunfish, Warmouth, Green Sunfish, Channel Catfish, Flathead Catfish, Bowfin, Buffalo, Carp, Grass Carp, Freshwater Drum, Spotted Gar, Yellow Bullhead.

Reelfoot Lake was created by violent earthquakes that shook the region during the winter of 1811-1812. The lake bed was once a rich forest and swampy area filled with cypress trees, cottonwoods and walnut trees. This flooded area is now considered one of the most fertile and productive lakes in the United States. A recent study estimated that Reelfoot supports 1,250 pounds of fish per acre, including forage, rough and gamefish. The combined sport and commercial harvest of crappie averages nearly 100,000 pounds per year. Reelfoot is regarded by many experts as one of the finest crappie lakes in the entire country. Crappie(black and white varieties are present) are clearly the lake's most popular and widely pursued gamefish. A large portion of the population ranges between 7 to 10 inches in length, but slabs up to 14 inches are available. Abundance is so high there is no creel limit, and commercial fishermen are permitted to harvest crappie. Distribution of the two species varies throughout the different basins. White crappie are more prevalent in Lower Blue and Upper Blue basins, while black crappie are more numerous in Middle Basin. Overall, TWRA fisheries managers estimate that 60 percent of the total crappie fishery is comprised of the white variety. Biologists anticipate this number to decline, if the trend toward more black crappie continues. Angler interest in bluegill and sunfish is high. Reelfoot supports excellent numbers of quality size fish. In fact, natural reproduction is so good that successive years of strong hatches may cause a shift in the population toward more numerous but smaller fish. In the last several years, angler interest in largemouth bass has been increasing. Natural reproduction has been superb, recruiting good numbers of fish into the population. Growth rates are excellent due to the ample supply of forage. A Reelfoot largemouth typically reaches the 15-inch size limit at age three. Trophy fish up to 23 inches have been registered in TWRA creel surveys. The average bass caught by anglers weighs about 3 to 31/2 pounds. Biologists believe that Reelfoot's forage base can support a much larger bass population. Reelfoot also sustains an impressive catfish fishery. Channel cats are abundant, and decent numbers of flatheads are available as well.

Forage: Gizzard shad are the most abundant forage fish, although many are too big to be consumed by the majority of gamefish. Brook silverside are especially important for largemouth bass and crappie. Golden shiner, bluntnose minnow, mosquitofish, blackspotted topminnow, inland silverside, and juvenile panfish are also present.

Crappie: From January through March, the best pre-spawn crappie action is found in areas that offer the warmest water. The north and northwest sides of Lower Blue Basin are top locations, but also check Upper Blue, Buck and Snyder basins. Work depths of 10 to 15 feet early, but move to shallower water as the season progresses and the water warms. By the end of March and into April, look for fish in the remnants of the stalk and stems of the previous year's pads and lotus beds. The most popular presentation for crappie is the aptly named "Reelfoot Lake Rig." It's basically a 2-hook spreader rig tied on 12- to 30-pound test line. The bottom hook is usually placed about 1 foot above a 3/8-ounce sinker, and the top hook is attached 12 inches above the first. No. 1 to 2/0 Aberdeen wire hooks are preferred. The rig can be tight lined on the bottom, but using a float to suspend it just above the lake bed will reduce snagging in the numerous stumps. Minnows tend to produce the most consistent action, however a variety of plastic tube jigs and hair jigs also work well. Many experts consider April the best month for crappie, as spawning fish invade the shallows. Fish can be found in extremely shallow water, at times as little as 1 to 2 feet. Concentrate on woody cover such as brush, stumps and stick-ups. Use a long crappie rod to drop your bait into openings and pockets in the cover. After spawning, crappie move to deeper water where they relate to stick-ups and newly emerging weed growth. Summertime crappie prefer open areas of the lake and often suspend. Slow trolling or drifting with multiple-rod spider rigs(no more than 3 poles per person) is a good way to cover large areas of water to locate a school of active fish. Focus on depths of 5 to 10 feet.

Bluegill: Although most famous for crappie, Reelfoot also boasts an excellent bluegill fishery. Nice catches are taken from April through September, but the best action occurs during the period of May to mid-June. Most fish are caught on crickets, and to a lesser degree worms, threaded on No. 4 or No. 6 long-shank wire hooks. Cane poles rigged with bobbers are simple but effective for working the extensive wood cover. For bedding fish, target depths of 3 to 5 feet over a sandy bottom. Local experts find bluegill beds by looking for streams of air bubbles rising to the surface. The bubbles are made by males cleaning the nesting site in preparation for spawning. After the spawn, concentrate on areas that have stumps or cypress trees.

Largemouth Bass: In February, early season bass activity starts to pick up in the shallow, stumpy sloughs. Work white or chartreuse spinnerbaits around the base of cypress trees and stumps. Other productive offerings include weedless spoons like the Johnson Silver Minnow or Mepps Timber Doodle, as well as a variety of 3- to 4-inch plastic curly tail grubs. From late March to early April, spawning usually occurs in stumpy areas with 1 to 3 feet of water. Tossing black and blue lizards or worms is a good bet, but twitching a chrome/black Bang-O-Lure also produces. Bass are in their summer pattern by early June. Prime spots are 4 to 6 feet deep and have lily pads or submerged logs for cover. Lower Blue Basin offers the highest potential for summer bass. Use heavy duty baitcasting gear rigged with 15- to 17-pound test line to work the dense cover with jig n' pigs, Sluggos or Texas-rigged worms. The months of July and August can be hot for big fish. Look for shady shoreline areas and work them slowly with a plastic worm or by pulling a rat-type lure across the surface. Fall bass are caught near surface moss, lily pads and submergent stumps. The key to locating bass at this time is to find schools of shad. In the winter months, however, find the deepest water that offers some form of sunken wood cover. The best depths are 8 to 18 feet.