Reelfoot Lake: Bluegills are the Star of Early Summer

A Reelfoot "Bull-gill." Photo by author
The author with a thick early-summer Reelfoot Lake blugill.

Located in the Northwestern corner of Tennessee, Reelfoot Lake is the states only large natural lake. Created by the 1811-1812 earthquakes on the New Madrid fault line, it is series of basins connected by natural and man-made ditches. This wonderfully swampy, mostly shallow lake bordered with Bald Cypress trees and grassy flats make it one of the most popular lakes in the US for crappie fishing.

In the spring anglers come from all parts of the country to chase spawning slabs.The fishing camps are all booked to capacity and the lake is full of boats.  If you can manage to hit the right time, the bragging boards will be full of 2 lb.+ crappies but not everyone likes a crowd or the fast paced hustle of the spawn.

The good news is that things slow down after the spring. The crappies disperse and are harder to locate in the shallow basin system which makes summertime the right time for this lake to be less crowded and more fun. Yep, it’s Bluegill time.

Reelfoot Lake is a swampy basin ringed by cypress trees. Photo: Lauren Diamond

Reelfoot is packed with big bull ‘gills that love to inhale live bait hung under a bobber. This is the time they begin to spawn in this area of the country. If the water is clear enough you can spot the saucer shaped beds with a pair of polarized glasses and begin your hunt once you spot the lunar like landscape. Since this lake is fairly shallow in most parts the wind can kick up the bottom fairly easy and make the water a little too murky to see what you are looking for, just locate the shallow flats and start eliminating water.

The technique is almost too easy to be true. There is no need for fancy slip floats or spinning blade baits as a stationary spring bobber, a small split shot, and a light wire hook is all that’s required. Look for water around 4-6 feet deep and work towards the shore with a cricket suspended about a foot or a little less off the bottom. Bring cheap bobbers and plenty of them because this lake is full of hang ups. The beautiful Cypress trees have an ugly underside of “knees” that can stretch far beyond the visible parts of the tree. A light wire hook and a straight pull on the rod is usually all it takes to free your line from the woody bottoms of these prime areas, but trust me, you’re going to lose a bobber or two.

An osprey nest on Reelfoot Lake. Photo: Lauren Diamond

Like any other place or type of fishing there is no promise of filled fish baskets and trophy fish at any particular time. Reelfoot does have a small advantage should the fishing be not so hot. The lake is situated in the Mississippi flyway and is a haven for many types of birds. There are nesting pairs of bald eagles as well as osprey, owls, herons and a multitude of other winged beauties to enjoy.

There are many places around the lake that offer lodging that can include everything thing you need short of your tackle which makes the trip easier for a family-style get away since you only need to pack your clothes, food, and your fishing gear. Most lodges and campgrounds on the lake also offer low cost

fishing packages in the summer that include boat rental, motor, gas, ice, and bait.

This part of Tennessee is a relatively short drive from Indiana and a wonderful get away from the same old fishing spots in the Hoosier state.

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Scott Weaver
A lifelong Hoosier, Scott grew up fishing, hunting, and exploring the woods in rural Hancock County. His father had a love for bicycles and not only rode but hand built custom bikes for fun. As a child, Scott’s grandparents moved to southwest Florida, opening up a whole new realm of fishing in the swamps, flats, and the Gulf of Mexico. An avid fisherman, rod builder, bicyclist, backpacker, and HOW member, Scott spends much of his free time in the outdoors.


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