At 200, Reelfoot Lake is a Tennessee treasure

The red-and-yellow bobber twitched slightly, then disappeared into the murky depths alongside a craggy cypress snag. Bob Sherborne set the hook with an upward sweep of his fly rod, and the slender pole bowed double as a big bluegill came trashing to the surface in a tangle of lily pads.
Jun 17, 2013
Reelfoot Lake  Photo: Submitted

Around cypress trees and lily pads are prime places to fish on scenic Reelfoot Lake.

The red-and-yellow bobber twitched slightly, then disappeared into the murky depths alongside a craggy cypress snag.

Bob Sherborne set the hook with an upward sweep of his fly rod, and the slender pole bowed double as a big bluegill came trashing to the surface in a tangle of lily pads.

After 30-something annual spring trips to Reelfoot Lake – and thousands of big bull bluegill – it never gets old.

Speaking of aging, Reelfoot recently celebrated its 200th birthday. Violent New Madrid earthquakes rocked the northeast Tennessee region during the winter of 1811-12, and the churning Mississippi River filled adjacent hollows and low-lying forests.

By 1813 the state’s largest natural lake (about 15,000 acres, depending on the water level) appeared in its present form.

Native Americans occupied the area until displaced by settlers and frontiersmen, including Davy Crockett who hunted bears in Reelfoot’s canebrakes.

Civil War battles were fought nearby, Night Riders galloped through the moonlight to intimidate out-of-state land and timber barons, and environmental spats persist to this day over how to best utilize Reelfoot’s natural resources.

At the top of the list is fishing. The shallow lake is one of the nation’s most diverse fisheries, and has become an annual destination point for thousands of anglers.

It starts in the spring with bluegill fishing, continues through the summer when catfish are on the prowl, and during the fall and winter Reelfoot is famous for its crappie. It also offers good year-round bass fishing.

Lots of lakes offer great fishing for crappie, bass and catfish, but none can match Reelfoot’s bluegill. They grow big and fast in the warm, fertile waters that are choked with acres of lily pads and stands of cypress trees and stumps.

Reelfoot is ideally suited for fishermen. It’s shallow, log-festooned waters discourage water skiing, and even fishing boats have to tread carefully. The entire lake is a virtual no-wake zone, and that makes for tranquil fishing.

Numerous lakeside resorts offer a wide range of services – from basic boats and bait to heated pools, hot tubs and fish-cleaning service. Camping sites also are available.

One of my favorite headquarters is Blue Bank Resort, which has everything a fisherman could need, including up-to-date fishing reports from resident guide Billy Blakley.

Sherborne and I prefer to bring our own boat, but rentals are available at most resorts. Each resort has its private dock and launch ramp for guests, and there are numerous public ramps around the lake.

Resorts offer a wide range of dining options, from sandwiches to elaborate dinners – Blue Bank has nightly cookouts and belt-popping breakfasts – and no trip to Reelfoot is complete without supper at Boyettes. Diners regularly come from four states to eat at the 100-old restaurant with its cypress-paneled walls and air of history.

Reelfoot’s spring bluegill run has peaked, but there’s plenty of good fishing left throughout the year, along with eagle-watching and a host of other natural attractions.

Blue Bank and most of the other Reelfoot resorts have informational websites, compete with tantalizing photos of big fish catches, and the local Chamber of Commerce also offers a list of events and activities in the area.

Reelfoot is Tennessee’s most scenic lake, and everybody should see it.

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