The most challenging thing about fishing at Tennessee’s Reelfoot Lake is determining which direction to go to start a day. Put simply, everything looks fishy in this spectacularly scenic West Tennessee Lake. Fortunately, Reelfoot’s fertile waters support outstanding bluegill, crappie, catfish and bass populations, and the fish tend to relate to shallow cover. Therefore, all those cypress knees, downed trees, lily pad stands, docks and duck blinds that look like they should hold fish sometimes do hold fish.

A collection of flooded swamp basins, Reelfoot was formed in the early 1800s during the New Madrid Earthquakes, when the nearby Mississippi River ran backward for a period of time and escaped its banks to flood the basins. The lake spreads across more than 15,000 acres, but the average depth is less than 6 feet. In many ways, it looks and fishes like an enormous pond.

Because Reelfoot is so shallow and is loaded with hull- and motor-eating stumps, many anglers don’t bring their bass boats to fish the lake. Instead they use aluminum lodge boats that are set up perfectly for Reelfoot. Consequently, lakeside lodges like Bluebank Resort have fleets of lodge boats and offer fishing packages that include lodging, boat and motor use, a tank of gas, and even live bait. The same packages make Reelfoot an extra-good destination for weekend fishing trips if you don’t own a boat and don’t want to be limited to shore- or dock-fishing. Providing one more option, Bluebank recently added fishing kayaks to their boat fleet.

Reelfoot is very well known for its bluegill fishing, and the action tends to be good from late spring until well into the fall. Although big ‘gills can be caught a variety of ways, it’s tough to top suspending a cricket beneath a float and working along the lake’s edges. Longtime Reelfoot guide Billy Blakley prefers a slip float through the summer so he can present crickets three or four feet deep and still cast easily.

Only crappie rival bluegills in popularity at Reelfoot. Again, the fishery is extremely consistent, with good numbers and sizes year after year and both black and white crappie in the population. The steadiest action definitely occurs during the spring and the fall, but anglers who specifically target the crappie with minnows around deeper wood cover can find good action throughout the year.

Channel catfish provide some of the most dependable summer action at Reelfoot and are plentiful around downed trees over stump flats and around the trunks and knees of cypress trees. Blakley normally uses night crawlers for Reelfoot catfish, using a float to present his offering close to the bottom without getting hung in the wood. Again, a slip float is critical for setting the depth to the necessary 4 or 5 feet.

Bass, like crappie, can be caught year ‘round but tend to bite best during spring and fall. Because of Reelfoot’s character, the best baits are weedless offerings such as plastic worms and frogs and lures like square-bill crankbaits and spinnerbaits that deflect off cover well.

For any species, the best starting point at Reelfoot is around the boat docks. Folks like Billy Blakley are on the water daily and hear reports every evening. They can provide good advice for starting points, according to the fish species you want to target and the way you want to fish.