Prime winter fishing at Tennessee's Reelfoot Lake

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As the weather ranges from chilled to frigid, take this time to go to Reelfoot Lake in Tiptonville, Tenn., about two hours north of Memphis, so you can find your favorite fishing spot for crappie.

As the weather ranges from chilled to frigid, it’s a great time as any to visit the largest natural lake in Tennessee located in Tiptonville, about two hours north of Memphis, directly adjacent to the Mississippi River.

Reelfoot Lake was formed by an earthquake in 1811-12 and during its formation there were reports of the Mississippi River flowing backwards and filling the lake. Today, it’s now a 15,000-acre lake filled with fishing opportunities. The submerged Cypress trees and stumps make for a challenging navigation as you move your boat through the waters to find your ideal fishing spot. When you find one, be sure to keep these tips in your back pocket for some great crappie fishing.

Reelfoot Lake was also the last lake in Tennessee that supported a commercial crappie fishing season. Although that practice was discontinued in 2002, the restaurants around Reelfoot Lake continue to provide legally obtained crappie on their menu. 

Reelfoot Lake has long been recognized for its crappie population and crappie fishing. The average weight of crappie harvested from Reelfoot Lake was 0.80 pounds in 2016 and the population has improved following the poor recruitment years of 2008-2012. Historically larger fish are harvested in the winter months, particularly January and February.

You should focus your efforts in the Lower Blue Basin and slow troll using minnows or jigs tipped with minnows. Concentrate your efforts in 8 to 14 feet of water, particularly off the point of Green Island or in the Caney Island area. The lower Blue Basin is full of stumps so drift fishing will give you an opportunity to locate fish.

For the elusive black crappie, you can usually fish in 6- to 8-foot water and may also try casting roadrunners or 1/16-ounce jigs tipped with crappie nibbles with slip floats in areas such as Big Starve, Grassy Bend, Katie's Gourd, Big Ronaldson and Snaggy Basin. Black crappie fish are more abundant in the northern basins of Reelfoot Lake; although the harvest rate of black crappie was low, the average weight of black crappie harvested by anglers in 2016 was 0.90 pounds.

During this time, you should be aware of lake closures implemented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in certain areas of Reelfoot Lake. However, this is also a good time to view bald eagles, ospreys and many species of ducks around the lake so make sure you bring a camera for that once in a lifetime picture. 

Remember, Reelfoot Lake has abundant cover and many submerged stumps so anglers should use caution when moving from location to location.