Josh Gowan is a syndicated outdoor columnist serving southeast Missouri and west Tennessee, a novelist, and the humorist and field staff for Crappie Angler Magazine. Josh is a nationally sponsored fisherman and hunter, and splits most of his time between Missouri and Tennessee. As an avid outdoorsman who is always sharing his stories and tactics, Josh videos many of his adventures, which can be seen on his website, www.joshgowanoutdoors.com.
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Reelfoot Lake Tennessee Fishing Report: 11 May 2015
Heartlander Abroad: Reelfoot Lake, TN
I was back on the “Foot” this past week, where the weather was hot and the fishing was slow, at least for my target species, the majestic crappie! Now every other type of fish in the lake was jumping in the boat, and a less stubborn man would have altered his tactics and target to attain success, but while I may not be very patient, I am bull-headed!
I always see the weather-folks warning people of the heat, “stay inside,” “carry plenty of water,” “avoid the midday sun,” and so on. Being a moderately young and extremely tough (it’s my column, and I can describe myself how I see fit) outdoorsman, I pay no attention to such trivial warnings. This past week I was taught a rather poignant lesson about both the “trivial” warnings and my own physical limits.
After attaining a magnificent sunburn last Saturday on Kentucky Lake, I spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday on Reelfoot, fishing through the heat of the day to find concentrations of black crappie seeking shade. It was perhaps I who should have been seeking shade!
After catching over 60 specks on Monday (54 of which were between 4-8 inches,) and a disappointing day on Tuesday, Wednesday I opted for a long ride from the cabin to the swamp on the north end of the lake. The crappie bite was slow, although I was inadvertently catching a good mess of big bream on the cypress trees, which was enough excitement to keep plucking away at it.
At around 2pm I was jigging yet another cypress tree, when I started feeling a bit woozy. I sat down and fired up the outboard, figuring I should start the very long ride back to the house. I’d neglected to drink any water over the previous few days, an oversight on my part, and the heat was getting the best of me.
Within 30 minutes I was coming across the “log-yard” in the middle basin, looking for Willow Bar Ditch, which would bring me into the south end of the lake and the last leg of my journey. I got up to 5 mph, which is faster than I like to go across the stump-laden lake, especially with a new lower unit. Although I’d traversed this stretch (and every other stretch) of the lake a million times, I had to use my depthfinder’s map to locate the ditch.
I finally pulled into the cove and stumbled up to the cabin, stripped down and sat in a cold shower while pummeling bottles of water. I spent the next few days at home in the AC and must have drank 20 gallons of water, and I wasn’t really myself until the weekend. It was a stupid mistake that I will not make again!
Now although the crappie fishing was tough for me, at least as far as “keeper” fish are concerned, the amount of small crappie I caught was staggering, which is very promising for the future of the lake. If ever there were a time to put a 9-inch length limit on the lake, it is now. While most people would never keep a 4-inch crappie, there is no doubt some of the tourists visiting the lake clean many 7-8 inchers, and these fish need to grow.
While the bream (or blue gill depending on your dialect,) bite is consistent and there are plenty of those tenacious panfish available in the trees, the lily pads, and along the shore, the most active and plentiful of gamefish is still the catfish.
It is unbelievable how many catfish there are, and if there is anyone going hungry that owns even the most rudimentary of fishing poles and can find their way to the lake, it is their own fault.
A bit of stink bait (Sonny’s being the preferred flavor) smeared on anything at all, and flipped under a cork or on the bottom, will result in 2-5 pound channel cats in practically any water on the lake. An occasional blue catfish, which run bigger on the lake, is not uncommon, and if you’re very lucky the prized flathead will vary from its menu of live fish and indulge in a bit of the stinky cheese, and dinner my friends, is served!
Heartlander Abroad: Kentucky Lake, TN
Well, my rampant abroad-ness has been continued yet another week, and so brings another action-packed adventure from just outside the Heartland, kind of.
I spent the last three days on the “big water”, which of course is Kentucky Lake. Stretching 184 miles and covering 160,000 acres, Kentucky Lake is the largest manmade lake in the Eastern United States. The Tennessee River runs through the lake and is controlled at the 1-mile-long Kentucky Dam.
Oddly enough, I had never fished the lake before Thursday, but when something else fell through and I had the chance to go fish the Crappie Master’s Tennessee State Championship, I called up my old fishing buddy/stepdad Perry Jackson and made plans in a hurry! Chippy was covered up at work, and I had an ulterior motive in both going to the lake and inviting Perry.
This year’s Crappie Master’s National Championship will be held at Kentucky Lake, and I needed to familiarize myself with at least some of the lake, AND Perry has fished there quite a bit and has a ton of waypoints and knows his way around. So although the two-day tourney started on Friday and we weren’t leaving until Thursday morning, I still felt like we could make a good showing.
Thursday afternoon the wind was blowing around 30 mph and I was able to put my 18-foot Lowe to the test in some serious whitecaps! Although we both got pretty wet, my aluminum, burgundy tank had no issues on the big water. We quickly located some of Perry’s GPS spots and caught a few fish, and were optimistic about the morning.
The “Host Hotel” for the event was the Quality Inn in Paris, Tennessee, and we were both pleasantly surprised at our accommodations for the weekend. I always take care of the lodging, and my track record is suspect at times, and Perry questioned me more than once about the hotel. I really had no idea how it would be, but as soon as we pulled up there was huge banner hanging outside that read “Platinum Award Winner”, and although I had no idea what that meant, it had to be a good sign, right?!
The room was above and beyond my expectations of even a high-end hotel, and the Quality Inn starts at $85 per night! Aside from a double vanity, walk-in shower, oversized bath tub, and all the other comforts of home, there were multiple covered areas outside with picnic benches and tables and chairs to just hang out and enjoy the weather, and the free breakfast was phenomenal! Now you may be wondering why I would dote on this particular hotel so much, so I’ll tell you, the Quality Inn is American owned and operated, the GM Robin Whitt and her staff are proud of their hotel and it shows in every detail, and here’s what really sold me, fishermen and hunters ALWAYS get the corporate rate, (which is $77 per night) all you have to do is let them know! That’s just awesome, and that banner about the Platinum Award, that was for being voted in the top 3% of hotels!
Now unfortunately the fishing was not quite as “beyond my expectations,” but that was mostly due to an unfortunate incident early Friday morning that resulted in frying Perry’s depthfinder (losing all 600 waypoints) and leaving us to fish blind. Fortunately Perry remembered the general area of some of the spots in the creek we decided to fish, and we were able to use my Humminbird to locate some stake beds where we subsequently threw buoys and backed away and casted to the fish.
This particular style of fishing is not something I’ve done much of, and detecting extremely light bites on a 2-inch float from 20-30 feet away was nearly impossible for my eyes, but Perry was zoned in and caught most of the fish we weighed the first day. The second day was a little better being that we marked multiple spots the day before, and while we still were no threat to the top ten, we improved 1.5-pounds from the first day and had a blast doing it!