For real big crappie visit Reelfoot

by Sam Piatt

I was channel surfing one day this past week when I came across an outdoor show titled “Brushpile Fishing.”

There were three men in the boat – a local fisherman, an outdoor writer, and of course the cameraman. They were drifting the Alabama River and casting a small jig adorned with a split-tailed plastic grub.

If they cast toward the partly visible brush piles along the shoreline, they caught small crappie, not much bigger than your hand. But when they cast the middle of the river, where there were no doubt submerged brush piles 10 or 12 feet down, they caught bragging-size, 15-inch crappie, mostly black but also some prodigious whites.

The show really whetted my appetite for some crappie fishing.

Although it dropped to 14 degrees here early Saturday morning, the warming breezes of April are not too far distant. When the dogwoods bloom is the time when the crappie-fishing is best.

Locally, Grayson Lake has the greatest crappie population, but most of those you catch – due to competition among schools of these minnow-gobbling fish with such ravenous appetites – are smallish.

Cave Run and Yatesville lakes produce some nice stringers of crappie. In Ohio, Paint Creek and Adams lakes are noted destinations for crappie fishermen.


But if you want to enjoy an adventuresome trip and catch a cooler-full of crappie, the best-eating fish that swims, and you don’t mind a bit of driving to get there, pencil in on your calendar a trip this spring to Reelfoot Lake.

Reelfoot, located in far-western Tennessee, is a 465-mile drive from the Ashland-Portsmouth area. Soc Clay and I made the trip a few years ago to check out the area we’d heard so much about.

This was the trip where we forgot to watch the needle on the fuel gage on my pickup and ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere, on a highway that, in the middle of a weekday, had very little traffic.

No more details about that. Suffice to say that a passing motorist did finally take mercy on us and we arrived on schedule.

We spent three days and nights at Blue Bank Resort, located on the southern shore of the lake at Tiptonville, Tennessee.

Blue Bank is a great location for the everyday pan fisherman to bring the family for a fishing vacation that won’t break them – a camp that offers an attractive package including room, meals, boat, bait and fish-cleaning and packaging.

You can hire a guide for the first day to show you where and how to be successful.

I knew Reelfoot, the “Earthquake Lake,” featured some of the best bluegill fishing to be found anywhere, but I didn’t realize the cypress trees and underwater stumps held such elephant-ear-sized crappie.

Reelfoot Lake, covering about 12,000 acres and averaging eight to 14 feet deep, was formed by earthquakes that struck the area Dc. 16, 1811, and Jan. 23, 1812. Eyewitnesses reported the Mississippi River, its bed shaken, flowed upstream before remembering its path on down to the Gulf of Mexico and leaving the shallow lake behind.

Soc and I witnessed the weigh-in for a Crappie Masters qualifying tournament held at Tiptonville.

It was a windy early March day, with winds gusting to 30 and 40 mph and pushing up whitecaps and rollers across the shallow lake. The water temperature was 49 degrees.

Despite the unfavorable conditions, team after team (two persons making up a team) brought basket after basket of flopping black and white crappie to the scales.

Even though the limit for everyday anglers is 25 per person, tournament participants were limited to seven crappie per team. The winning catch weighed in at 12 pounds.

“It was hard work fishing. We caught some very nice crappie, but not enough big ones,” said Kent Driscoll, a member of the pro staff of Crappie Masters sponsor, BnM Pole Company.

Driscoll, a beer salesman in Cordova, Tenn. and his partner, John Harrison, police chief in Calhoun City, Miss., finished out of the running for the tournament.

So did six-time National Champion crappie catchers Ronnie Capps and Steve Coleman, who developed the Capps and Coleman Minnow Rigs so popular with crappie fishermen there.

This duo has collected checks for over $1.3 million in tournament winnings and has been named Angler Team of the Year seven times for their success on both the Crappie Masters and Crappie USA tournament trails.

The Pro Staffers, a dozen of them, demonstrated multiple techniques for catching them, including wading, single pole jigging, spider rigging, bobber fishing, and trolling with the Capps and Coleman Minnow Rigs.

Spider rigging features eight 12-foot poles fished from rod holders off the front of the boat.

For information on Blue Bank Resort and the special packages they offer for spring and summer pan fishing write Blue Bank Resort, 815 Lake Drive, Hornbeak, TN 38232, or call toll-free 1-877-258-3226. The Web site is

by Sam Piatt

Reach G. Sam Piatt at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.

Reach G. Sam Piatt at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.