Reelfoot Lake Crappie Fishing

Reelfoot Lake Crappie Fishing
Nice Reelfoot Lake Crappie in March. Tammy McBroom


Reelfoot Lake is a shallow natural lake located in the northwest corner of Tennessee. It sits in Obion and Lake counties. Most of the lake consist of shallow water and swamp. These areas are connected by ditches. Some of these ditches are natural and some are man-made. They connect more open bodies of water. These open bodies of water are called basins. The largest is Blue Basin. Reelfoot Lake is noted for its cypress trees and nesting bald eagles.

In winter 1811 there was an earthquake along the New Madrid fault creating Reelfoot Lake when the Mississippi River ran backward filling up the low-lying ground in the Northwest corner of Tennessee. The resulting lake was a shallow 15,000 acre, cypress tree-filled lake with an average depth of 5.5 feet with the deepest part of the lake being approximately 18 feet deep. Reelfoot Lake is 20 miles long and 7 miles wide. The lake provides excellent habitat and is an excellent place for wildlife viewing. Especially birds.

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The Li’L TUFFY Swimbait at the Rambling Angler Store

Crappie Bait Swimbait

Public use of the lake and grounds has been preserved since it was acquired by the state of Tennessee in the early 1900s. The area was established as Reelfoot Lake State ParkLake Isom, a similar, smaller lake to the immediate south, has been designated as a National Wildlife Refuge area. In 1966, Reelfoot Lake was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.[1]

Reelfoot lake is a very popular fishing destination for many species. Catfish, bluegills, crappie, and largemouth bass seem to be the most popular fish to chase at Reelfoot Lake. These species are abundant in the lake and offer anglers ample angling opportunities to enjoy the earthquake-built lake. Reelfoot Lake residents enjoy the thousands of visitors to the lake each year. They have worked hard to provide comfortable amenities for them. Lodging, restaurants, and resorts dot the landscape ready to serve anglers coming for a fishing adventure.


Reelfoot Lake Crappie uses submerged logs & stumps in the basin for spawning cover in the spring. In the lily pads, Reelfoot Lake Crappie will be spawning next to lily pad stems. Lily pad stems with a submerged log is a goldmine for crappie anglers on Reelfoot Lake. Minnows and jigs or jigs tipped with minnows works great for crappie on Reelfoot Lake. Spider-rigging is also a very popular way to catch crappie at Reelfoot Lake. Double jig rigs or the crappie rig made famous by a Reelfoot Lake legend, the double minnow rig called the Capps & Coleman. This simple yet effective crappie rigging is named after the crappie tournament duo Ronnie Capps and Steve Coleman. The team has won seven National Crappie Tournament Championships many using the Capps & Coleman double minnow rig. This crappie rig consists of two hooks and a barrel sinker between them. I prefer a swivel and a bead below the sinker. You can just wrap your line through the sinker hole several times to attach it to the line as well. To me the swivel helps keep the bottom leader from twisting up as you pull it through the water. I also use lighter lines than most for spider-rigging. I use 6 to 8-pound test leader attached to 10-pound braid. Wrapping the light line through the sinker hole scares me. I am afraid it is going to weaken the line at that point when you set the hook multiple times.

Fishing for Crappie on Reelfoot Lake

Reelfoot Lake Crappie Fishing
Reelfoot Lake Crappie in late winter. Ken McBroom

Reelfoot Lake has been an excellent place to catch crappie for many years. The habitat that Reelfoot Lake offers is second to none when it comes to crappie. With this habitat comes many different ways to catch crappie on Reelfoot Lake.  Here are a few places that crappie like to hangout on Reelfoot Lake and how to catch them. The basins are large areas of deeper water surrounded by shallow flats. The crappie will move onto these flats during the spring to spawn. They will return again in the fall to feed up for the winter.

The lily pads and cypress trees are located in large areas of shallow water and can hold lots of crappie in the spring as they seek sandy bottom composition and the awesome cover they provide, to spawn. Crappie can be found in the lily pads and cypress trees a little before peak spawn. They can also be targeted here sometime after the spawn, as the crappie feed and rest as they recover from the spawning ritual.

Here is a look at 3 ways to catch crappie on Reelfoot Lake.

1. The Basins

Reelfoot Lake is mostly shallow water. The crappie move to the deeper water in the winter and in the summer. These deep areas on Reelfoot Lake is where the baitfish go during this time. So this is where you’ll find the crappie. Reelfoot Lake has great habitat for all fish residing there. In the deeper basins there are standing trees. When the crappie aren’t cruising open water chasing shad you will find them tucked up against these trees. The standing trees offer multiple depth zones. It makes it easy for crappie to go up or down in the water column to get comfortable.

As mentioned above, the winter and summer is the most likely time you will find crappie in the basins. The crappie will cruise in the open water of these basins or they will tuck up tight to the standing timber. There’s a couple of ways to catch crappie in the Reelfoot Basins. You can chase the baitfish around and present your bait either with a single pole or by spider-rigging. Spider-rigging is the most popular way to fish the open water basins at Reelfoot Lake but some anglers prefer a single pole or maybe two, one in each hand, to chase the baitfish where the crappie are not far behind. When you spot the balls of bait on your electronics slow down and keep your minnow or jig in the vicinity. If the crappie are chasing the schools of baitfish then this is the best way to catch them.

Single Pole Fishing Reelfoot Lake

If you prefer the single-pole approach or if the crappie are tight to cover hugging those standing trees or the many stumps throughout them then a single pole can be the best option. With a single-pole you can present your jig or minnow right up next to the tree where the crappie are. Getting it close will entice them to strike. Spider-rigging will pick off a few crappies by slow trolling past the trees. So often you will get hung on the tree when spider-rigging. This will spook any crappie that might have been there.

You can locate standing trees easily with today’s electronics. When you locate a tree or stump lower your bait next to it. Even if your fish finder doesn’t show a fish, there could be one so tight it won’t show up. Be patient when fishing tight to cover crappie. Crappie tuck up tight for a reason. It’s usually because of a cold front or they are just not feeding. When this happens these crappies can still be caught. However, you will have to put the bait right in front of their nose. Keep moving your bait slowly around and up and down this cover and you will get more bites. Keep your trolling motor on low as you work around this cover. Sometimes the crappie will be hanging at the top of the tree and it might only be a few feet beneath the surface.

2. The Lily Pads

When spring rolls around and the crappie begin their spawning migration, the lily pads is a great place to start. The lily pads are located in the perfect depth for spawning crappie. Also, the bottom composition around these pads is sandy and just right for laying crappie eggs. Look for the crappie to begin moving into the lily pads on Reelfoot Lake when the water temperature hits about 57 degrees. Some crappie will show up earlier than that especially black crappie but 57 degrees is a good place to start for planning your Reelfoot Lake crappie fishing trip.

There is a couple ways to catch crappie in the lily pads on Reelfoot Lake. The first and probably the most popular is the bobber jig. A jig set under a bobber about 6 inches off the bottom of the lake is a great way to catch your limit of crappie on Reelfoot Lake. This method is great this time of year because the crappie are active enough that they will readily bite a jig presented in their spawning bed out of aggression or from wanting something to eat. A minnow alone or tipped on the jig will work as well. A crappie nibble or wax worm on the jig hook will add a little more persuasion to your presentation and works great as well. Be sure to lower your jig and bobber into any little opening in the lily pads. Many crappie work their way deep into the cover that the lily pads provide.

3. Cypress Trees

Reelfoot Lake is famous for their cypress trees. These cypress trees are part of the excellent habitat that has made Reelfoot Lake such a great crappie fishing destination for so long. A little information about the cypress tree that many angler might not know. I just found out about it recently. The cypress tree has a tap root that comes up from the bottom. The tap root is relatively small. Especially when compared to the base that we all see at the water’s surface. It looks like these bases are the stump that grows to the bottom of the lake. Oftentimes it does not. The large base you see when fishing cypress trees for Reelfoot Lake crappie is in the shape of an umbrella.

A hideout is formed underneath the cypress trees that grow all around Reelfoot Lake. This umbrella-type cover provides excellent cover for crappie on Reelfoot Lake and is why there are so many crappie around certain cypress trees more so than others. When you locate one of these cypress trees and there are lots of crappie hanging out around it be sure to mark it to return the next day or even the following years to catch more crappie.

How To Fish Cypress Trees At Reelfoot Lake

The best way to fish these awesome crappie hangouts on Reelfoot Lake is that ever popular jig and bobber technique. Bobber jigging allows you to work cypress bases all the way around. This will leave your jig or bait suspended where it needs to be to get a bite. Crappie will position themselves underneath these cypress tree bases. They will face a certain way so it is important to work your bait all the way around the base to present your bait in front of a crappie that might not be active enough to want to turn and eat something behind it.

Another excellent way to catch crappie on Reelfoot Lake is by jig dipping. By just taking a jig and dipping it around the cypress tree and the cypress knees you can catch many crappie. The cypress knees are cone-shaped roots. They grow vertically from the trees root system to provide more stability in the soft swamp bottom composition. Whatever the purpose of the cypress knees to the Reelfoot Lake crappie angler you only need to know that crappie love to hide in them and in some really shallow water. Dipping a jig will entice these crappie into biting when they are hanging in the knees. Be sure to lower your presentation gently into these areas when the water is real shallow or you risk spooking the crappie with your presentation.


Tony Hughes Fishing Guide Reelfoot Lake
Tony Hughes of with couple nice Reelfoot Crappie

Be careful with your boat when crappie fishing at Reelfoot Lake. The standing timber can be just beneath the surface even in the deepest part of the lake. It’s a good idea to use a small boat on Reelfoot Lake for this reason. I have used my 18 foot Ranger bass boat and I’ve hit a few treetops. I was idling so no harm. A small aluminum boat has two great advantages on Reelfoot Lake. The first is as mentioned above you don’t risk damage to your big fiberglass boat, but it also has one very distinct advantage over a bigger heavier boat. The ease in which it can be maneuvered. Especially when the crappie moves shallow.

With a big heavy fiberglass boat it takes much more thrust to move it. This thrust can blow out a prime cypress tree or lily pad clump in short order. With a small aluminum boat it takes just a tiny amount of thrust to quickly move you around. It doesn’t spook the fish or create a mud storm that destroys your chances to catch the crappie that were there. You can also easily use an oar or the end of your rod to push from one cypress tree to the next leaving the area undisturbed completely by the trolling motor prop wash. You can rent a small boat at Reelfoot Lake if you don’t have one. I have a little hunting boat that I am planning on tricking out just to crappie fish Reelfoot Lake and I can’t wait until they move up this spring.

Looking For A Reelfoot Lake Guide

Are you looking for a fishing guide on Reelfoot Lake? Be sure to visit Tony Hughes’s website Tony is a

Reelfoot Lake Information

There is plenty of places to lodge at Reelfoot Lake. Whether you want to camp or live it up in a resort with all the amenities Reelfoot Lake has it all. To find out more about where to stay when crappie fishing at Reelfoot Lake please visit Reelfoot Tourism for everything you need for a great visit including the many events, attractions and excellent restaurants you can visit. Reelfoot Lake State Park offers excellent lakeside camping. My wife and I camp at Reelfoot Lake State Park campground every year.

Reelfoot Lake is a fishing and hunting paradise and home to approximately fifty-four fish species. The primary game fish is the crappie, bluegill, catfish, and large-mouth bass. Big largemouth bass is fairly common on Reelfoot Lake. The fishing varies by season. It generally runs from March through mid-July and picks up again in September and October. These are prime fishing times, but fishing can be good year-round. Reelfoot Lake is loaded with shallow bald cypress trees in shallow water. This excellent cover and habitat make Reelfoot Lake one of the world’s greatest natural fish hatcheries and bluegills take advantage of this fact for sure.

Reelfoot Lake Has Excellent Bluegill Fishing

Reelfoot Lake, with its bald cypress and Lili pads, has great habitat for bluegill. The 4 basins of the lake provide excellent fishing for bluegill. There are numerous public boat launches around the lake. There are fishing piers conveniently located around the lake as well. You can hire a fishing guide; I can personally recommend Hiring a guide for a day not only can show you the tricks of the trade, but they can also help you learn how to navigate around the lake. During peak fishing, it’s very common for fishermen to return with their limit of fish.

Crappie Fishing Guide Service Reelfoot Lake

Tony Hughes has a Reelfoot Lake guide service, check it out at Tony not only guides for bluegills on Reelfoot Lake but he also guides for crappie and bass. Hiring a crappie guide on Reelfoot Lake is a good idea especially now with LiveScope. Tony Hughes has learned to use the LiveScope on Reelfoot Lake to catch crappie that loves to hang out around the standing trees. These trees were left when the lake was formed. Locating a tree with a crappie or two on it is the perfect way to sneak up on them and present the bait right in front of them. Whether it is a jig on a single pole or spider-rigging setup with Garmin LiveScope you can ease up to the fish and be sure that your bait is at just the right depth.

Go Slow On Reelfoot Lake

Reelfoot Lake is a flooded forest and full of submerged cypress stumps just beneath the surface. Take it easy when navigating Reelfoot Lake as you will probably hit a few stumps if you are a newcomer. You will be okay as long as you take it easy. Keep the motor trimmed up and even if/when you hit a stump the angle will protect your prop a little. People use big outboard motors, but they go slow, no water skiing or jet skiing on Reelfoot Lake. Kayaks and Canoes are used on Reelfoot Lake, but the lake can get rough.

Video Of Fishing Reelfoot Lake With Tony Hughes Fishing

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Know Your Crappie Temps

About Ken McBroom 307 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.


  1. I am 84 years old and have dreamed of fishing Reels Foot Lake for many years. I am coming in March 13 and 14 and need a guide to go crappie fishing. Since I will be by myself fishing and I prefer to fish for 3-4 hours maybe I could go with you with another party.

  2. Hi Lewis. Where are you coming from? I might be able to take you out at Reelfoot Lake. Get in touch closer to the date you will be here and I will try and meet you there. Ken

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