Column: Reelfoot Lake worth the winter trip

Column by Brandon Butler

My love of Reelfoot Lake is rooted in summertime bluegill fishing, but now having duck hunted there, I have come to appreciate this special outdoor destination has year-round appeal. The winter waterfowl hunting is second to none.

Reelfoot Lake is located in the northwest corner of Tennessee just a mile from the Mississippi River. The shallow, timber filled 18,000-acre natural lake is a sportsman’s paradise. It’s also unquestionably one of the best crappie fishing lakes in the country. But come winter, Reelfoot turns into a duck factory. Hundreds-of-thousands of birds dump into the lake each season as they migrate along the Mississippi. Hunters from all over the country descend on Reelfoot each year to experience not only duck hunting, but duck hunting culture at it’s finest.

Reelfoot is an experience like no other. The cypress tree and lily pad filled lake has a unique beauty. The combination of this scenic appeal, the sheer number of ducks, fishing, southern fried food and a local economy based on an outdoor lifestyle is enough to draw thousands of duck hunters each season. Add in the fact that Blue Bank Resort is a premiere lodging and dining destination, and hire Billy Blakely, the unofficial “King of Reelfoot,” as your guide, and well, duck hunting trips just don’t get any better.

Billy Blakely’s life revolves around fishing and hunting on Reelfoot Lake. It’s all he’s ever known. He started guiding for Blue Bank Resort in the ninth grade and been doing it ever since. He has 40 years of experience on Reelfoot and it shows, in both his knowledge of the lake, how the ducks work and his ability to please his clients. When you spend over 50 days a year in duck blind, you have to figure out how to make the experience about more than just shooting ducks. So Blakely built a duck hunting blind to ensure the utmost enjoyment of your time spent on the water.

My normal duck hunting routine is hauling bags full of decoys into flooded fields where I set them out in the morning and gather them back at the end of the hunt, after standing in freezing water for the hours in-between. It’s a tough, labor-intensive process. My hunt with Blakely was much different.

We pulled his boat right into the blind, opened the door and stepped in. Blakely flipped a switch and lights came on. To my amazement there’s a full-sized stove in the corner and heaters at both ends. There are eight spacious shooting stations. Blakely mans the left end where he controls the giant spread of decoys, including a custom made splasher and a jerk rig of 2x6 boards for making waves that add motion to the 1,600 decoys filling his “hole.”

There is a lot of competition on Reelfoot, with blinds spread out about 200 yards apart throughout most of the lake so calling is important here. Blakely bellows on ducks calls. It works. Right at legal shooting light ducks were circling us. Blakely started calling and ducks dropped in. After an intense volley of gunfire, greenheads splashed down in the coffee colored water.

As the morning progressed, we stacked up the ducks. After awhile, I allowed myself a break from the action to relax by a heater, eat an orange and drink hot coffee. For lunch, Blakely fried pork chops and potatoes, and made biscuits right in the blind. A full belly and pleasing warmth made staying awake until the hunting ended at 3 p.m. the greatest challenge of the day.

After a nice hot shower in my room and a change of clothes, I caught up with some other hunters in the dining room for dinner. We ordered drinks and a table full of appetizers. Just after polishing off the last of the catfish bites and sautéed shrimp, the rib eyes arrived. This was a lean back in your chair, pat your belly and smile kind of meal in the Blue Bank restaurant.

Duck season is open in Tennessee until January 31, so there is still time for an adventure this season. For more information about Reelfoot Lake and to book a duck hunting adventure of your own with Billy Blakely at Blue Bank Resort, visit www.bluebankresort.com or call 877-258-3226.

See you down the trail….




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