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Bluegill Fishing Tennessee

Best Bets For Tennessee Crappie Fishing

by Jeff Samsel   |  February 28th, 2012 1

Rick Dykstra admires a stringer of spring specks. The flesh of spring crappies is white, firm and delicious. Photo by Mike Gnatkowski.

It’s never hard to find volunteers in Tennessee, but that’s especially true during the spring if you happen to be looking for help to catch crappie. That’s also true regarding help eat crappie when you are done with the catching, cleaning and cooking. To many anglers, warming days signal the onset of some of the most fun fishing of the year.

Tennessee undoubtedly ranks among the top states in the nation for its crappie offerings. That comes in part from the simple fact that the Volunteer State is loaded with places where crappie find easy living. Strings of major impoundments along the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, plus numerous tributary reservoirs, collectively offer hundreds of thousands of acres of crappie habitat. Add hundreds of miles slow to moderate-paced rivers, and both black and white crappie find seemingly endless fine places to call home

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency doesn’t settle for the “good” fishing that would naturally occur, though. Instead, they actively manage the state’s crappie waters to make them even better. The agency effectively utilizes some strategies that the broader fisheries community once deemed useless for crappie, and in doing so they have established national trends.

Size and numbers limits, which vary in different parts of the state, are designed to maximize opportunities. Thus, anglers allow thee fish to spawn a time or two before they can be taken home. It also lessens the allowable harvest in less fertile waters.

Meanwhile, the agency stocks juvenile blacknose crappie to supplement the population in lakes that offer habitat for adult fish, but lack sufficient recruitment during normal years. They also monitor crappie populations, conduct targeted research projects, add cover to lakes to enhance habitat and do various other special projects to help provide the best possible fishing.


(RELATED: Six Surefire-Tactics For Pre-Spawn Crappie)


Although fishing can be good all over the state during the spring, with a general common denominator of the fish straying shallower and biting well, some lakes definitely are better than others. Also, different waterways fish very differently.

Let’s examine a half a dozen lakes that offer especially intriguing prospects the spring, looking briefly at the best ways to catch crappie from each.

The toughest thing about crappie fishing at Reelfoot Lake is trying to figure out where not to place your baits. Shallow and cypress laden, this lake looks as “fishy” as anywhere you’ll ever visit. Fortunately, looks are not deceiving. Highly fertile, full of food and packed with cover, this northwest Tennessee lake produces outstanding action for multiple kinds of fish, with crappie leading the way.

Reelfoot will not produce many genuine slabs, but for dependable action from quality fish, it would be pretty tough to top. The crappie fishing is remarkably consistent from one year to the next, and no supplemental stockings are ever needed. Whether it gets served drought conditions or floodwaters, Reelfoot seems to take care of itself.

Reelfoot crappie can be caught a lot of different ways, especially during mid-spring. Many fish move extra shallow and get around the edges of the cypress trees and lily pads. A fun approach at that time is to work with a single long pole in hand, keeping the boat just out from the cover. Pitch either a jig or a minnow under a float into every little pocket along the edge of the trees or the pads. The offering doesn’t need to stay in any given spot for long. If the fish are there, they tend to be in ambush mode, and they will come and get it. Be forewarned, though, occasionally the fish that charges out from the pads will be a 6-pound largemouth, instead of a crappie!

The most popular approach throughout the seasons at Reelfoot is to use a “spider rig,” with several poles set in holders and oriented off the front of the boat and lines going straight down from the tips of the rods.

Armed with special two-hook rigs that are weighted to stay vertical, spider riggers move their boats very slowly over big stump fields. Lines are normally set to keep the rigs barely over most of the stumps because the crappie are more inclined to move up than down in the water column to feed. There are stumps at all levels almost anywhere in Reelfoot, though, so getting snagged is just part of the process.

The crappie limit at Reelfoot Lake is 30 fish, with no minimum size. A Reelfoot Preservation Permit is required in addition to a Tennessee fishing license. For complete fishing information and to plan a Reelfoot trip, visit

Blue Bank offers rental boats at a very reasonable cost or as part of lodging package, because Reelfoot’s stumps can be pretty hard on boats and many anglers choose to leave theirs at home.

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