As the long-time head guide and fishing manager at Blue Bank Resort, Billy Blakley is sort of the face of Reelfoot Lake fishing. If Blakley isn't on the water, he's usually somewhere around the resort talking about the bite with another guide or a guest. He also compiles regular fishing reports and gives direction to folks heading out in rental boats or buying bait. In other words, he's always thinking about how to catch Reelfoot Lake fish.
Reelfoot is famous for its crappies, and they're his primary focus in the spring. He often targets the lake's big white crappies by slow trolling or drifting among endless stumps in the lake's open water, "pushing minnows" on down-lines off the front of the boat. Blakley's bane for his favored spring approach is strong wind, which threatens to move the boat and therefore the baits far too quickly and to make the minnows bounce like they are on pogo sticks.
"The fish still bite and they use the same areas," Blakley said. "It's just a lot harder to get baits to them the right way."
Because the fish don't change their behavior, Blakley sticks with the same overall approach that works under less extreme conditions. However, he adapts in a few specific ways in order to make good presentations despite howling wind.
Plan A to contend with the boat wanting to drift too quickly is to hang twin drift socks off the back of the boat, which provides the double benefit of slowing the drift and keeping the boat facing forward. If the drift socks don't slow the boat sufficiently, Plan B involves a seriously big chain, which Blakely hangs between the sea anchor ropes. He lets the chain barely drag bottom initially, and then lets out more, one link at a time, until the boat is just creeping along. He wants all the bait rigs suspended directly below the rodtips for depth control, to see all that's happening and to avoid extra tangles, so slow boat movement is critical.
Under normal conditions, Blakley puts slip floats on his lines for the sake of precise and repeatable depth control. That doesn't work when big wind creates major chop, though, because the floats ride every wave, making the minnows dance unnaturally. Besides eliminating the floats, Blakley switches to a special set of "wind rods." His B'n'M BGJP poles have very soft tips, which allow them to flex with the waves and keeps the rigs from bouncing excessively , but they have enough backbone to hook fish and swing them aboard.
Blakley uses dual-hook minnow rigs baited with 2-inch minnows and weighted to keep the lines vertical. He sits side-by-side with clients across the front of the boat, with three rods per angler set in holders and spread out in front of them. He sets the deepest lines to hang about a foot off bottom (which could range from 8 to 20 feet that time of year), and staggers the depths of other lines.
"I start them at different depths and let the fish tell me where they want them," Blakley said.
With 9 or 12 rods out and Blakley's knowledge of the fish, he's usually able to figure it out, no matter how the wind blows.
Contact: Blue Bank Resort, bluebankresort.com, (877) 258-3226.