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Catch Catfish Fall and Winter at Reelfoot Lake with David Blakely

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John’s Note: In mid-October, I attended the Tiptonville, Tennessee, Fins and Feathers Expo at Blue Bank Resort (, 877-258-3226) on Reelfoot Lake. While there, I learned that hand-carved decoys and duck calls could be solid investments, that 1/80-ounce jigs were being made, and that good stringers of big catfish could be caught from September until Christmas Day. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned at the Expo, but I’ll let the people I met there tell you more about why they do what they do through videos. While there, I learned that there’s a symbiotic relationship between cormorants (water turkeys), cypress trees and catfish. According to David Blakely of Hornbeak, Tenn., a guide at Blue Bank Resort, if you understand this relationship, you can catch plenty of catfish at Reelfoot Lake all fall and winter.

Catch Catfish Fall and Winter at Reelfoot Lake with David Blakely 1To rig up for fall and winter catfish, I start with 25-pound-test Trilene monofilament line. I like that size line because some of the catfish at Reelfoot are really big, and we have to pull them out of the roots and the stumps of the cypress trees there in the water. I put a No. 2 hook on the end of the line. For people not accustomed to catching catfish and setting the hooks, I have them fish with circle hooks. But when anglers know how to set hooks on catfish, I’ll have them use straight hooks. About 6 inches above the hook, I attach a 1/4-ounce split shot lead and next a bobber and a bobber stopper to let the bait fall to about 3-1/2-feet deep. I bait with shad minnows about 1-2 inches long. I catch the shad minnows in a cast net each morning before we leave to go fishing, and we fish them as with fresh dead bait around cypress trees out in the middle of Reelfoot Lake.

We select the trees around which we’ll be fishing. Although a cypress is an evergreen, these trees almost will be white. Cormorants migrate into Reelfoot Lake and remain there until about Christmastime and roost in the cypress trees. At daylight, they fly out of the trees to feed on shad and other bait fish. Then the birds return and roost in the trees. When the cormorants use the bathroom, there’s a lot of undigested shad in their excrement. That’s what the catfish are feeding on, and why the catfish hold around the cypress trees during the fall and winter months. Before we’ve had cormorants in our region almost all year long, although numbers of them will leave and migrate elsewhere around the end of December and may not return until the springtime. So, we can catch catfish under the cypress trees from about the first of March until April, when the catfish move out to spawn by the underwater logs. Then the catfish return to the cypress trees after spawning.

Catch Catfish Fall and Winter at Reelfoot Lake with David Blakely 3Our fall run of catfish usually starts about the first of September, and we generally catch them all the way into December. Our weather is fair at that time of year with 50- and 60-degree weather here at Reelfoot, with December somewhat cooler, but not much. The weather’s fine for catching catfish. On most of our trips, we’ll catch 25-40 catfish that weigh from 2-10 pounds or more each, with the average weighing 2-6 pounds. We catch mostly channel catfish, but this area does home some flathead and blue cats. Most of the time we catch catfish about 6-8 inches out from the bases of the cypress trees.

Our best day of fishing for catfish with a hook and line at that time of the year was 120 catfish in 6-7 hours of fishing for three anglers. If you come to Reelfoot in the fall and winter and fish under the cypress trees, you’ll catch some nice catfish. To learn more about catfishing on Reelfoot Lake, especially in the fall and winter, call Blue Bank Resort at 877-258-3226 and ask to fish with David Blakely. Or, you can keep up with David and his hunting and fishing at Reelfoot Lake on Facebook by going to or write [email protected].

Catch Catfish Fall and Winter at Reelfoot Lake with David Blakely 4To see the video about David Blakely’s fishing for catfish in the fall and winter, go to

To learn more fishing for catfish check out John E. Phillips’ books – both Kindle and print – “Catfish Like a Pro,” “Reelfoot Lake: How to Fish for Crappie, Bass, Bluegills and Catfish and Hunt for Ducks” and “For Hot-Weather Fishing Success, Head to Reelfoot.” Click here to get these books. You also can get a free eBook, “The Catfish Catcher’s Cookbook” here.

Next: 1/80-Ounce Bream and Crappie Jigs with Wade Mansfield

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