John's Journal...

How to Bass Fish During the Drought with Billy Blakely

Fish Skinny Grass

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: Reelfoot Lake in northwest Tennessee is at an all-time low, as are many other lakes throughout the South. During August, 2007, the temperature has soared repeatedly to over 100 degrees, and many anglers believe the weather’s too tough to fish. But Billy Blakely of Tiptonville, Tennessee, a fisherman and a guide on Reelfoot Lake for 24 years, knows how to find and catch bass, even under hot-weather and drought conditions. He’ll show us this week how to bass fish now and how to catch more bass all year long.

Question: Billy, what’s the condition of Reelfoot Lake right now?
Blakely: Like everywhere else in the country, except Texas, we’re 12- to 14-inches below full-pool level. Now, that doesn’t sound like much, as compared to other lakes in the country, but here at Reelfoot, our average depth is only 4- to 5-feet deep. So, we’re under heavy-drought conditions on the lake right now. I’ve seen the lake lower than this before, but not very often.

Question: What do the bass do when you have these kinds of drought conditions?
Blakely: Here on Reelfoot, the bass react to drought a little differently than they do on most lakes. We have a lot of cover on the lake. The bass still will be holding in shallow water, on offshore cover because there isn’t any deep water. The bass at Reelfoot spend their entire lives in shallow water. Under drought conditions, we’ll still find bass concentrating on the shoreline, even though the shoreline’s shrunk. Because we have a lot of water vegetation, like lily pads and grass close to the shore, even in the shallow water, the bass can find shade and plenty of oxygen and bait. Click to enlarge

Question: In most lakes, the bass move to the deepest part of the lake with 100-degree surface temperatures and drought conditions. But the bass at Reelfoot don’t. Why?
Blakely: The bass at Reelfoot Lake have always lived in shallow water. During the summertime, the bass have always dealt with hot weather, and because we have so much grass and structure in the lake, they’ve always been structure oriented. Remember that the bottom of Reelfoot Lake was once a forest. The lake was created in the early 1900s by an earthquake that caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards and fill up Reelfoot Lake. So, the bottom of our lake doesn’t have creek channels, old river ledges or major drop-offs like you’ll find in many other lakes. What was once a forest, sank down into a small crack in the earth created by the earthquake. Our bass don’t have any structure to relate to or any drop-offs or ledges where they can hold. They have to hold and feed on old trees, stumps, roots and grass in shallow water.

Question: How are you catching your bass right now?
Blakely: I’m wearing their butts out with the new Strike King Rage Tail around shallow-water lily pads in about 18 inches of water or less. This water’s so shallow my trolling motor digs in the mud.Click to enlarge

Question: What size bass are you catching in that skinny water?
Blakely: We’re catching plenty of good-sized bass that weigh from 2- to 7-pounds each. The bass are more concentrated now than they were when the lake was at full-pool. The bass are bunched-up right now. In one acre of lily pads, you may catch 15 or 20 bass on the Rage Tail.

Question: What color do you prefer in the Rage Tail, and how are you fishing it?
Blakely: I’m using a white color with a No. 4/0 Mustad wide-gap hook. I skin hook the Rage Tail like I will a worm. When I cast it out and start to reel it, each leg on the Rage Tail wiggles and puts as much disturbance on the water as a buzzbait. The bass really like it. They’re blowing through the lily pads to take the bait, or they’re eating it when the bait passes through the holes in the lily pads.

Question: What pound-test line are you fishing with, Billy?
Blakely: I’m using 20-pound-test monofilament line. I like the monofilament line better than the braided line because you want to delay the strike a split second. The monofilament line allows you that split second a bass needs to get the Rage Tail in its mouth before you drive the hook home. However, if you’re fishing with braided line, most of the time, you’ll jerk the bait out of the bass’s mouth.Click to enlarge

Question: Once you hook the fish on monofilament line, how are you getting it out of the lily pads?
Blakely: With that 20-pound-test line, I get the bass up and on top of the water as fast as I can so they don’t have time to bury down in the lily pads. However, if I get a big fish on the line, I have to trim my motor up, pull up my trolling motor and push-pole into the pads to dig the bass out. If you have grass in the lake when you fish, during drought conditions, you still may find bass holding in shallow water like they do here at Reelfoot Lake.

Currently, Blue Bank Resort has a great 4-day package. For $189 per person, you get a room, a boat, a motor, bait, gas and ice. If you want to hire a guide, the cost is $200 per day for two people. If you’ve never fished Reelfoot, I strongly recommend hiring a guide for the first day to learn how and where to fish. If you don’t like to bass fish, the catfish and crappie are really biting well. Or, if you do like to bass fish, but you want to take some fish home to eat, fish for crappie and catfish. To contact Billy Blakely or Blue Bank Resort, call (877) 258-3226, or visit

Tomorrow: Dead-Sticking Stumps

Check back each day this week for more about "How to Bass Fish During the Drought with Billy Blakely"

Day 1: Fish Skinny Grass
Day 2: Dead-Sticking Stumps
Day 3: Catch ‘Em in the Mouth
Day 4: Fish the Treetops During a Drought
Day 5: Go Pier Fishing



Entry 418, Day 1