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In the history books of waterfowling, Reelfoot Lake certainly must occupy a thick chapter if not a complete volume.
Formed 200 years ago by the New Madrid Earthquakes, the famed lake in northwest Tennessee was created when the earth buckled and the Mississippi River reversed course. Residents thought the world was ending. Aftershocks rattled the region for more than a year after the main quake in 1811.
When the river regained course, the flooded farmland became a roughly 15,000-acre shallow lake. It’s studded with cypress. The bottom is littered with stumps and trees; cypress doesn’t rot, so Go-Devil type boats or smaller outboards are used by hunters and anglers who know how to navigate the lake.
It’s been a waterfowl haven for decades. “Sports” decked in coat, tie and leather or rubber knee boots traveled there by horse, train and car in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The metal-reed “Reelfoot style” duck call was put into use there, with a loud highball employed to attract ducks migrating along the river.
My first waterfowling trip was in the mid-1990s. After a breakfast at The Pier in Samburg on the south side of the lake, the initial boat ride scared the bejeebers out of me. Billy Blakely was at the helm, flicking on a Q-beam to see the next thumbtack reflector stuck on a stob in the lake so he could steer the flatbottom toward it.
Holy shinola! A flash of light, a glimmer of reflection and then darkness as he pointed the bow and sped toward it. Then, another flash of light, a subtle turn and off to the next stake! We finally made it across the lake, though the canals and into the backwater hideyhole where the monstrous 8-man blind was located.
I’d never been in a duck blind that had a gas stove, plank floorboards and 4-by-4 posts to hold up the roof. This was a serious blind. Why, it even had gas heaters! Blakely is about as cold-natured as an ice cube and has his own personal heater by his stool. Even to this day, he’d rather forget his gun than have an empty propane can for his heater.
Crawling into the blind, I heard Blakely say “Watch out …” just about the time I slammed my forehead into a 4-by-4 and fell to my knees. What a way to start the hunt. Stars shone in the sky and also circled my forehead. I believe I said, “Golly gee willikers!” or something to that effect.
We shot the lips off of ‘em that morning, and have on other hunts. I love Reelfoot for many reasons … the beauty, the history, the amount of stumps that keeps giant bass boats and recreational crafts from zipping everywhere. It’s a unique place.
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