Lake level threatens duck hunting at Reelfoot
Posted: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 9:00 pm
By EVAN JONES
Special to The Messenger
A persistent and extreme drought in northwest Tennessee has dropped Reelfoot Lake to its lowest level in more than two decades, and with duck season right around the corner, it threatens to impact hundreds of hunters, both professional and recreational.
Thousands of stumps have been exposed and crappie fishing has been excellent for those with the persistence and skill to navigate the low lake.
Three tombstones belonging to pioneer Lake County families were revealed by the low level of the Washout and were recovered by the Lake County Sheriff’s Department.
Indian artifacts, which are illegal to be picked up, have been exposed in some areas of the lake.
Reelfoot Lake was at 10.31 feet on Monday, about one foot above the lowest level ever recorded which came at 9.30 feet on Nov. 20 and 21 in 1953, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The lake dropped to 9.59 feet during the state-initiated drawdown of 1985.
The gauge used by the USGS is located at Middle Landing on the south end of Reelfoot Lake. On Upper Blue Basin, where there is no gauge and the lake is much shallower, levels may be very close to the drawdown levels of 1985.
Many boat slips are dry, with boats sitting on the ground. A few Reelfoot Lake boat ramps are closed by the low water, but most are open, although fishermen are struggling to get their boats out to water deep enough to run their outboards.
Pontoon boat cruises were suspended by Reelfoot Lake State Park in August and remain so for the foreseeable future. “Our pontoon boats are sitting on the ground,” said ranger Jerry Hall of Reelfoot Lake State Park. “We are using this time to mark some of our boat trails. We are using lobster buoys to mark them. We received permission from the state to use them.”
With no rain in the current seven-day forecast for the Reelfoot Lake area, the possibility for an even lower lake exists, although the USGS chart showed the lake dropping only four one-hundreths of an inch over the past seven days.
It is of note that the lowest level of the lake recorded since the beginning of record keeping in 1940 was an early winter recording in November.
It could be a repeat performance this year without significant rainfall. The two-day split season opens on Nov. 27-28, about six weeks away. The regular season at Reelfoot Lake opens on Dec. 4.
Many parts of the lake, especially the cut-grass holes and other shallow areas, are completely dry.
Jeremy Seals, a guide who hunts in Cranetown, says that area is completely dry, with pigweed about knee-high covering the entire area.
Little Ronaldson, another of Reelfoot’s famous duck holes, looks like a meadow, according to brothers Tim and Chris Naifeh.
Although launching and loading their boats is an often complicated chore, fishermen are venturing on to the lake and are finding success around the thousands of stumps that have been exposed.
Many just use trolling motors to run from the ramps to their fishing location, rather than risk damage to their motors.
Seals, who is an employee of Cypress Point Resort, said they are renting boats to people who purchased the fishing packages only. “We have a boat shed that is too low to use and the one we are using, we are digging out daily,” said Seals. But the ones that go out are catching fish.”
Seals wonders if even the open water duck blinds that can still to be reached by boat will be that way by November without some rainfall. “The way it is out there right now, I’m not sure a lot of those guys could hunt their blinds.”
A four- or five-inch rain could change everything in a matter of hours. Right now, that is not on the horizon.
Editor’s note: Evan Jones is the editor of The Lake County Banner.
Published in The Messenger 10.13.10