Reelfoot Lake History

Peace, tranquility and some outstanding fishing opportunities!

Reelfoot Lake is located in the northwest corner of Tennessee and is noted for its fishing, boating and abundance of wildlife. The lake covers approximately 15,000 acres and was created by a series of violent earthquakes that occurred in 1811 & 1812 which caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards for a short period of time.

Reelfoot Lake's ecosystem is different than any other place in Tennessee. The lake is a flooded forest. Thousands of Cypress trees rise above the water and there are also many submerged Cypress stumps. A variety of aquatic plants and flowers occupy the shoreline and inhabit the shallow water. The lake is frequented by almost every kind of shore bird and waterfowl, as well as both Golden and American bald eagles.



  • From Wikipedia: According to legend, Reelfoot Lake is said to be named for an Indian chief who had a deformed foot and was nicknamed "Reelfoot" by settlers in the early 19th century.

    A Chickasaw legend states that the name originated from a prince of a Chickasaw tribe inhabiting the present West Tennessee, who was born with a deformed foot and walked with a rolling motion, so was nicknamed Kolopin, meaning Reelfoot.

    Original landowners and their descendants retained title to the ground under the water, but local people grew used to treating it as a common resource. Farmers, fishermen and landowners all derived their livelihoods from the lake and nearby lands. In the early 20th century, however, outside parties began to try to take over control of the lake and its lands. A group of investors bought up most of the land around the shoreline, and organized as the West Tennessee Land Company. In this period, major planters in both Kentucky and Tennessee, sometimes based in cities, were also expanding large-scale cotton cultivation into this area.

  • Beginning in the spring of 1908, the Reelfoot area was marked by widespread lawlessness in western Kentucky and Tennessee as white farmers and residents organized as Night Riders to resist the acquisition by the West Tennessee Land Company of the lake and surrounding lands. They were also reacting to the expansion of large-scale cotton production into this area, which had been dominated by yeomen farmers.

    Today, Reelfoot Lake currently covers 15,000 acres, with a maximum depth of 18 feet with an average depth of 5.5 feet. It is the only large natural lake in Tennessee. Lake County, Tennessee, in which it is located, was named for it. Until 2003, Reelfoot was the world's only legal commercial fishery for crappie, a species of sunfish. It was served in restaurants near the shore. The area is popular for recreational boating, fishing, and waterfowl hunting.

    Since 1930, water levels in the lake have been regulated by the construction and operation of a spillway at the southern end, where the Running Reelfoot Bayou flows out of it. This structure was controversial[why?] when first built. In 1939 local residents attempted to blow it up, unsuccessfully.

    In the early 21st century, the 80-year-old spillway was regarded as obsolete by both the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. They planned to replace it. A new spillway was completed in 2013 and became operational. This has helped regulate water levels and by doing so, helped the overall health of the lake and its species. This information is provided by Wikipedia in accordance with Creative Commons Licensing 3.0 Contributor attributes can be found here.

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    • Reelfoot Fish, Fur & Fowl
      251 Gray's Camp Lane
      Tiptonville, TN 38079