According to the American Sportfishing Association, one out of every three anglers in the U.S. fishes for largemouth bass, making it the most sought-after game fish in the country. It’s not difficult to understand why anglers love fishing for bass. They’re great fighters, they can be caught on a variety of baits and lures, and they inhabit a huge number of lakes and rivers across the nation.
Some of these bodies of water are known to produce more and bigger fish than others, however. We recently conferred with noted outdoor writer Mike Pehanic, expert bass anglers, tournament organizations, veteran outdoor writers and other top fishing authorities to create a comprehensive list of the 100 top bass waters. Focus your efforts on these honey holes and you’ll stand a good chance of landing some quality bass, perhaps a trophy-sized fish, or if you’re really lucky, even a place in the record books.
Not many waters offer a fat chance at both monster bass and 100-fish days, but this 69,100-acre bass factory has yielded many of both! The “Crown Jewel” of a series of fabled Tennessee River impoundments and the site of the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, Lake Guntersville is as breathtaking as it is productive with haunting hills at sunrise leaving as lasting an impression as the blow-ups of monster bass through the matted vegetation. With plenty of docks, grassy flats, points, creek channels and deep water structure to choose from, you can empty out the tackle box and catch largemouth on a wide spectrum of lures and techniques. And it offers four-season bass opportunity to boot! In winter, Alabama Rigs fitted with soft swimbaits lead to big bass with many anglers notching personal record sacks. Many laud Guntersville as the finest froggin’ lake in the country as hydrilla and milfoil when beds peak. Spring delivers a most memorable “shad spawn” bite.
Lake Guntersville spans a 75-mile stretch in northeast Alabama between Scottsboro and Guntersville. Fly-in anglers may choose between airports in Huntsville and Birmingham. While largemouth bass are the big attraction, magnum white bass are common, as are catfish, crappie, bream (bluegill) and the rest of the sunfish family. Find a helpful tackle shop or good guide to get off to a fast start. Try Mike Gerry at Fish Lake Guntersville Guide Service (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; phone 256 759 2270; website: www.fishlakeguntersvilleguideservice.com)
and Jake Davis at Midsouth Bass Guide Service (Email: email@example.com; phone: 615-613-2382;
For food and lodging information, contact Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association, 256-350-3500. For tournament information, check out the Alabama Bass Trail website (www.alabamabasstrail.org).
Located at the headwaters of the Florida Everglades, Okeechobee has long been one of the world’s great bass fisheries. Many travel to the “Big O” for once-in-a-lifetime bass opportunity. Draw from your entire shallow water bass arsenal. Topwater lures, spinnerbaits and shallow crankbaits often shine in open water pockets and stretches. Frogs and flippin’ and pitchin’ tactics are tailor-made to the endless matted grass, pads, and emergent vegetation. And the giant worms you pulled out as novelties at home have a legitimate chance of luring a hawg in Okeechobee’s glorious jungle. Of course, Florida-size golden shiners can carry the day for a trophy hunter on a mission. And you can fish it year round!
Bass legend Roland Martin and son Scott, now a star on the FLW trail, got much of their bass training and education on the 730-square-mile lake. Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort (800-473-6766; www.rolandmartinmarina.com), located in Clewiston on the southwest shore of the lake, offers accommodations, guides and boat rentals. Towns of Pahokee (east), Okeechobee (north), and Belle Glade (south) have accommodations as well. West Palm Beach is the closest airport, but you can fly into Miami, Ft. Lauderdale or other Florida airports if you are willing to drive.
Near the top of most “best bass waters” lists, this 44,000-acre natural lake has a compelling history, too. Scientists estimate its age at roughly 2.5 million years, with tectonic plate activity credited for the geothermal springs and constant renewal with fresh water that contribute to the lake’s incredible fish-per-acre output. “No other lake in California can match Clear Lake’s fish -pounds-per-acre average or its three-pound-plus largemouth average,” says guide and pro Randy Pringle. Four- to six-pound bass are common and double-digit bass are occasionally in the mix. Often called the “Bass Capital of the West,” Clear Lake hosts countless tournaments each season and has been the setting of star-studded Bassmaster Elite and FLW tour events. Giant swimbaits imitating the native hitch or sunfish produce big fish here, but jigs, shallow squarebills, deep-diving crankbaits and plastic worms are all steady producers on a lake that yields big bass from both shallow cover and offshore structure. And the lake fluctuates relatively little – by California standards!
You’re in the heart of wine country, so take a time-out for wine-tasting at one of the local wineries. Boat launch facilities are abundant throughout Lake County, particularly near the guest- friendly towns of Clearlake, Lakeport, and Kelseyville. Fishing can be great all year, but heavy late-summer algae blooms can extend into October. Fly into Sacramento or San Francisco and enjoy the scenic drive. Reach guide Randy Pringle at 209-543 -6260; www.thefishinginstructor.com or Bob Myskey at Bassin’ With Bob at 707-349-0373; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.fishclearlake.com.
Credit Texas Parks and Wildlife for maintaining many of the world’s best bass fisheries, but this Rio Grande River Tex-Mex border lake rises above them all. “Falcon is one of the greatest lakes in the U.S.,” says Texas bass pro Zell Rowland. “I don’t know that any other lake compares to it. ” Zell’s fellow Bassmaster Elite angler Paul Elias posted a record four-day total of 132 pounds, 8 ounces on the lake. Tilapia, shad and sunfish thrive in the dark fertile waters of Falcon International Reservoir, formal name for the 98,960-acre lake. Flooded mesquite and timber provide abundant cover and put an angler’s pitching and flipping skills to the test. Bring plenty of jigs and soft plastics. Giant worms produce consistently, as do crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Bring an abundance of any bait that works, and some replacement hooks as well. You will need them!
You can pretty much focus on fishing and fishing only on Falcon. Zapata and Falcon State Park are the primary on-the-water settlements on the U.S. side. The border cities of Laredo (U.S.) and Nuevo Laredo (Mexico) lie 40 miles northwest. Border pirates in 2010 dissuaded a lot of anglers from fishing the lake for a while. But incredible fishing and a period of peace has fishermen coming back! To book a fishing trip, contact local guide Jim Behnken from Jim Behnken Trophy Guide Servicese at (210) 414-8048, www.fishlakefalcon.com, and JimBehnken@hotmail.com.
If a six- or seven-pound smallmouth is on your bucket list, this is the place! The Buffalo-Niagara area offers, arguably, the best trophy smallmouth prospects of any fishery in the world. Three - and four-pound bronzebacks are typical; five-pounders hardly raise an eyebrow. Little realized, however, is the Upper Niagara River’s bass potential when Erie gets into one of her hair-raising, high-seas moods. The river is loaded with eager smallmouth and offers a change of pace from the lake action. Drift with the current or work the seams for smallmouth. Slide into a harbor or side channel for surprisingly good largemouth action. Tributary mouths, discharges and large eddies deliver exciting mixed bag opportunities. And, if you are looking for a change of pace, outstanding walleye, musky, panfish and steelhead action awaits you as well.
The city of Buffalo has lodging and dining aplenty. The tourist towns north and south of Niagara Falls offer outstanding lodging, dining and sightseeing – and that is just on the American side of these U.S./Canadian border waters. Contact the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.visitbuffaloniagara.com) and Niagara USA (www.niagara-usa.com). For angling adventures contact Marty Klemann from Canadaway Creek Outfitters at 716-410-3720; website: www.canadawaycreekoutfitters.com; email: email@example.com.
Fishing pressure is light, but the forage base of shad, bluegill and crayfish is abundant on this 25,670-acre water supply reservoir between San Antonio and Corpus Christi. That’s why bass grow fast and bass grow big. “You’ll find lots of five- and six- to 10-pounders on Choke but not many facilities,” says Bassmaster Elite angler and long-time Texan Zell Rowland. “Fishermen have to travel far to catch them, so the fish just grow!” Good water clarity opens up lure and technique options. High rocky banks, flats filled with flooded brush and timber and beds of hydrilla and native aquatic plants make prime bass habitat. Topwater fishing can be good early and late in the day. But you can count on flippin’ and pitchin’ and crankbait fishing to produce consistently. Wildlife lovers will enjoy the abundant deer, javelina, wild turkey and glimpses of the 200 bird species in the area, including the greater roadrunner and golden-fronted woodpecker. Huge catfish and even alligator gar can provide an interesting change of pace.
Civilization centers around Choke Canyon State Park’s Caliham and South Shore units (call 800- 792-1112) and its adjacent RV parks and three lodging locations on Hwy 72 – Choke Canyon Lodge, Pepe Boudreaux’s and Kickin Bass Cabins. The town of Three Rivers is 3.5 miles east of the dam.
Fishing this fish- and wildlife-rich delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers makes for a rich sensory experience. “Where else will you catch a bass and see a sea lion pop up next to you and then a beaver a few minutes later?” asks Randy Pringle, who guides on the 15,000-plus acres of this fertile tidal fishery, which flows past Martinez into San Francisco Bay. Many deem the delta one of the world’s great frogging waters, but other topwater baits and flipping and pitching tactics bring countless bass to boat as well. Be ready to fish tulles, wood and heavy vegetation. Concentrate your fishing during the “moving water” periods between high and low tides. Bring frogs, buzzbaits, and prop baits. Practice flippin’ and pitchin’ skills. You’ll need them! The delta probably produces more double-digit largemouth than any water in northern California.
You’ll find plenty of ramps, but some areas are safer than others for parked vehicles. Ask around; check around. Explore the waters carefully, too. It’s easy to get lost among the islands and growth. Stick to main channels where possible; ease carefully through narrow openings. Don’t try to learn too much water at a time. Use Mt. Diablo as a visual reference point. Nearby cities include Lodi and Stockton to the east and Sacramento to the north. And, of course, you have that city by the bay nearby as well. Guide Randy Pringle (www.thefishinginstructor.com) knows these complex waters and its jungle bass intimately.
Catch ‘em high; catch ‘em low. Clear water and diverse habitat make this Rio Grande River reservoir a multi-tiered bass fishery that has factored into some of the highest weigh-in totals in Bassmaster competition. As a Bassmaster Elite Series rookie, Derek Remitz posted a four-day total of 111 pounds, 7 ounces at Amistad in 2007! Vegetation, clear water, timber, brush and abundant forage can make a lot of baits in the tackle box look good. Swimbaits and jerkbaits often shine. Chuggers and Zara Spooks are topwater favorites. Lake fluctuation coupled with steep drop-offs into 100-foot depths can make fishing tough at times. The 2013 season saw extremely low water in the early season and high water in fall and winter.
Check out Rough Canyon Marina, Amistad Lake Resort (www.amistadlakeresort.com) and Diablo East Marina on Hwy 90 if you are planning a trip to the area. Bassmaster Elite angler Kurt Dove guides on the lake. You can also contact Olin Jensen from Jensen’s Lake Amistad Guide Service at 830-734-8715 and at www.jensensguideservice.com.
Located just east of Lake Ontario and New York’s Finger Lakes region, Oneida Lake has a character all its own -- along with some of the best bass fishing in the Northeast! The lake boasts excellent populations of both largemouth and smallmouth bass along with abundant panfish, northern pike, walleye and tiger musky. The arrival of zebra mussels in the 1990s enhanced lake clarity and accelerated the growth of aquatic vegetation to depths of 20 feet in some areas. It has also altered the balance of the forage base, now strong in shad, perch and crayfish. Roaming schools of smallmouth often herd baitfish in open water where swimbaits, topwaters and a variety of soft plastics help anglers cash in on Oneida bounty. Oneida has become a favorite northern stop for the pro circuits.
The lake is 21 miles long and five miles wide and located north of Syracuse in central New York. On the east end is Verona Beach State Park. Anglers will find plenty of launches all around the lake.
If sportfishing opportunity were the measure of a city’s prosperity, there’d be no reason to dwell on Detroit’s auto industry woes. Lake St. Clair and the connecting waters of the St. Clair River to the north and Detroit River to the South comprise an incredible smallmouth bass fishery -- and the musky fishing is almost as good! Spring and early summer action off the shores of Detroit and its suburbs can be dazzling with jerkbaits and lipless crankbaits. Tubes catch fish all season long, and soft swimbaits can be outstanding. Smallmouth do move on these waters, however, so it pays to get good reports on the action. Late summer and fall fishing moves farther into the lake, and many anglers choose to fish either the rivers or the Ontario waters at this time. For a pleasant change of pace, try fishing largemouth in weedy areas and canals.
Though not listed as one of the Great Lakes, St, Clair is part of the system. Prepare for big water fishing. Make on-the-water safety a high priority. Detroit and its surrounding communities along with Windsor on the Canadian side offer lodging, great restaurants and sports bars along with nightlife and professional sports. For guided trips contact David Hasty at 419-654- 9307, www.eriesedgeguideservice.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
21. Lake Fork, Texas