Top Bass Lakes to Visit Across the Country

Steve Ryan

Most states across the country have at least a few quality largemouth bass lakes. Others are blessed with countless hotspots. No matter your locale, many anglers get the itch to explore new waters, see iconic fisheries, or pursue trophies of the caliber not found in home waters. Here are some top-notch fisheries across the country to set your sights on this season.

Clear Lake California

Located 100 miles north of San Francisco, this nearly 44,000-acre natural lake sitting at an elevation of 1,329 feet offers cool water throughout much of the season. Good numbers of 3- to 7-pound fish can be caught here throughout the season. Double-digit giants are targeted on 8-inch swimbaits throughout winter.

Bladebaits and underspin jigs can be effective when working the lake’s rock structure, as can be slow-rolling spinnerbaits. A frog bite with Strike King Rage Toads sets up in the tules in the northern portion of the lake. 

Contact: Larry Hemphill, 530/674-0276, lunkerlarry.com

Delavan Lake, Wisconsin

The wonder of this heavily used lake is that it continues to produce quality largemouth bass while being located within 90 minutes of Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison. At just over 1,900 acres, Delavan is manageable for newcomer anglers. Its distinctive flats, points, and weedlines make it easy to locate bass in the 2- to 5-pound range, along with trophies topping 6 pounds.


The spring opener in early May finds bass on quick-warming flats. Here, Senkos and flukes can provide fast action for bass of all sizes. If cold fronts push bass off the flats, neutrally buoyant lures like Rapala Shadow Raps produce, even in the toughest conditions. Work them slow along the edges of flats.


Contact: Capt. Steve Everetts, 847/707-1827, finseeker.com

Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Texas


The damming of the Angelina River in 1965 at Jasper, Texas, lead to this 114,000-acre bass-fishing paradise in East Texas. This impoundment offers every type of cover for bass to hide and feed. Standing timber, brush, and laydowns are more prevalent in the upper section of the lake, while abundant hydrilla and coontail make for clearer water in the lower sections.


January and February bring fast action for largemouths in the 3- to 4-pound range. Bill Lewis Rat-L-Traps in Rayburn Red, ticked across weedtops or ripped through grass, put big numbers of bass in the boat. Productive areas in spring include Caney Creek, Veach Basin, and Harvey Creek.


Contact: Bill Rogers, 409/383-7930, Bill Rogers Guide Services on Facebook

La Cygne Lake, Kansas

This 2,600-acre power-plant cooling lake 60 miles south of Kansas City supports a bass population with good numbers of fish topping 5 pounds, and double-digit fish are present. A year-round supply of warm water makes for a longer growing season and larger bass than most other fisheries in the Plains states. Previous stockings of Florida bass may also still be boosting the gene pool for oversized fish.


Riprap shorelines set up a good crankbait and jig bite through winter. Another option is to fish deep-diving crankbaits along bluff banks, or swimbaits that mimic the robust shad population in this lake.


Contact: Brian Ondrejka, 913/484-9055, kansasanglingexperience.com


Chickamauga Lake, Tennessee


Chickamauga Lake was created by the TVA by damming the Tennessee River at Chattanooga in the 1940s. The lake extends 59 miles north on the Tennessee River to Watts Bar Dam and encompasses about 36,000 acres. Bass habitat varies from the main river channel, where sections plunge to 75 feet deep, to shallow coves and sandbars, as well as vast areas choked with a variety of aquatic vegetation types. Annual stocking of Florida bass since 2000 has turned Chickamauga into a big-bass factory.


In 2018, the one-day winning weights (five bass) in the Chattanooga Bass Association tournaments were 34.77 pounds (February), 42.91 pounds (March), and 42.48 pounds (May). The February 2018 Big Bass Splash tournament saw eight bass over 9 pounds weighed in, with a 10.86 taking top honors. While trophies topping 10 pounds can potentially be caught year-round, your best odds are in February or March. The standard “go to” bait is an umbrella rig (limited to three baits with hooks) worked across flats and points holding schools of baitfish near deep water.

Contact: Capts. Richard Simms and Ben Hayes, 423/509-4655, sceniccityfishing.com

Candlewood Lake, Connecticut

Candlewood Lake is a 5,420-acre artificial lake in southwestern Connecticut. A pumped-water storage reservoir providing electric power, it’s the largest lake in Connecticut and one of the best bass fisheries in New England. When the lake was created in 1928, whole towns were flooded, including numerous stone walls, roadbeds, house foundations, and bridges—a structure fisherman’s dream.

In addition to the structure, deep milfoil grows around the lake perimeter. The lake has an abundance of largemouths in the 2- to 5-pound range, with 6- to 8-pounders turning up in tournaments.


The two best periods to catch trophy largemouths on Candlewood are prespawn and summer. During prespawn, target bass in submerged vegetation and shallow rocks with jerkbaits, jigs, and Ned rigs. Throughout summer, bass are caught on topwaters, soft-plastic jerkbaits, Texas-rigged creature baits, and flipping jigs in milfoil and around boat docks.


Contact: Paul Mueller 203/910-3676, paulmuellerfishing.com

Lake Fork, Texas

This premier trophy bass fishery has benefited from an abundance of fish-holding habitat and heavy annual stocking of Florida bass with strong genetics. Lake Fork has produced 33 of the top-50 largemouth bass ever caught in Texas, including the state record of 18.18 pounds. Lake Fork has also accounted for 260 of the 573 ShareLunkers donated to that program. The next closest number of entries is 27. As the most renowned lake in Texas, this 27,264-acre impoundment located 90 miles east of Dallas gets plenty of angling pressure but continues to produce fish of a lifetime.


Dragging jigs and creature baits along creek ledges is a productive winter pattern for trophies. As spring sets in and fish relate to vegetation, lipless crankbaits and vibrating jigs are among the top-producing lures.


Contact: Guide Jason Hoffman, 903/456-3691, lakefork.us

Newton Lake, Illinois

Newton Lake is a 1,775-acre power-plant lake located in southern Illinois midway between St. Louis and Indianapolis. The artificially warm water allows bass to grow more quickly here—rates similar to bass in Texas or Florida but at a more northern location. Year-round open water makes it a great retreat for bass anglers in the Upper Midwest who prefer to cast a line instead of ice fishing during the winter. Spring tournaments routinely take limits averaging 5 pounds per fish.


Since nearly the entire lake is lined with reeds, one of the most productive spring patterns for prespawn bass is pitching jigs up to and into gaps in the reeds. With no major commercial developments on the lake and a 25-hp motor restriction, Outdoor Sportsman’s Lodge offers convenient nearby lodging and complete fishing packages.

Contact: Tab Walker, 618/752-5075, outdoorsportsmanslodge.com


St. Johns River, Florida

The St. Johns River in east-central Florida is famous for producing double-digit bass. Hurricane Irma flooded this river system in 2017, making it more difficult to target bass in the short term but also providing lots of new forage and strong recruitment of bass. The population currently has robust numbers of 3- to 7-pound bass, along with trophies topping 10 pounds a daily possibility.


Fishing the edges of lily pads in the 2- to 5-foot depth range is productive year-round. Pitching jigs in open weedpockets works well, as does working topwaters along edges or soaking live wild shiners under floats. By midsummer, deep-diving crankbaits fished near midriver points and drop-offs that concentrate migrating schools of shad entice big bass.

Contact: Bob Stonewater, 386/717-6289, bobstonewater.com

Catching and releasing

The 1971 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Mead, Nevada, is remembered as the first world championship of bass fishing — the inaugural running of what has become the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing.

What is even more momentous about that landmark event is the fact that catch-and-release bass fishing came into being there.

At one of the evening functions at Lake Mead, B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott announced his “Don’t Kill Your Catch” campaign.

As Bob Cobb records in his new, must-have book, The B.A.S.S. Story — Unplugged (xlibris.com), catch and release debuted at the Florida Invitational in 1972, with some success. As boat builders and others figured out how to aerate livewells, it grew in success and popularity. Today, almost half a century later, the vast majority of recreational fishermen release all or most of the bass they catch.

It has since grown into a universal standard that has helped maintain quality fishing worldwide. Arguably, fishing is better now in many lakes than it was in the ’70s, thanks to the catch-and-release ethic.

Taken to its extreme, though, catch and release is not good for the sport.

My bass fishing mentor, the late pro angler John Powell, used to tell me, “Y’all keep harping on catch and release, and pretty soon they won’t want you to catch ’em at all.”

“Germany has outlawed catch and release altogether,” noted Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. conservation director and a former assistant fisheries chief in Oklahoma. “It’s considered cruel to fish for sport and only marginally acceptable if you eat the fish.

“The pendulum has swung too far to the total catch-and-release side in my view,” Gilliland said. “There are fisheries around the country where harvesting fish would be appropriate and beneficial to the health of the bass fishing population.”

During our conversation, Gilliland was managing fish care at the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at Lake Fork, Texas — where the catch/weigh/instant release tournament format was born 13 years ago, and where it lives on in Texas Fest.

At that legendary big-bass factory, bass longer than 16 inches and less than 24 inches must be released.

The goal is to protect the most prolific spawners while removing smaller bass, but almost no one keeps the “unders” there, he said.

The slot regulation at Fork necessitates the immediate-release format pioneered by TPWD and practiced in Texas Fest, but that doesn’t mean the time-honored format in which anglers bring their heaviest five bass to the weigh-in stage is wrong.

“Yes, a few individual fish die as a result of tournament fishing,” Gilliland acknowledged. “But if you look at the entire bass population of a lake, we don’t see any negative impact.”

That impact has been minimized even further thanks to advancements in livewell technology, the new Yamaha live-release boats and other fish-care practices outlined in the Keeping Bass Alive handbook,
co­authored by Gilliland in 2002.

At this year’s GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods in Knoxville, Tenn., all but one bass out of the 521 fish weighed in were released back into the Tennessee River.

And the fishery, study after study has shown, is none the worse for it.

You Don’t Own The Water Bro: Fishing Etiquette In 2019

You Don’t Own The Water Bro: Fishing Etiquette In 2019 thumbnail

As fishing pressure rises on our waterways so does the chance for conflict between anglers. From personal experience and more than 20 years of covering bass tournaments for media outlets I have seen or heard of wars of words on the water and in one case a fisticuffs battle between tournament competitors. Issues such as anglers fishing too close to one another or one angler cutting in front of another has led to these wars on the waters.

Fishing should be a fun sport all of the time, but improper manners displayed by some anglers can get a fellow angler’s dander up and lead to a shouting match or worse. When fishing in a crowd we need to remember that no fish is worth getting into a duel of words or punches.

Here are some fishing etiquette tips to help you avoid a conflict on the water with your fellow anglers.

Avoid Cutting In Front Of Others

We were taught in school not to butt in line, so we should remember this lesson when we are on the water. Despite fishing on a lake with 54,000 surface acres I constantly have seen anglers cut their boats in front of me or other anglers. Whenever I am heading towards a spot, if I see another angler close to the spot I check to see which direction his boat is heading. If he is heading towards the spot I intended to fish I will move on to another spot. If his boat is moving in the opposite direction I will go ahead and stop there.

Distance Yourself From Others

Anglers fishing too close to each other is another common problem that leads to trouble. I avoid this situation by staying at least two casting lengths away from another boat. If I am fishing down a bank and another boat is coming towards me, I will either stay in one spot to let the other boat circle around me or I will veer away from the bank and yield to the other boat.

Don’t Claim A Spot

Unless you are fishing your own private lake, you shouldn’t be claiming a spot is yours just because you caught fish there the previous day or planted a brush pile or some other type of cover there. I have frequently heard grumblings especially from tournament anglers complaining about other anglers being on “their” spot. You have to remember when fishing public waters that all spots are open to everyone. If you are a good enough angler you will have more than one spot and won’t have to worry about others fishing the same spot.

Leave No Wake Behind

When passing a stationary boat in a confined area I slow down and try to avoid leaving a wake that would rock the other boat. I also idle a safe distance away from boats near me when I am leaving a spot to prevent waves that could disturb those who are still fishing that spot.

Respect Others Property

Never trespass to gain access to a pond on private property and if you get permission to fish on private property make sure you clean up after yourself and take your trash and any other litter you see with you.
My home waters of Lake of the Ozarks features thousands of private docks where there is always the potential for disputes between dock owners and anglers. I avoid trouble with dock owners by steering away from any docks where people are fishing or swimming.

I try to avoid bumping my boat into a dock or hitting the dock with my lures. If my lure hangs up on the dock, I will step onto the dock to free my lure or ask someone on the dock to unhook the lure. If I have to get on the dock to free my lure I will immediately return to my boat once my lure is unhooked.

Obey The Law

Fish limits are imposed by state conservation departments to prevent overharvesting on a fishery, but some selfish anglers fail to abide by the law. I have heard some guys brag about how they have caught and cleaned 300 crappie (in Missouri that is 240 fish over the state possession limit) for a church or family fish fry. You can ensure good fishing on your favorite waters if you obey all the possession and length limits established by your state’s game and fish agency.

Practice Catch And Release

This one is easy for me because I don’t like to eat fish. I always practice catch and release when bass fishing and I frequently throw back a lot of crappie even if they are keeper size. I practice selective harvesting with crappie and only keep 10- to 13-inch fish which are the easiest to fillet.


Northern Pike: Underappreciated Predators or Overrated Lure Snatchers?

Northern Pike: Underappreciated Predators or Overrated Lure Snatchers? thumbnail

Northern Pike fishing is popular in Europe and Russia, and continue to grow in popularity in North America. This popularity is due in large part to their trophy size potential, strong fight, and great taste. These toothy monsters are often simply known as “pike” or “northern.” With green backs/yellowish white bellies, long powerful bodies, and sharp inwards pointed teeth, pike are ferocious predators known for their aggressiveness. These fish can move at very high speeds to ambush prey, making them very exciting to fish for when they slam your bait.

Catching northern pike can be a very exciting and rewarding experience. Pike will smash almost any bait you can think of from live/dead baits to a large variety of artificial lures. They are often found in thick vegetation where they can sit nearly unseen and ambush any prey that comes by. Like many other carnivorous fish, pike utilize their lateral line when looking for a meal. This lateral line allows for them to feel vibration through the water and more easily locate their prey. Due to this, many anglers throw baits that produce a lot of vibration such as inline or traditional spinnerbaits. These baits, as well as spoons, also throw a lot of light with their flashy blades and finishes to increase the appeal from the eyes of these predators.

Northern Pike Fishing

Other baits such as jigs and swimbaits also are great options for pike fishing. In their youth, it is common for pike to feed on small fish and other small prey such as crawfish and frogs. Imitating these small profile baits can be a great way to match what they are familiar with. Pike aren’t afraid to grab big baits either, so throwing a bulky jig can be a great option to match the smaller profile but present a larger meal. The extra weight of a bulky jig also allows it to be fished both shallow and deep. Pair it up with a paddle tail or crawfish to increase the action and give it a natural presentation. Swimbaits are also good on their own as they look very realistic in the water and can be fished fast, slow, or twitched to be erratic. Don’t be afraid to try all sorts of retrieves to figure out what they are looking for.

Locating Northern Pike

Northern Pike Fishing

To find the pike, the most important factor is finding what they will be eating. As predators, pike will move around throughout the seasons to follow the food. Early in the season, look for shallow weed growth next to sudden drops in depth where the pike have a lot of area to move and hunt. Fishing a bladed bait or spoon is great near these spots at this time of year as the sun will produce more flash from the blades in the shallow water around these weeds. As summer heats up, the pike will tend to venture to deeper weeds to be in the cooler oxygen rich water they provide. Now is a good time to switch to those jigs to really work the weedline, or try and retrieve a spoon with a slow flutter over the weeds. When the conditions are right for topwater, this can also be an exciting way to catch a pike. Although there are many options with artificial lures, never discount the use of minnows and leeches as well.

If you are new to pike fishing, it might be a good idea to take a look at your gear before heading out. While bass tackle will often work well on its own for pike fishing, it’s important to remember that they grown much bigger and have razor sharp teeth. Fluorocarbon up to 20 pounds paired with medium to medium heavy rods allow you to manage these big fighters and easily handle the bigger baits you might opt to throw. Braid is also a good option when fishing water with less visibility as the line is more hidden. Often times the most important part can be a wire leader (or very heavy mono leader) to avoid being bitten off. When throwing faster moving baits the leader will be very hard to see and will avoid being bitten off.

Northern Pike Fishing

If you are familiar with pike, you may know it can be difficult to distinguish them from muskellunge, who are closely related. To determine the difference, there are a few distinguishable features to take a look at. The simplest ways to determine whether a fish is a pike vs a musky are their rounded tails and spots that are lighter than their body color. Although many people fish specifically for musky as they are known to be a trophy fish, northern can reach very large sizes as well and are often more easily caught. This makes them a unique and exciting fish to target when hunting for big fish. The current world record northern pike is a whopping 55 pounds, not far behind muskie at 65 pounds.

Northern Pike Fishing

Many anglers can have a negative attitude towards northern pike. These fish tend to be very slimy and can frustrate a bass angler who gets bitten off. Anglers who have not cleaned or eaten pike may also be leery to make a meal out of a pike. Often people argue that they are hard to clean due to the “Y” bones along their back. Doing research ahead of time can eliminate these worries and bring about a much more positive attitude toward fishing for pike. It is important that they maintain the slime on their bodies as it protects them from potential sickness. When handled correctly, the slime on their bodies will not be an issue to the fisherman and therefore will also help protect the fish. Research on the proper way to clean a pike can provide a way to avoid the bones and collect a lot of meat for a great meal. When you consider this, along with the great fight, northern pike fishing can be some of the best fishing in freshwater.

Making A Fishing Checklist: Quick Tips For Your Next Fishing Trip

Making A Fishing Checklist: Quick Tips For Your Next Fishing Trip thumbnail

Owning a boat makes it easier to remember what to bring for my fishing trips because many of the items I use are already stored in the boat.

However, there are times when I fish with a friend in his boat or fish from the bank and need to decide what I should bring with me. I am guilty of never putting together a fishing checklist, but I would recommend making a list to prevent forgetting essential items for your fishing trips.

Here is a checklist of items you will need for your next fishing trip.

Rod and Reel

The number of rod and reel combos you take depends on what type of fishing you will be doing. When I am bass fishing with a friend in his boat I usually take four baitcast combos with different line sizes on the reels that allows me to fish a variety of lures. If I am bank fishing, I usually take two rods and for wade fishing I scale down to one rod.

Lures

I usually take a soft tacklebag holding three or four utility boxes filled with the lures I think will work for the season I am fishing.

Rain Gear

The first year I fished bass tournaments I learned the hard way about the value of quality rain gear. It’s hard to concentrate on fishing for eight hours when you are cold and wet. Now I take a rain suit any time there is even a slight chance of rain.

Hat

I always wear a hat while fishing either for warmth in the cold weather or protection from the sun.

*Sunglasses: I always wear sunglasses to reduce glare and protect my eyes from harmful sun rays and any errant projectiles.

Food

A four-course meal on the water is unnecessary but you should at least pack some snacks to munch on throughout the day to keep up your energy level. I usually take a couple of packages of fig bars and oatmeal bars that are easy to pack in my tackle bag.

Water

Usually one bottle of water is all I need when fishing in cooler weather, but during the heat of summer I take at least two bottles to prevent dehydration.