Picking top bass lakes can be challenging. After all, anglers look for different outcomes from a trip—a family vacation, trophy bass, a fast bite, or scenic surroundings. Some anglers prefer the hard-fighting smallmouth; others like to match wits and muscle with big largemouths and relentlessly powerful smallmouth bass. Some pick waters they grew up fishing. Mostly, though, anglers desire waters that are fun to fish, supplying several of the motivations listed above.
To no one's surprise, a favorite is Lake Champlain, the vast natural waterway spanning 93 miles along the New York-Vermont border and extending into Quebec. Some of the most popular lakes include a litany of legendary bass holes—Okeechobee, Sam Rayburn, Lake Erie, Toledo Bend, Buggs Island, Lake Fork, and Santee-Cooper. Others are less widely known but no less luminous—Clear Lake and the Cal Delta in California, Lake Ontario and Lake St. Clair on the Great Lakes, Mille Lacs, and Kentucky Lake.
Lake Champlain, NY-VT-QUE
Not only does Champlain supply plentiful big smallmouth and largemouth bass but a host of other species, as well. It's a great destination for a family vacation. Common summer locations include shallow beds of milfoil, water chestnut, and bulrushes, lily pads, outside weedlines in 12 to 15 feet, deep rocky flats, and boat docks. Whatever your favorite lure, you'll catch bass with it, here. Moreover, fishing pressure for bass is light, and Champlain's scenic basin and historic surroundings make for a grand trip.
Sam Rayburn, TX
Big Sam contains structural diversity, offering a variety of fish patterns in its 114,000 acres. Moreover, there's always a chance for a giant bass, and fish over 15 pounds have been caught. Rayburn is a scenic lake, with the Piney Woods along its banks and relatively little development, as it's largely in the Angelina National Forest. The lake gets rockin' in March, as lunker females move up to feed along creek channels and edges of hydrilla flats. Deep timbered points and channels hold fish from prespawn through fall. Water levels rise in early spring, covering vast hydrilla flats where bass stage. Big lipless crankbaits are famous, but pitching jigs in productive holes and Carolina rigging along edges works well, too. Along inside weededges, work shallow cranks or cast wacky worms or Texas-rigged soft sticks. Hydrilla thickens in summer and deep vegetation holds fish, along with offshore structure including creek channel bends, points, and humps.
Clear Lake, CA
California's largest lake (44,000 acres) has largemouths over 12 pounds, though it's best known for legions of 4- to 8-pounders. Lying north of San Francisco, Clear Lake's bass spawn peaks in April and May, offering chances at huge largemouths during that period. Some big fish also get caught during winter, as well. Deep docks and underwater structure hold big fish, with emergent vegetation also producing in spring and early summer. Big swimbaits are popular, but flippin' and crankin' also produce well.
Lake Guntersville, AL
Action starts in February as fish move from deep channels to feeder creeks and the edges of main-lake flats. Carolina rigs take deeper fish, with crankbaits, jerkbaits, and spinnerbaits working on outside grass edges. The vegetation has cleared the reservoir, and big spawning fish can be spotted in creeks and main-lake coves. During summer, flipping plastics and heavy jigs into grass is productive, along with topwater fishing early in the day. Carolina rigging and drop-shot fishing work on deep structure, creek channel ledges, and along deep grass edges.
Mille Lacs, MN
Minnesota has world-class smallmouth fishing in the Mississippi River, the St. Croix River, but most notable is massive Mille Lacs. Once a fish of a lifetime at four pounds, catching multiple five pounders daily can be a daily event. And smallmouth over seven pounds are caught every year. Minnesota is primarily a walleye heaven and bass, comparatively, are under pressured. Most agree that only the Great Lakes surpass Minnesotas treasured Mille Lacs lake for trophy smallmouth bass.
Lake Okeechobee, FL
Centered in south Florida, this 730 square mile dishpan of water is full of largemouth bass, and many of them are giants. A perennial favorite, Okeechobee's shallow grassy basin still offers lots 6- to 8-pound bass. Famous for an early early-morning topwater bite, slow rolling a spinnerbait with the occasional pause in the pockets can be deadly, too. Punch baits are another effective method when bass are buried in dense cover. Make sure your hook is stout and you're going to need heavy braid (65 pound) to extract big fish from the narly hydrilla or other vegetation.
Lake Erie, OH-ON-PA-NY-MI
This smallest of the Great Lakes is the world's largest smallmouth lake, with bass roaming near-shore areas from Sandusky to Buffalo. Average size of smallmouths keeps getting bigger, and bigger—and bigger—with plenty of opportunity for 5s, 6s, and even 7 pound smallmouths. Fishing out of Pennsylvania's Presque Isle Bay provides a range of possibilities to the east and west, while the bay itself is an incredible fishery, particularly from late April through June. This weedy, 4,000-acre connected lake contains an outstanding largemouth population, and steelhead crowd its mouth in fall. After Erie smallies spawn, they range out onto rolling flats, ridges, and humps from 18 to 40 feet deep.
Lake Fork, TX
Once king of big bass lakes, Fork continues its revival. It's an exciting lake to fish, for its structural diversity and chance for a lunker. It still produces more "Share Lunkers"—bass over 13 pounds used in hatchery production—than any other lake. The lunker run starts in February and peaks in March, as hawgs move into shallow brush or weedy pockets. Fall fishing also can be excellent, either on deep structure or in creek arms where bass chase shad.
Toledo Bend, TX-LA
Bass fishing can be outstanding, though spring action is a little less predictable than other lakes. Most of the reservoir remains uncleared, as it filled before boat lanes could be cut in the piney forests. But dozens of access areas and continued clearing allow you to fish regions of the lake without running far. Spring brings high water, flooding countless acres of buckbrush where bass hold, hitting spinnerbaits and plastics flipped through the cover. As hydrilla growth has lessened, deep patterns apply, with lots of Carolina-rigging spots in creek arms, both before and after the spawn.
Cal Delta, CA
This vast tidal fishery comprises the lower portions of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers in California. The system includes over 1,000 miles of lakes, channels, and backwaters that provide varied bass habitat, with lots of 5-pounders and lunkers sometimes exceeding 10 pounds. Flip jigs and soft plastics into vegetation including lily pads, tules (reeds), algae and duckweed mats, milfoil, and hydrilla, or fish deeper edges with spinnerbaits and cranks. During warm weather, matted weeds offer an incredible topwater frog bite.
Santee-Cooper is a structurally and functionally unique pair of reservoirs lying east of Columbia, South Carolina. The lake's largemouth population contains a solid contingent of 3- to 7-pound fish, with 10-pounders occasionally taken. Santee-Cooper includes 100,000-acre Lake Marion and 60,000-acre Lake Moultrie, offering shallow cypress stands and grassbeds, plus sunken humps and creek channels for structure fishing. Look for a prime prespawn bite as fish move into pockets in April, though fishing remains good through the summer and fall as well.