April 08, 2014
The largemouth bass is, without a doubt, the most important gamefish in North America. Its popularity is due to is widespread distribution (they're common in every state except Alaska) and the adaptability to various habitats. You can find excellent bass fishing in small farm ponds, big rivers, reservoirs, natural lakes, and even ditches and canals.
The success of this species is due in large part to its most obvious feature, its huge mouth. Bass attack and eat all sorts of prey, from microscopic zooplankton to mice, ducks, and snakes. But in most waters, they rely on preyfish and crayfish for food. The key to catching them is offering a lure that presents an image that makes the bass think it is prey. If you looks at some popular bass lures, you can see that they don't all look much like a crayfish or a shiner. But the small brain of the bass focuses on certain elements of a lure and they can be fooled by baits that create naturalistic flashes or vibrations, without closely resembling the real thing.
Deciphering Bass Habitat
The most important key to catching largemouth bass is figuring out where, in a large body of water, they will be living. Bass generally prefer warm, shallow areas of lakes, reservoirs, and rivers. They typically choose locations that offer cover in the form of moderately thick vegetation, brush, fallen trees, or other wood cover. At times, largemouth bass feed in open water, but that is the exception to their predominant pattern.
Plants grow thicker as waters warm in spring and summer. In these dense stands of vegetation, bass roam the edges and wander through the dense middle zones, searching for preyfish and crayfish.
In clear water, aquatic plants may grow as deep as 20 feet and bass often occupy that depth in those situations. But in murky water, vegetation is limited to shallow zones and bass are rarely found much deeper than 8 or 10 feet during spring and summer.
Where vegetation is limited or entirely absent, such as in many impoundments and farm ponds, bass seek brush cover. Even a small stick lying along the bank of a pond will attract a bass or two.
Since bass often hold in thick cover, you need a selection of lures that can fish through it without constantly hanging on brush or grass. For many decades, lure designers have spent considerable time creating artificial lures that can be fished through such areas without hassles.
One of the truly breakthrough designs for rigging softbaits is the Texas rig. With a large offset-shank hook, you can hook a soft plastic lure so that it moves through the weeds or wood without snagging, as the hook point is buried in the lure. When a bass bites, however, you can set the hook with a powerful snap of the rod, which pulls the point through the soft lure and into the bass' mouth.
Another advantage of a Texas rig is that you can fish lures without weight, for working shallow areas just a few feet deep. Or you can add a slipsinker on the line ahead of the hook, which brings the lure into deeper water where bass may lurk. Heavier sinkers also help you cast farther to reach distant spots.
A vast array of softbait shapes are available and they all catch bass at one time or another, as long as you present them where the fish are. Some of the most popular and successful are shaped like worms. These narrow baits slip easily along the bottom and through vegetation and sunken trees. Lures shaped like crayfish also work well since bass are always looking for craws to eat.
Texas-rig them and cast into a pocket in the grass and let the lure fall to the bottom. Wait a second, them slowly pull the lure to the edge of the hole. Sometimes bass get excited when you shake the lure as it sits on the bottom. In more open areas with scattered cover, drag the plastic worm or other lure along the bottom, pausing it from time to time. One neat trick is to place a glass bead between the sinker and the hook. As the lure moves, the metal clicks against the bead, creating sound that can alert bass to its presence. Other shapes to try include tube baits, lizards, creature baits with various arms and legs, stickworms, and minnow-shaped softbaits that are best fished with no weight so they can glide like a wound minnow.
If you asked 10 top professional bass anglers what lure they'd select to catch a lunker bass, 7 of them likely would mention a jig. This lure combines a compact frame, heavy-duty hook, and silicone or rubber skirt into lure that can be fished nearly anywhere. With a soft plastic crawfish or other trailer on the hook, it appeals to bass in thin or thick cover, vegetation or timber, and at almost any depth. The most popular weights are 3/8-and 1/2-oumce, followed by 1/4-ounce. Weight doesn't much affect the size of the package but it defines how fast it falls through the water column and how well it can punch through vegetation. In addition, heavier jigs can be cast farther.
Jigs work very well when cast to cover, such as fallen trees, boat docks, or lily pad clumps. In extremely thick cover, dropping them vertically into gnarly bushes or thick vegetation, called flippin', can be very effective. This pattern works best when the sun is bright and bass push into shaded spots, and when cold fronts reduce bass activity.
Jigs work in many of the same situations where Texas-rigged softbaits do. Jigs are more compact, but tend to hang up a big more easily that Texas rigs. But again, they appeal to big bass in every season of the year. While countless colors are available, top selections for most waters include black/blue, brown/purple, green pumpkin, and white.
Where cover is not too thick, rigging a work, craw, or other softbait on a jighead works well. A rather light (1/16- to 1/8-ounce) ballhead or mushroom-shape jighead works best with a worm from 5 to 7 inches long. Since the hook is exposed, bass are readily hooked with a rod lift, as a powerful hook-set isn't needed. As a result, you can use a light fishing rod and light line, which often gets more bites than a heavier rig.
The jigworm's simplicity contributes to its persistent popularity, along with the fact that it continues to catch loads of bass in many different environments, in an amazing display of longevity. Moreover, a Ziploc bag can hold all the tackle needed for a day's fishing.
To rig one correctly, be sure it is straight on the jig hook. To do this, measure the hook shank length against the softbait to the hook point emerges at the spot that will keep it straight on the hook. Straight rigging improves its action on the fall, reduces line twist, and adds to the natural look of the lure.
Spinning tackle is the universal choice for jigworms. While many anglers prefer monofilament line, thin braided line (6- to 10-pound-test) casts very smoothly and lasts for years. In clear-water conditions, adding a leader of 8- or 10-pound fluorocarbon can help fool a few more fish. Attach it with a double uni-knot.
Since the hook is exposed, fish this rig on the edge of cover — outside the deep edge of plantgrowth, where it breaks to open water, or around brush or boat docks. Some jighead styles allow you to insert the hook point back into the worm, so it can be fished through thicker cover without snagging.
A jigworm often works best when cast to an edge and allowed to fall on slack line. Let it hit bottom and sit there for at least 15 seconds. Bass often see it fall, then swim over for a look. At times, gently shaking the worm also draws strikes.
The perennially popular spinnerbait is another versatile bass lure. It excels in shallow vegetation but can also be worked over deep structure, since its lead head drags it downward while its blades spin and flutter. The safety-pin design helps make this lure effective around brush and weedbeds, as the overhead arm deflects sticks and weedstalks away from the hook.
Many different designs exist, each best in a particular situation. The blades are the focus of its action, producing both flash and underwater vibration that attract bass and cause them to bite this lure that looks, on the surface, unlike any natural prey. The lure's skirt adds color and water disturbance from the blades causes it to flutter.
Models with round Colorado blades produce the greatest vibration and work best in murkier water. Since the big round blade catches a lot of water, it must be retrieved at a slow to moderate pace. Indiana blades are more elongated and many anglers like their versatility, adding substantial flash and vibration. Willowleaf blades are the third primary category, shaped like a long, narrow leaf of that water-loving tree. Willowleaf blades spin rapidly but don't catch much water so they excel for fishing fast through thick cover. Vibration is reduced but their flash is unmatched.
The most popular weights for spinnerbaits are 3/8- and 1/2-ounce. Those sizes cast easily on spinning or baitcasting tackle and work through water from 2 to 10 feet deep with little effort. And in many situations bass simply cannot resist their flash and action.
At times, though, fish may follow or bump these lures, not engulfing them. In those situations, slipping a trailer over the hook and securing it with a rubber keeper ups your catch. Many experts also add a grub or double-tail trailer to the spinnerbait hook, as this extra action fools more fish at times.
At times, though, a 1/4-ounce model is the best thing for working slowly through shallow emergent grasses such as cattails, bulrushes, and maindencane. And for fishing deep areas and in rivers, heavier spinnerbaits stay down where lunkers lurk. Letting a spinnerbait fall to the bottom, then retrieving it over stumps or deep vegetation also can be effective, particularly in summer and fall. As the lure falls, its blade spins, creating flash and vibration, and bass sometimes bite as it descends.
In the old days of bass fishing, anglers used wooden "plugs" to cover water and tempt bass from all sorts of waters. Today, these lipped lures are called crankbaits, since they come to life once you start retrieving them. The most important feature of a crankbait is its bill.
It determines both how deep the lure runs and what kind of action it produces when pulled through the water. In the hands of experienced anglers, crankbaits are deadly bass lures. And they work for anyone since the action is more or less built-in! Most crankbaits float at rest and dive when the retrieve begins.
Shallow-running crankbaits are fun to fish, as you aim your casts around boat docks, stumps, rock walls, and other cover. Accuracy is more important that distance in these types of situations. Retrieve them slowly so they occasionally bump the bottom or objects in the water.
Cranking can be hard work, however, since long casts are essential when fishing deep-diving lures. It takes the lure a while to reach its maximum depth, where it may bump bottom, crack into stumps, and tempt some deep-dwelling lunkers to bite. So the longer the cast, the longer your lure stays in the fish zone. Moreover, many deep divers have long bills the cause substantial water resistance, which causes the lure to dive. Crankin' experts favor long rods that are rather flexible, which cast far and keep bass hooked on these lures.
Lipless crankbaits, also called rattlebaits, are a unique class of lures, but they can be extremely effective when fished over and through shallow vegetation, especially in early spring and early summer, when plants are just starting to grow into clumps.
Rattlebaits lack a diving bill and do not float. To fish them shallow, start winding the reel as soon as the lure lands. But if you want to fish is deeper, simply let it fall before beginning the retrieve. For this reason, they are highly versatile for probing the water column to find active fish.
Rattlebaits also produce a lot of sound underwater, which can alert nearby bass of potential prey in the area. Active bass may begin to search for the source of this sound and then notice the lure. Their reaction often it to engulf it in their massive mouth.
When you shop for crankbaits, you will see lures of countless different colors. This can be confusing, but a selection of several general colors are all you need. Since these lures certainly imitate baitfish, those colored like shad, shiners, or other common preyfish work well. Where yellow perch are common, lures colored like them also are good. And since bass favor crayfish wherever they find them, lures with mixed greens, browns, reds, and oranges imitate the basic hues of these big invertebrates.
For the last ten years or so, swimbaits have been among the top lures for catching lots of big bass. They've won countless tournament and accounted for many huge bass. The term swimbait can be used to describe several styles of lure including large boot-tail bodies fished on jigheads or wide-gap, weighted hooks; lipped divers with bodies made of soft plastic, wood, or hard plastic; internally weighted swimbaits, usually with boot tail; and big jointed hardbaits.
These lures tempt bass with their lifelike action and looks. Big ones imitate big preyfish like gizzard shad, bluegills, and rainbow trout that huge bass seek. Swimbaits feature a tail shake, and the best ones also have a natural rolling motion when retrieved. These two movements create unique natural vibrations underwater that bass detect and typically follow if they're feeding. Fish often completely engulf the lure.
Sinking swimbaits can cover the water column from near the surface to as deep as you want to fish. Most experts recommend a slow, steady retrieve, with just the occasional twitch or pause. Match your tackle to the weight of the lure you're fishing; equipment can range from medium-heavy spinning gear to extra-heavy power baitcasting tackle.
We generally lump long, narrow-bodied crankbaits into the minnowbait category. This group of lures is not as versatile as others, but when bass want a minnowbaits, nothing else will do. In early spring, when water temperatures are below 50°F, suspending minnowbaits, often termed jerkbaits, often are your key to success. The colder the water, the slower you should work these baits. With their rather small lip, they don't dive much deeper than 5 feet. Using medium-light tackle, work suspending models with slow twitch-pause cadence, sometimes letting the lure settle for up to 30 seconds. Bass are sluggish in these frigid conditions, and may slowly move closer to take a look, then finally gently bite the lure. Suspending jerkbaits work in shallower coves and also over deep areas, as bass may suspend high in the water column in spring, say 6 feet down in a 20-feet-deep spot. That's when these baits prove deadly.
Floating minnowbaits also tempt a lot of bites from bass scattered in shallow or mid-depth vegetation, in the range of 4 to 10 feet. These baits, made of wood or hollow plastic, can be twitched below the surface, then allowed to rise to the surface. Work them slowly in pockets and edges of grass as long as bass remain shallow and vegetation isn't too thick.
This is a specialized lure category that's relatively new. It started with the Chatterbait, a lure with a jighead and skirt like w eedless jig, but with a small aluminum blade attached to the nose of the jig, which serves to make the whole package vibrate and swim through the water with a weaving motion. The blade in front also serves to deflect off vegetation, so these lures work well in grassy areas. To increase the action, add a trailer to the hook, such as a double-tail spinnerbait trailer, grub, or small swimbait.
Tempting bass to charge the surface to attack a lure is both exciting and productive, as long as the water is warm, above about 60°F. Topwater lures also are fun to fish because you're in charge of what the lure does. They float and when retrieved may pop and chug the surface, walk back-and-forth in a steady rhythm, or churn the water with small propellers. These actions seem to imitate the look of weak and dying baitfish. As opportunistic predators, bass don't often pass up such a treat.
While surface lures sometimes pull bass to the surface from depths of 10 to 15 feet, the best action comes from shallower spots where bass hold in submergent vegetation or other cover such as rocks, brush, or stumps.
Poppers have cupped mouths that create a splash, bubbles, and sound when you give them a hearty pull. This action often stirs the interest of a bass in the vicinity and the fish looks up to see what the commotion is about. Letting the lure settle after popping it gives fish a chance to approach and strike. This type of retrieve is particularly effective over thick cover or deep water. When schools of bass attack preyfish on the surface, a faster retrieve often works better.
Walking baits are longer and cylindrical, which allows them to glide back and forth across the surface, covering a wide swath of water as they imitate a baitfish the swims aimlessly on top of the water, which is an obvious and tempting meal for any bass.
These versatile surface baits work in rivers and lakes, in water that ranges from somewhat stained to clear, and are best in summer once bass have moved into deeper cover.
Propbaits are enhanced with small propellers to create splashing action on the surface. Some propbaits have propellers on the nose and tail of the lure, while others have just one of the tail. Models with paired props typically are longer and create more surface splash. These lures also are intended to resemble a dying baitfish. They generally work best when you give them a good twitch or two, then let the lure settle. That's when bass typically attack. With their rear prop hanging in the water, these baits make a tempting target for active bass.
A less common sort of topwater lure is the wakebait, which initially resembles a crankbait because it has a lip. But the lip extends straight down, so it does not dive, but instead swishes along the surface, moving back and forth in imitation of a distressed fish. Wakebaits are most effective in summertime, when worked over weedy flats from 5 to 10 feet deep, or else over deep edges along bluffs in clear reservoirs and lakes. When it seems like bass have seen every type of lure in a body of waters and become hard to catch, wakebaits can wake 'em up with their novel action.
There's a selection of lures that don't quite fit other categories, but excel when big bass inhabit the shallow, weedy zones of lakes, reservoirs, and rivers, which they frequently do throughout summer and into early fall. That makes for some real exciting fishing, and when conditions are right, you may catch your biggest bass of the year on one of these.
The first category is the weedless frog. These hollow baits float on top, and with an upturned double-hook, they can work through and over dense vegetation. Because of their boat-like shape, anglers can twitch these frogs in open pockets, make them walk back and for the like a topwater lure. This tactic often proves irresistible to any nearby bass. Some anglers also use them successfully in open water and under boat docks. Dealing with thick cover and big bass, heavy baitcasting tackle is essential — 7- to 8-foot heavy-action rods and 50- to 80-pound braided line.
The buzzbait is another surface lure that works over shallow flats and among moderately dense clumps of weeds. Shaped like a spinnerbait, its overhead buzz blade creates a real racket when retrieved at a moderate pace. Its combination of sound, underwater vibration, bubble trail, and surface profile can prove deadly from early summer into mid-fall, as long as bass are holding in thick, shallow cover. They're exciting to fish as you never know when an explosive strike will come. It's generally best to retrieve a buzzbait so it stays on top, but at the slowest possible pace. At times, though, a speedy retrieve works. Fish buzzbaits on baitcasting tackle with long, medium-heavy-power rods with some flex in the tip. This helps in casting these wind-resistant lures and delaying the hook-set for a fraction of a second, so the bass gets the bait in its mouth.
Finally the weedless spoon is another classic category that is essential in fishing for bass in weedy, summertime conditions. Like the frog, these metal lures pass over matted vegetation, lily pads, and algae clumps, where big bass often lurk, feeding on frogs, baitfish, dragonflies, and even small birds. Weedless spoons typically have a single hook that rides up as the lure is retrieved. Many also have a weedguard. Begin the retrieve as soon as the spoon lands, so it stays on top of the vegetation. Keep your rod tip up and reel slowly, adding occasional twitches to alter its cadence.
Putting it All Together:
Once you get the hang of it, catching bass becomes easy. They are aggressive fish and often gather in large groups. Starting out, it's best to search shallow areas for bass, as you can see many good fishing spots with your eyes. Things that add cover and shade are attractive, such as fallen trees, boat docks, rock walls, stumps, and overhanging vegetation. Thick weedbeds also are productive. Select lures that can work through that cover without hanging up.
Practice casting so you can place lures into these small areas reliably. Work a good spot slowly, then move on. Try different sorts of areas until you start to get bites. Then look for similar habitat and fish it thoroughly. At times, deeper water is most productive and you will need to search for good spots with contour maps and sonar/GPS units. This can take some practice, but the more you do it, the better you will become at finding deep fish. Remember that bass and many other fish like to operate along edges. The deeper edge of a weedbed can be good. In reservoirs or rivers without vegetation, check the edges of creek channels, as well as the edges of manmade cover such as marinas, bridges, wing dams, and riprap banks.
Select lures that run into the deeper zones along these edges. Try casting parallel to these edges, or else retrieve sinking lures from the edge out toward deeper water. Just like fishing shallow, keep trying areas and lure options until the action starts. Then keep working similar areas.
So that's how to catch largemouth bass. Bass fishing is fun and totally addicting. Once you catch a few fish, you will want to fish more, learn more, and catch more. One fun way to get started is by joining a bass club. These exist in every town across the country and in Canada where good bass waters can be found. They invite members young and old, experienced and novice, to join in club activities and tournaments where you can learn many new techniques from avid anglers. They enthusiasm is contagious. Have fun!
From Clear Lake in the north to Perris Lake hundreds of miles to the south, California is blessed with the finest trophy largemouth fishing in the world. A 22-pound behemoth was reported from Spring Lake in 2008 — one of many in the 20-pound range taken since California began importing Florida bass a few decades ago. 'California is the number one trophy state for bass exceeding 15 pounds, ' says David Swendseid — bass pro and tackle rep from the Golden State. 'A lot of the best lakes right now are being kept quiet. People aren't talking, but Southern California lakes in general and the San Diego lakes specifically are producing massive fish. Even private waters are turning out behemoth bass and great numbers. The California Delta is phenomenal for numbers. We're catching fifty bass from 3- to 12-pounds per day there. And we're getting back to big swimbaits — specifically the new, 5- to 12-inch 'S-stroke' and glide baits which are new out of Japan. ' Other venues of note include Diamond Valley Lake, Castaic Lake, Bullard's Bar Reservoir, Casitas Lake, and Shasta Lake. 'The Delta and Clear Lake have established recent B.A.S.S. records for biggest bass (14.6 pounds) and biggest bag (in the neighborhood of 122 pounds), ' Swendseid said.
Sorry, Woody. The best part of New York is outside the city. (Way outside.) 'People don't realize how great the bass fishing is in the Finger Lakes and smaller lakes that have excellent populations of largemouths and smallmouths both, ' says multi-species guide, Frank Campbell. 'The diversity of lakes, from the mountains to the flats, is awesome. New York's stream smallmouth fishing is spectacular in the Mohawk River, the Niagara, and dozens of smaller streams that are completely under the radar from a tourism standpoint. That diversity extends to tactics. Anything you like to do to catch bass, we do it here at some point. ' Lake Erie's eastern basin offers some of the finest smallmouth fishing on earth. The opportunites on Lake Ontario are only slightly less spectacular. Lake Oneida and Lake Champlain belong on anybody's top-100 list of North American bass lakes, and over 200 other lakes grace the Empire State, and most have fair to spectacular bass fishing. The porcine smallmouths of the St. Lawrence Seaway seal the deal. New York belongs on this list.
Chris Beeksma guides for smallmouths and other species around Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior. Quality regs (only one smallmouth over 22 inches can be kept) transformed that fishery into one of America's finest. Beeksma sends us photos of 6 pounders way too often. 'We may not have the number of largemouth lakes that Minnesota has, but Wisconsin does have a lot, ' Beeksma said. 'Finding a 7-pound largemouth isn't that difficult, and numbers are great. ' Wisconsin also has Green Bay on Lake Michigan, where an 8.4-pound smallmouth was weighed in at the 2013 Sturgeon Bay Open this year. Smallmouth fishing is nothing shy of stupendous all around Door County on Lake Michigan. Rivers like the Flambeau, the Fox, the Menominee, and the Wisconsin are everywhere in the Dairy State, and most harbor scads of pig smallmouths. The St. Croix River, which forms part of the border with Minnesota, is not only a blue-ribbon smallie hotspot, it's one of the most beautiful streams in America. Below its confluence with the Mississippi, Pools 3 and 4 comprise yet another bassy paradise that the Cheeseheads share with Vikings fans.
'To me, Florida is the big-bass hatchery of the world, whether they go to Texas or California, ' says legendary pro Larry Nixon. 'Lakes here have some deep water, lots of grass, great spawning habitat, and the best fishing is in the heart of summer when nobody knows about it and nobody's there. ' Okeechobee is back. Not news, but along with Lake Seminole, the Harris Chain, Lake Tarpon, the Everglades, the Kissimmee Chain, and several others — Florida can't be bypassed when naming the top 10 states for bass. 'On Okeechobee, that early-morning Zara Spook bite is nothing shy of awesome, ' Nixon said. 'Anglers overlook the St. John's River, too. If you know how to fish tidewater, the St John's is awesome. The Harris Chain has always been solid, and the Toho-Kissimmee Chain is way up there on my list of favorites for numbers of big fish. '
'Texas would be my target if the goal was to catch a 10-pound bass, ' says Nixon. 'Odds are much better in Texas than Florida for a 10 right now because of Falcon, Sam Rayburn Reservoir, and Toledo Bend. And, even though you may have a better shot at a 15 in California, the odds of catching a 10 are probably lower than in Texas. ' The waters Nixon mentions and Lake Fork are legendary, having been consistent producers of giant bass for decades. Nobody of right mind would dispute the awesome capacity of these lakes to generate massive populations of largemouth bass, and it's been going on since the impoundments were created. Lake Amistad, O.H. Ivie Reservoir, Choke Canyon Lake, and several others are 'must include ' candidates for any list of America's blue-ribbon largemouth lakes.
Two words: Lake Guntersville. Catches are phenomenal right now and it's on the bucket list (pun intended) of every angler who really understands bass fishing in America. 'Alabama's a great bassin' state and certainly belongs on any top 10 list, ' says bass pro and TV host Shaw Grigsby. 'Alabama probably has the best spotted bass fishing in the country on the Coosa and Alabama Rivers. In Guntersville you've got massive largemouths, and trophy smallmouths on Pickwick, Wilson, and Wheeler. ' Pro angler and bass guide Brent Crow claims you can catch a 10-largemouth, a 6-pound smallmouth, and a 5-pound spot all within an hour drive. 'You could do it in the same day, if you get lucky, ' Crow laughed. 'It might be the only place in the country where you could do that. Smith Lake in central-western is another great spotted-bass resource. Logan Martin and Lay Lake on the Coosa River are about 50-50 for largemouths and spots with awesome trophy potential. For my money, bass-fishing heaven is right here in Alabama. '
Georgia, home of George Perry's famous world-record largemouth (22 pounds, 4 ounces), is the spiritual Mecca of the bassin' world. It has to share some world-class waters, like Lake Eufala with Alabama, and Clark's Hill with South Carolina. But it has Lake Lanier all to itself. Lanier, like Jackson Lake, was a spectacular largemouth fishery for many years but is now dominated by spotted bass. 'Spots are really taking off in Georgia, ' says former resident and In-Fisherman Editor Steve Quinn. 'And they're getting bigger. Lanier is producing unbelievable numbers of 5-pound spots. ' Huge spots are more common than ever on Lanier and Jackson right now, while historic West Point Lake continues to produce great fishing for largemouths. Bartlett's Ferry (aka Lake Harding) is a small but prolific lake that produces great topwater bites almost year 'round. Bassin' rivers are everywhere in Georgia and are completely overlooked. Pressure is minimal and you can find five different species of black bass in rivers like the Chathootchee, Tennessee, Yellow, South, and Coosa. Lake Oconee, Lake Sinclair, and Lake Hartwell round out a list of prime bass attractions that cement Georgia squarely on this top-10 map.
Surrounded by Great Lakes, Michigan is an obvious angling paradise, but few folks from other states realize how magnificent the bass fishing really is. The Wolverine state borders Lake Erie, arguably the finest smallmouth water on earth. Michigan shares Lake St. Clair with Ontario — a world-class stage for equal numbers of 4- to 6-pound smallmouths and largemouths. Grand Traverse Bay, Saginaw Bay, Big Bay de Noc, Little Bay de Noc, the Portage Chain, the Sylvania Tract, Elk Lake, Torch Lake, the Beaver Island archipelago, Lake Charlevoix and 11,000 other inland lakes with bass populations might be enough to lift Michigan to the top of this list. But wait: Michigan has spectacular river fishing for smallmouths in the Grand, Muskegon, AuSable, Menominee, Tequamenon, St. Clair, and many other streams. The bayous on the lower Grand bristle with porcine bucketmouths. (No wonder VanDam's so good. He couldn't fling a dead cat back home without hitting a bass.)
Minnesota has world-class smallmouth fishing in the Mississippi River, Mille Lacs, the St. Croix River, and several other waters. A 4 pounder lifts no eyebrows here, and catching multiple 5-pound bronzebacks in a day is common for good anglers. Smallies over 7 pounds are caught every year — sometimes an 8. And Minnesota lays claim to over 13,000 natural lakes — more than any other state. Most harbor impressive populations of native largemouths, smallmouths, or both. Since Minnesota is primarily a walleye state, bass remain relatively under pressured — even though popularity of bass fishing continues to rise. Minnesota isn't the place to find trophy largies over 10 pounds, but it's a place where catching over 100 per day, with several over 5 pounds, just might be easier than anywhere else. Lake Minnetonka, nestled into the urban outskirts of Minneapolis, is a national treasure. But it's the smallmouth fishing that sets Minnesota apart. For size and numbers right now, only Great Lakes fisheries surpass the Gopher state.
In Them Ol' Brown Fish, Billy Westmoreland details how he caught more 10-pound smallmouths in Dale Hollow than, well, the remainder of the human race across the rest of the planet. If Georgia is the spiritual Mecca of largemouth fishing, certainly the Volunteer State maintains that distinction for smallmouth anglers. Center Hill, Pickwick, Wilson, and Old Hickory certainly stir up the echoes of a halcyon past, yet all probably retain the potential to produce a world-record fish. Like Georgia and New York, streams and creeks get overlooked for smallmouths in Tennessee. 'I weighed a 10-pound, 3-ounce largemouth on Chickamauga this year, ' says FLW pro Wesley Strader. 'The Tennessee River has been on fire from one end of the state to the other. Chickamauga has been just nuts. The great thing about Tennessee is the diversity. We have lowland reservoirs full of grass, highland reservoirs like Center Hill dominated by rock — you can pick the kind of water you want to fish here. Largemouth fishing has never been as good as it is right now on Chickamauga, Kentucky Lake, or Douglas Lake. In fact, bass fishing is better now than at any point I can remember. '