June 12, 2019
By 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