Prominent hot spots in the evolution of angling

About the author

Tim Tucker

Tim Tucker was a legendary bass journalist and longtime Senior Writer for Bassmaster Magazine. He authored seven books on bass fishing. Tim passed away in 2007, but his work and legacy live on.

Lists. Americans are obsessed with them, whether it be David Letterman's late night Top 10 on television, or books consisting entirely of lists.

Compiling a list of the 35 best bass lakes in the United States is a difficult task at best. Fortunately, there are plenty of outstanding bass fisheries to choose from, ranging from classic old lakes to newer, dynamic reservoirs — waters as diverse as Oregon's picturesque Columbia River, Florida's dishpan-shaped Lake Okeechobee, and Lake Castaic, that monstrous bass lake in the stark California desert.

The difficult part comes in paring them down.

In honor of the 35th anniversary of BASS, Bassmaster Magazine decided to highlight 35 bass waters worthy of note. It is practically impossible to pick the 35 absolute, without a doubt, unquestionably best lakes in America — since these living organisms cycle and endure the rigors of time, man's impact and even biological demons (like the dreaded Largemouth Bass Virus).

So instead of selecting the 35 best bass fisheries, we are recognizing the 35 lakes that — in our view — have been the most important waters of the past 35 years. The loose criteria we used included the lakes' historical significance, along with angler catch rates — both past and present.

Here, then, is our list of America's 35 most important bass waters:

Hudson River

Size: 325 miles

Location: New York

Historical Significance: This river, which originates in the Adirondack Mountains and runs through New York City, is a Northern fishery that was unveiled to the fishing world by BASS pros, who were surprised with what they found upon arrival in the Catskill area in 1986. They unearthed a tremendous smallmouth/largemouth fishery in these tidal waters. Although that virgin fishery is no longer unknown, the Hudson continues to provide a high-caliber experience.

Montgomery Lake

Size: An oxbow of the Ocmulgee River

Location: Seven miles southeast of Lumber City, Ga.

Historical Significance: Home of the world record bass, the most storied prize in the sport of fishing. It was here that George Perry caught a largemouth weighing 22 pounds, 4 ounces in 1932. It is a record catch steeped in Americana: a depression-era man fishing from a homemade boat made of 75 cents' worth of lumber scraps, using a $1.33 rod and reel and $1.35 Creek Chub Minnow hooks and then goes on to eat the bass that currently could be worth $1 million in promotional residuals. Today, the entrance of the forgotten oxbow has silted in, but a highway sign on State Road 117 commemorates the record.

Lake Tohopekaliga

Size: 22,700 acres

Location: Central Florida

Historical Significance: In the 2001 CITGO Bassmaster Tour event, Toho provided arguably the most incredible tournament in BASS history. It was highlighted by Dean Rojas' record setting performance, with the largest five bass limit (45-2) and four day total (108-12) ever caught.

Sam Rayburn Reservoir

Size: 114,500 acres

Location: Eastern Texas

Historical Significance: No lake has aged as delightfully as Rayburn, home to a record 26 BASS events. It has been a major-league bass factory for more than 30 years. And it has recovered nicely from a bout with LMBV a few years ago.

Beaver Lake

Size: 28,000 acres

Location: Arkansas' Ozark Mountains near Eureka Springs

Historical Significance: This is the site of the birth of professional bass fishing as we know it. It was here that Ray Scott staged the first BASS tournament in 1967, with 106 fishermen who anted up $100 each. Stan Sloan won that historical event. Beaver Lake was also site of the BASS 25th anniversary tournament in 1992. It remains a good fishery.

Lake Seminole

Size: 37,500 acres

Location: Florida/Georgia border

Historical Significance: Home of southern legend Jack Wingate, Lake Seminole has grown up with BASS. It hosted the third tournament Scott promoted, with 11 more to follow. After suffering through a down period the past three years, Big Sem seems close to returning to its impressive former self.

Santee Cooper Reservoir

Size: 160,000 acres

Location: Central South Carolina

Historical Significance: Comprised of lakes Marion and Moultrie, Santee Cooper has long reigned as a top destination in the bass world. Although the disappearance of its lush hydrilla beds caused its fishing quality to wane as the 1990s came to a close, there is no doubt the famed reservoir is on the rebound.

Toledo Bend Reservoir

Size: 186,000 acres

Location: Texas/Louisiana border

Historical Significance: Like its neighbor, Sam Rayburn, this giant reservoir has been making dreams come true for 30 years. Ten BASS tournaments have been held here, including a 2003 Tour stop.

Lake Eufaula

Size: 45,000 acres

Location: Alabama/Georgia border

Historical Significance: This impoundment of the Chattahoochee River is best-known for its big offshore bass and hometown hero Tom Mann. BASS has visited the lake 12 times, including a 2003 Tour event.

Clear Lake

Size: 43,000 acres

Location: Northern California

Historical Significance: The largest natural lake entirely within the borders of California, Clear is home to an impressive combination of quality and quantity of bass. A 2000 Bassmaster tournament certainly proved this point, as Byron Velvick entered the record books with his three day catch weighing 83-5. It has long ranked as one of the West's premier bass fisheries.

California Delta

Size: 700 square miles

Location: Northern California

Historical Significance: This impoundment of the San Joaquin River is wildernesslike with its countless canals, sloughs and channels that harbor one of the country's best largemouth fisheries. Delta expert Robert Lee won all four BASS events that were held there. The Delta has yielded an 18-pound-plus largemouth in recent years.

Arkansas River

Size: 440 miles

Location: Arkansas

Historical Significance: Although its various impoundments were well-known, the Arkansas River pools were thrust into the bass fishing limelight in 1984, during the first of two consecutive Classics. That was when Rick Clunn fished an underwater ledge to catch 21 largemouth, totaling a record 75-9. Clunn's final round catch was weighed in by then-President George Bush and then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. In recent years, the river's bass population has suffered to the point that state officials stocked largemouth fry to ensure future angler success.

Thousand Islands area

Size: 15-mile section of the St. Lawrence River

Location: New York/Canada border

Historical Significance: The St. Lawrence River has been a favorite of the pros since 1977, when BASS first alerted the fishing world to its abundant and, until then, undiscovered bass population. BASS has held 23 tournaments on these waters (and neighboring Lake Ontario).

Joe Wheeler Reservoir

Size: 67,000 acres

Location: Northern Alabama

Historical Significance: Sitting on the bass rich southern leg of the Tennessee River system, Wheeler is home to quality populations of both largemouth and smallmouth. The second-largest lake in Alabama, Wheeler has hosted five BASS events, including the 1974 Classic, won by Tommy Martin.

Louisiana Delta

Size: About 500 square miles

Location: New Orleans

Historical Significance: The bass world was awakened to the finny freshwater treasure living in this massive swampland when the 1999 Classic was held in nearby New Orleans. Davy Hite's winning weight of 55 pounds under harsh summertime conditions brought a spotlight to what had largely been a dark and mysterious place. The first of two Classics held on these waters revealed incredibly abundant bass populations spread throughout the miles of marshlands. The Classic will return to New Orleans this summer, and participants will encounter a fishery that has been battered by adverse weather conditions the last couple of years.

Potomac River

Size: 287 miles

Location: Maryland/Virginia border

Historical Significance: In the 1960s, the Potomac was such a polluted waterway that former President Lyndon Johnson called it "a national disgrace." Buoyed by the Clean Water Act of 1972, the historic river displayed a remarkable ability to rebound quickly, and with it came the impressive return of its smallmouth and largemouth inhabitants. In the shadow of the nation's capital, this river harbors one of the most plentiful bass stocks anywhere. That is the reason the BASS train has made 13 stops on this hydrilla-dotted tidal river.

Pickwick Lake

Size: 47,500 acres

Location: Alabama/Mississippi/Tennessee border

Historical Significance: When it comes to combining trophy smallmouth and largemouth bass, this Tennessee River impoundment might be the king. Five-pound-plus smallies and 8-pound-plus largemouth are common.

Lake Sidney Lanier

Size: 37,500 acres

Location: Forty miles north of Atlanta, Ga.

Historical Significance: Lake Lanier could best be described as Atlanta's playground afloat. It is the most heavily visited Army Corps of Engineers reservoir in the country (more than 20 million visitors) and home to an estimated 16,000 boats. It is also loaded with largemouth and spotted bass, as BASS pros have revealed during their seven visits. In recent years, the introduction of blueback herring has kicked this fishery into higher gear.

Kentucky Lake

Size: 163,000 acres

Location: Tennessee/Kentucky border

Historical Significance: Once known as the "Crappie Capital of the World," Kentucky Lake had its official coming out party as one of America's prime bass factories in spring of 1993, when Japan's Norio Tanabe won the wind-shortened tournament with a two day catch of 43 pounds, 6 ounces. The rest of the field weighed in several 8-pound-class largemouth, and smallmouth that topped the 6-pound mark. The lake has experienced some cyclical ups and downs, but remains a quality fishery.

Lake Mead

Size: About 100 miles

Location: Thirty-five miles west of Las Vegas, Nev.

Historical Significance: Created by the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, with its stark beauty, monstrous sheer rock walls and crystal-clear aqua-colored water, is a jewel in the desert. Home to an extensive marina system, the lake is an increasingly popular tournament site. The fishing there has been subpar in the last year or so.

Lake Minnetonka

Size: 15,000 acres

Location: Minneapolis, Minn.

Historical Significance: Despite lying in the shadow of the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area, Lake Minnetonka has been one of the nation's finest all-around bass lakes throughout the last decade. The BASS Tournament Trail alerted the fishing world to the bass bonanza that existed in these waters in 1995 with its first of two stops. Florida pro Jim Bitter won that contest with nearly 80 pounds of largemouth. That tournament set new BASS records for the number of five bass limits (355), total weight caught (4,426 pounds) and total number of bass caught (2,003).

Rodman Reservoir

Size: 10,000 acres

Location: North Florida

Historical Significance: Rodman Reservoir has been one of the best bass lakes in America for years — as well as one of the most embattled bodies of water. Created as part of the ill-fated Cross Florida Barge Canal more than 30 years ago, the Ocklawaha River impoundment has for years been targeted for destruction by misguided environmental forces. Rodman has surrendered the winning catches in several BASS tournaments. And the efforts to better manage its habitat the past three years have paid off — to the tune of a 17-pound-plus fish caught in 2001.

Lake Erie

Size: About 10,000 square miles

Location: Ohio/Pennsylvania/New York

Historical Significance: Lake Erie might be the best smallmouth fishery in the country — and it has enjoyed such a lofty standing for several years. How good is the fishing on Erie? Consider that during the three Bassmaster tournaments held on smallmouth-laden Lake St. Clair in Michigan, many of the pros chose to make the long run to Erie. And in 1993, Randy VanDam, brother of Kevin, destroyed the Ohio record with a 9 ½-pound bronzeback.

Lake Okeechobee

Size: 730 square miles

Location: Southern Florida

Historical Significance: A perennial favorite of BASS pros and fans, the Big O has maintained its status as one of the country's premier bass factories for more than 30 years. The second-largest freshwater lake located entirely within the continental United States, Okeechobee surrendered a seven bass stringer weighing 36 ½ pounds to Kentucky pro Ron Shearer in 1982 — a record that stood for years. In a survey of the pros in the mid-1980s, Okeechobee was selected as the best lake of the previous 20 years, the best lake at that time, and most likely to be the best lake over the next 20 years. It has hosted 14 BASS events.

St. Johns River

Size: 310 miles

Location: Northern Florida

Historical Significance: Florida's largest river has been the site of 15 BASS tournaments (the second-most number) and once ranked among the most elite largemouth fisheries in the country. It yielded a bass weighing 18.81 pounds in 1987. Although it still shines at times, the St. Johns is a shadow of its former self, primarily because of long-term water quality problems.

Kerr Reservoir

Size: 50,000 acres

Location: Virginia/North Carolina border

Historical Significance: Fishing the flooded bushes in the springtime on the lake that is best known as Buggs Island, is a classic bass experience. Even after 10 visits, the pros still look forward to coming to this fine fishery.

Castaic Lake

Size: 2,500 acres

Location: About 35 miles north of Los Angeles, Calif.

Historical Significance: This lake became the focus of the bass world in the early 1990s, as it was the scene of a gold rush toward the world record. Bob Crupi came close in 1991 with a 22.01-pound behemoth. Despite its small size, Castaic has surrendered six of the Top 25 bass ever documented (including four 20-pound-plus fish). Although no colossal bass have been caught in recent years, the lake is still full of trout-fed bruisers.

High Rock Lake

Size: 15,750 acres

Location: Central North Carolina

Historical Significance: This impoundment of the Yadkin River nearly went completely dry last summer, due to a relentless drought. And that has raised some question about the size of its surviving bass population. The lake has hosted three Classics and made a fairy tale scenario come true when BASS Federation amateur angler Bryan Kerchal won there in 1994.

Lake Fork

Size: 27,000 acres

Location: Central Texas

Historical Significance: State fisheries officials built Lake Fork with bass production in mind, and did they do a fine job! Except for a brief interruption a couple of years ago when it was hit with an LMBV-induced die-off, Fork has long reigned as America's premier trophy bass lake. It completely rewrote the Texas record book — destroying the existing mark that had stood for more than 40 years. It has produced 18-pound bass and remains a fisherman's best bet for hooking into a 10-pounder.

Ohio River

Size: 981 miles

Location: Kentucky/Ohio

Historical Significance: In the minds of many fishing fans, the Ohio River has historical significance for the wrong reasons. It owns Classic records for the lowest winning weight (15-5 by George Cochran) and smallest total weight (240-2), both in the 1987 Louisville event. It was only slightly better in the 1983 Classic, when Larry Nixon won with 18-1. Today, the river remains a challenging fishery for local anglers — but it is usually not nearly as tough as those summertime Classics.

Lake Champlain

Size: 300,000 acres

Location: Vermont/New York border

Historical Significance: The sixth-largest freshwater body of water in the United States, Lake Champlain is a world-class bass lake for both smallmouth and largemouth. It is a lake that hasn't received a great deal of fishing pressure over the years — although it has certainly increased since two Bassmaster tournaments were staged there.

Logan Martin Lake

Size: 15,263 acres

Location: Central Alabama

Historical Significance: Part of the bass-filled Coosa River Chain, this Alabama Power Co. reservoir has hosted three Classics and is among the pros' favorite sites for the summertime event. Despite enduring stiff fishing pressure, Logan Martin's largemouth and spotted bass populations have continued to flourish.

Lake Kissimmee

Size: 35,000 acres

Location: Central Florida

Historical Significance: This lake is located below Lake Toho and has been a popular destination for the pros, who have fished the nine BASS tournaments that have been held on the Kissimmee Chain. In recent years, state fisheries officials have spent more than $10 million and considerable efforts enhancing its top-notch fishery.

Lake Casitas

Size: 2,700 acres

Location: About 78 miles northwest of Los Angeles, Calif.

Historical Significance: Casitas is the big bass sister of Castaic. It relinquished the fourth-largest bass (21.19 pounds) on record to Raymond Easley in 1980. Although it hasn't produced as many record-book giants as Castaic, Casitas has produced the most recent candidate (Ventura's Randy Crabtree, who has more than 200 10-pound-plus fish to his credit, caught a 19 ½-pounder April 9, 2002). And the spring trophy season had not begun at the time of this writing.

Columbia River

Size: 1,200 miles

Location: Washington/Oregon border

Historical Significance: Here, in the land of the salmon and steelhead, live some of America's best untapped bass waters — all in the shadow of a scenic backdrop that rivals anything in the lower 48 states. Its various pools harbor both largemouth and smallmouth.

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