Welcome to the annual rankings of America’s best bass fisheries. A new champion emerges, and some stalwart bass lakes fall off the list.
It is likely that of the more than 500,000 B.A.S.S. members and 3.2 million readers of Bassmaster Magazine, not one single person will agree with the order of this list. That said, there isn’t a more dependable ranking in the world than what you are about to read. Here’s why:
To create the rankings, we reached out to every state Department of Natural Resources agency in the country to find out which bodies of water are healthy and producing based on catch rates and shock data. Secondly, we surveyed 3,500 rabid bass anglers from every region of the U.S. to find out which lakes were red hot. Then, we surveyed all the B.A.S.S. Nation presidents and conservation directors from each state to get a sense of the accessibility and health of each fishery and to rate the overall experience of fishing any given body of water. And lastly, we asked the 500,000-plus Facebook fans of B.A.S.S. to chime in on which lakes deserve to be on this list, and which ones should be left off. All said, more than 6,000 people contributed to this feature.
Once the master list was created, a panel of Elite Series pros, fishing-industry insiders, writers and traveling anglers came together to agree on the final rankings. What you will notice is that some incredible bass lakes of years past fell off the list. Lake Amistad, which was once a Top 10 lake on this list, is gone due to its incredibly poor production recently (likely due to low water levels). Many Northern lakes have climbed this list because very good fisheries in the West and South are suffering from the drought that has plagued those areas. On the flip side, some new names grace the Top 100. Welcome California’s New Melones and North Carolina’s Randleman, to name just a couple. Here's a look at the top 5. You can see the full list in this gallery.
1 Sturgeon Bay, Lake Michigan, WI
[From Little Sturgeon Bay to Fish Creek] When an 8.45-pound fish wins big bass — and that fish is a smallmouth — heads turn. That’s exactly what happened at a local tournament on this section of Lake Michigan last year. In that very same two-day tournament, it took 67.13 pounds to win (an average of almost 34 pounds per day). If you only caught 25 pounds per day, you were in 61st place. And the fishing here isn’t rocket science. The water is air-clear, and the smallmouth chomp just about anything you throw at them. Look on the expansive flats or the numerous ledges and cast your favorite smallmouth bait. If you are looking for a destination to catch the biggest smallmouth of your life, Sturgeon Bay should be your next trip. If you want to catch a pile of smallies, Sturgeon Bay should be your next trip. Simply put, if you want to angle the best bass fishing waters that currently exist for size and numbers of fish, head to Wisconsin.
2 Clear Lake, CA
[43,785 acres] When you catch 50 bass between 4 and 6 pounds on a tournament day, you likely feel good about your chances of winning — unless you are fishing this California bass factory. “You will get your brains beat out if you only bring 25 pounds to the scales,” says Elite Series pro Ish Monroe. “And you don’t have to be a great angler to catch ’em here. You can flip [or] throw swimbaits, topwaters, crankbaits — whatever you like to do, you can catch fish on Clear Lake doing it.” This lake very likely would have taken the No. 1 spot had it not been hit so hard by the recent drought in California. Recent rains are slowly bringing the water levels up, but it’s far from full pool now. That said, not only will anglers catch a lot of solid fish here, but they also could hook the largemouth of a lifetime. Teeners abound in this giant lake (10-pounders won’t turn heads). Plus, the place is easy on the eyes, and local wineries abound for celebratory toasts after catching your personal best.
3 Lake Erie, Buffalo, NY
[Most anglers focus on a 20-mile radius of Buffalo.] This section of the Great Lake is truely special. Largemouth abound in the shallow bays and marinas and smallmouth are crazy thick. As of this writing, the water here was still hard. That said, once the ice goes away, the world-class smallmouth fishery will make anglers forget about the wicked winter months. And the lack of early spring pressure will make the fishing that much better, if it’s possible. When you fish here, expect a 6-pounder every cast. Of course, you might have to wade through piles of 4-pounders to hit this mark.
4 Lake Coeur d’Alene, ID
[25,000 acres] This lake makes a big move up this year (from No. 11 in 2013) on the strength of its trophy smallmouth fishery. The smallies have always been a rowdy group on this lake, but now they are rowdy and big. It is no longer unusual to land one over 6 pounds here. And don’t forget about the largemouth fishery. The lake record largemouth is 10-15, with average bass weighing in between 2 and 3 pounds.
5 Lake Guntersville, AL
[70,000 acres] Just ask Elite Series angler Randy Howell how good this lake can be at a moment’s notice. He made one quick decision after catching 20 pounds a day during the Bassmaster Classic that put the championship trophy on his mantle. That one decision put more than 29 pounds in his livewell (as he waded through 80 pounds of bass) — the biggest sack he has ever weighed in a professional tournament after 20 years of fishing. The pressure on this lake is remarkable, and the bass fishing remains as strong as anywhere in the country.