[114,500 acres] One Texas biologist categorized this lake as “a fish factory,” and it lived up to that billing over the past 12 months by pumping out 20-pound stringers left and right. The 2017 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department held there last May showed its potential, when Brandon Palaniuk averaged almost 23.5 pounds over four days to win. And this year has begun with a bang, with a team weighing in 31.92 pounds during a January 20 Bass Champs stop. Bassmaster legend Harold Allen was on the team weighing in a second 30-pound stringer that included a 9.15-pounder. The big bass for the event just missed the 9 1/2-pound mark. A Texas Team Trail stop in Feb. was topped by a 37.04-pound sack anchored by a 9-pounder. But that wasn’t the big fish of the event: In fact, there were three 10-pounders brought to the scale that day. It required 20 pounds of bass just to make the Top 30. When Bass Champs returned in March, there were 22 stringers weighing more than 20 pounds brought to scale — and the winning sack weighed 35.23 pounds, one of four limits that broke 30 pounds. This year’s Sealy Big Bass Splash was won with a 12.05-pounder, with four other bass weighing more than 9 pounds entered and 14 8-pounders logged. The lake also produced a 13.06-pound ShareLunker the last day of March, proving there are massive bass swimming in these waters. And to put a cherry on top of the nation’s newest No. 1 bass lake, a Texas Team Trail event held here last month produced a 40.28-pound limit! Yes, you need to plan your trip here ASAP.
Photo: Garrick Dixon
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2. Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota
[132,516 acres] This huge body of water rose to the top of the 2017 list largely because of the number of 20-pound stringers for which it had become known the previous year. Well, you still have to top 20 pounds to compete on this lake. The Aug. 5 Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation stop at Mille Lacs was topped with a two-day limit of 48.44 pounds, with the team’s Day 2 sack weighing in just north of 25 1/2 pounds. Another 18 five-fish limits weighed 20 pounds or more during the event. Those results were mimicked by another major event held Aug. 26, which was won with a 25.2-pound limit. You had to best 22 pounds to make the Top 6. Another 15 20-pound stringers were weighed in during an August North American Bass Circuit tournament. A month later, a major tournament on the lake saw 17 limits top the 20-pound mark. And Keith Combs won the 2017 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship here by averaging 24 1/2 pounds per day. What’s driving this fishery? Biologists point to invasive zebra mussels, which cleared up the lake and created the perfect conditions for the native smallmouth, and a healthy baitfish population for the lake’s successes. It also helps that local anglers prefer walleye and perch, so there’s less pressure on the smallmouth population. So, if you’re looking for lunkers — and lots of them — hitch the boat up and head north.
Photo: Garrick Dixon
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3. Lake Falcon, Texas
[83,654 acres] This lake is absolutely on the upswing, with rising water levels creating a new-lake effect that is driving weights up. For example, a Skeeter Bass Champs stop in February was won with a five-fish stringer weighing 31.98 pounds, and second place just missed the 29 1/2-pound mark. The entire Top 5 weighed in more than 20 pounds. Big bass, which amazingly wasn’t in any of the top bags, weighed 9.1 pounds. There are definitely plenty of line-stretching bass in the lake. The Texas Association of Bass Clubs put 12 bass weighing at least 7 pounds on the scales during their fall two-day championship event. The heaviest weighed 9.37 pounds. High Stakes Bassin reported several fish over 10 pounds were landed this spring, with one topping the 11-pound mark. And, just in case you think this lake is just about big fish, the High Stakes blogger pulled out a clicker and counted 34 catches in one day on the water. So, Falcon combines quality and quantity.
Photo: Gary Tramontina
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4. Toledo Bend, Texas/Louisiana
[185,000 acres] It’s tempting to overlook this former two-time No. 1 fishery, with the number of double-digit bass entered into the Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program spiraling downward. In fact, as of April 7, fewer than half the number of fish were recorded in the program compared to last year’s count. But lunkers don’t tell the full story of a fishery. The top 2017 tournament weight for the lake (as of mid-April) was 28.74 pounds. A 10.32-pounder was included in the No. 2 stringer. A Bass Champs stop in February required 20 pounds to make the Top 12, with 28.58 pounds taking the win. Yeah, Toledo Bend is still a player.
Photo: Seigo Saito
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5. Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
[4,945 acres] This huge body of water continues to pump out plenty of smallmouth bass. And with the lake frozen over much of each year, these fish are dumb as rocks when the bay finally thaws (usually in May). Weights can be impressive: It took 50.85 pounds to win the two-day 2017 spring stop of the Sturgeon Bay Open Bass Tournament, and 40 pounds just to make the Top 25. A North American Bass Circuit event in May 2017 required 26 pounds, 13 ounces to win.
Photo: Seigo Saito
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6. Lake Conroe, Texas
[21,000 acres] There are some huge bass swimming in this bathtub of a reservoir just north of Houston. A March Big Bass Tour event was won by an angler weighing in a lunker that pushed the scales to just shy of 12 pounds (11.92 pounds, to be exact), and there were three other 11-pounders and three 10-pound bass brought to the event’s scales. Of course, the 2017 Bassmaster Classic also was held on the lake, with Jordan Lee taking the win with 56 pounds, 10 ounces — but it was his final-day sack of 27 pounds, 4 ounces that sealed the deal. And this April, a Texas B.A.S.S. Nation angler entered a 33.14-pound stringer.
Photo: Seigo Saito
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7. Lake Lyndon B. Johnson, Texas
[6,534 acres] Last spring during a Bass Champs event, this reservoir produced 18 20-pound stringers, with the other two Top 20 teams missing that mark by less than an ounce. And two double-digit lunkers, including the 11.49-pound big bass, were brought to the scales. When the circuit stopped at the lake two months later, it still required 20-pound limits to break into the Top 15, with the winner being a sack that tipped the scales at 24.94 pounds. Three 8-pounders were weighed that day.
Photo: Dave Precht
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8. Lake O’ the Pines, Texas
[18,680 acres] Boy, this is a real sleeper. This new addition to the rankings, tucked in the extreme northeast corner of the state, doesn’t have the history of neighboring Lake Fork, but it has quietly been pumping out solid stringers. A Media Bass stop in April was topped by a 23.93-pound stringer. But it was a May 2017 event that really showed off the lake’s potential: The winning team put together 29.82 pounds. And it doesn’t look like things there have slowed down, with the Top 9 of a Fishers of Men stop in March weighing north of 20 pounds. A 27.82-pound stringer won that event.
Photo: Timothy Bister, TPWD
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9. Millwood Lake, Arkansas
[95,200 acres] If you want an easy lake to catch some bass, Millwood should be the ticket. The state’s annual bass Tournament Fishing Program report shows an 82.5 percent success rate during 2017 tournaments held there. And there are some solid stringers to be caught, as evidenced during a March FLW Bass Fishing League stop, during which it took more than 19 pounds to win. Media Bass events routinely include 20-plus-pound stringers. An April 2017 event was won with a 27.87-pound sack.
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10. La Cygne Lake, Kansas
[2,600 acres] This new addition to the list is, hands down, the best lake in Kansas. Electrofishing samples last year turned up 11 bass larger than 20 inches per hour — 17 times the number of 20-inch bass sampled in the next-best lake in the state. While most Kansas lakes produce 6-pounders, this fishery produced two 10-pounders on the same weekend this March.
Photo: Don George, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism
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11. Lake Ray Roberts, Texas
[29,350 acres] It’s been another good year for this north Texas impoundment. Last May, a USA Fishing Trails event was captured with a 30.32-pound stringer, which included a 9.28-pound lunker. It took more than 20 pounds to make the Top 5. This April, a Bass Champs event was won with 21.73. Eight 7-pounders were weighed.
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12. Lake Palestine, Texas
[25,560 acres] This reservoir will definitely produce. A Fishers of Men stop in February was won with 26.72 pounds, with big bass going a tad lighter than 8 pounds. That same month, a Bass Club of North Texas three-fish event was won with 18.20 pounds (a 6-pound average).
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13. Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, Oklahoma
[46,500 acres] Average winning stringers in 2018 (as of mid-April) weighed 22.23 pounds, with the average big bass going 7.51 pounds. The bottom line is that you can expect to catch plenty of 4-pounders, which is the average weight of fish in winning bags. That data was underlined when Kevin VanDam averaged nearly 21 pounds a day to clinch his 25th Bassmaster win April 29 during the Elite Series stop at this lake.
Photo: Seigo Saito
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14. Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
[54,000 acres] If you want to fish a lake with consistent top weights, this is it. During the 2017 Bass World Sports Tournament Association trail, every one of the six events was won with at least 20 pounds. And one of those events required a 24.81-pound stringer. That trend continues this year, with 23.51 and 24.01 pounds winning the circuit’s two stops there as of mid-April.
Photo: Seigo Saito
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15. Lake Dardanelle, Arkansas
[40,000 acres] Dardanelle continues to shine, with a strong bass population fueling some great fishing. Managers say Dardanelle is full of 4- and 5-pounders. Case in point: An April Arkansas Bass Team Trail event was won with a five-bass stringer that just missed the 25-pound mark, with the big fish of the event logging in at 7.39 pounds.
Photo: Gary Tramontina
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16. Bull Shoals, Arkansas
[45,000 acres] Fishery managers expect another great year from Bull Shoals. High water in 2017 allowed for a huge year class to be produced. It took more than 20 pounds to win three Winter Bass-a-thons, and 20 percent of the boats in one of the events weighed in 5-pound bass. The February 17 stop of the Joe Bass Team Trail was won with 24 pounds, a stringer that included two 6-pounders.
Photo: Gary Tramontina
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17. Caddo Lake, Texas/Louisiana
[25,400 acres] This cypress-studded border lake has a lot of potential, if not the notoriety of some other lakes in the region. Last spring, the quality of the fishing was proved during a Mechanical Concept bass tournament, which allows anglers to choose from 10 northwest Louisiana bodies of water. Caddo swept the Top 5 positions, with the top finishers weighing 26.15 pounds of bass — including a 7.32-pounder. Three other Caddo Lake 7-pounders hit the event’s scales.
Photo: Larry Hodge, TPWD
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18. Newton Lake, Illinois
[1,755 acres] Biologists say sampling shows 10 percent of the bass in this lake are longer than 18 inches, while 30 percent exceed 16 inches. A look at recent results from Bass World Sports Tournament Association events held at Newton show you have to have more than 20 pounds if you expect to win. An October tournament was won with 25.75 pounds. And this March, a 25.38-pound limit won a Newton Winter League event.
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19. Lake Ouachita, Arkansas
[40,000 acres] This is the one of Arkansas’ top bass fisheries, with a comeback of hydrilla spurring ever-increasing fishing successes. As for tournament results, the February stop of the Arkansas Bass Team Trail was won with 24.26 pounds, with the Top 3 weighing in north of 20 pounds.
Photo: Sylvia Murray
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20. Lake Oahe, South Dakota
[370,000 acres] If you want to fish uneducated smallmouth, this is the place to be. That’s because most of the anglers on the massive Lake Oahe ignore bass in favor of walleye. Biologists say there are reports of 50-fish days. The average size of bass harvested is 14 inches, so it’s not necessarily a trophy lake. But, man, can you have fun.
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21. Belton Lake, Texas
[12,385 acres] We added this fishery into the mix because it’s unique for the state. State biologists said there are legitimate opportunities to catch 5-pound smallies. Of course, as a Texas reservoir, there are also chunky largemouth swimming around. So, you could catch a largemouth over 8 pounds and a trophy smallmouth the same day.
Photo: Michaela McCown
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22. Table Rock Lake, Missouri/Arkansas
[43,100 acres] Table Rock continues to show off. The Jack Emmitt Memorial Tournament held in November was won with 20.24 pounds, while a Joe Bass Team Trail stop in March was won with 20.62 pounds. Perhaps it’s not a true trophy lake, but you can have tons of fun.
Photo: Steve Bowman
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23. Lake Chicot, Arkansas
[5,300 acres] Chicot is another lake that isn’t on many anglers’ radar, but state biologists say it should be. The largest oxbow lake in North America, it ranks as the state’s best bass fishery on the Arkansas Tournament Information Program report, producing the largest average fish (3.05 pounds) in 2017 for the second year in a row. There are 8-pounders caught here on a routine basis.
Photo: Diana Andrews Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
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24. Lake Texoma, Texas/Oklahoma
[89,000 acres] Put your big-girl panties on when you head to this border lake, because you’ll have to put together hefty stringers to win tournaments here. As of late April, the average winning stringer on the lake for 2018 weighed 21.8 pounds, with the average big bass being 8 pounds.
Photo: James Overstreet
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25. Lake Fork, Texas
[27,690 acres] Any big-bass list would be incomplete without this perennial producer. While the overall fishery is down a bit, Lake Fork continues to give up massive bass. In fact, three Lake Fork bass over 13 pounds were entered into the state’s ShareLunker program this year — and one was a 15.48-pound behemoth.