[36,240 acres] How about these for first-place winning weights with the Chattanooga Bass Association one-day events on The Chick in 2018: February 24, 34.77; March 17, 42.91; April 14, 26.94; and May 12, 42.48. Yes, it took more than 42 pounds to win two different events here! And the biggest fish weighed in during these derbies was an 11.21. This is a big-bass factory. The February Big Bass Splash event here saw eight bass over 9 pounds weighed in, with a 10.86 taking top honors.
Photo: Ronnie Moore
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2. Santee Cooper lakes (Marion/Moultrie), South Carolina
[110,000 acres and 60,000 acres, respectively] When the Carolina Anglers Team Trail visited these sister lakes in February, it took more than 26 pounds to win. In March, a 33.31-pound limit was weighed and 20 pounds wasn’t enough to crack the Top 10. And most recently, a May event required 26.32 to claim the top prize, with a 9.10 winning big-fish honors. There were only 37 teams fishing the event, and almost 1/4 brought in more than 20 pounds. To say Santee Cooper is still red hot might be an understatement.
Photo: Larry Towell
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3. Lake Guntersville, Alabama
[69,000 acres] The Big G has gone through some tough times in recent years, but it seems this Tennessee River fishery is back. Just last year, 20-pound bags were winning single-day derbies. This past March, however, it took 30.02 to win an Alabama Bass Trail event. You were not in the Top 11 if you didn’t have at least 25 pounds. As for the 20-pound mark, there were 38 teams that topped it. Although the double-digit fish are still in hiding, there were 13 over 7 pounds weighed in, with an 8.5 winning big-fish honors.
Photo: Gary Tramontina
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4. Lake Okeechobee, Florida
[730 square miles] As of this writing, 25 bass over 8 pounds have been submitted to the Florida TrophyCatch program from this lake, two of which topped 10 pounds. So, this is still a premier location if you are looking for a Sunshine State lunker. Plus, a May team tournament here took 27.77 to win, with a 7.97 taking big-bass honors. Although 20-pound limits only stretched to eighth place, it seems this fishery is still healthy and capable of turning out a fish of a lifetime.
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5. Lake Tohopekaliga, Florida (plus Kissimmee Chain of Lakes)
[22,700 acres] Although Toho is not as consistent as it has been in the past, Bobby Lane still managed to weigh in 31-7 on Day 1 of the Bass Pro Shops Eastern Open in January. That said, only one other angler caught more than 20 pounds that day. Plus, it took 32 pounds to win an American Bass Anglers tournament here in May. According to Florida’s TrophyCatch data, 23 bass over 8 pounds have been landed here this year, with three breaching the double digits. But, add to that a couple dozen more big bass coming from the rest of the Kissimmee Chain, and you are still looking at one of the best producers of 8-plus-pound bass in the country.
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6. Pickwick Lake, Alabama/Mississippi/Tennessee
[43,100 acres] According to local guide David Allen, “There are more 6-plus to 8-plus [pound] fish being caught this year than I’ve seen in the 10 years I have been here.” The data seems to support his claim, with three different tournaments being won with limits topping 30 pounds. That said, most tournaments are taking around 17 pounds to win. However, the bonus when fishing this lake: You can catch smallmouth, spots and largemouth all in the same day.
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7. Lake Istokpoga, Florida
[26,762 acres] This storied fishery isn’t kicking out the giants like it used to. However, a 13-4 was landed here in March. There are 19 other 8-plus-pound largemouth entered into the TrophyCatch program this year from this lake. Plus, an Extreme Fishing Series event held on the lake in April saw a 29.15-pound limit weighed in for the win, as well as five other limits topping the 20-pound mark. Even though you likely can’t expect a double-digit fish here like you once could, there are still very big bass swimming in Istokpoga’s water.
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8. Shearon Harris, North Carolina
[4,100 acres] Last year, two 40-pound limits came out of this little postcard fishery. Some thought this was a fluke. Well, 40-pound limits are a lot to ask for two years in a row, and it didn’t happen. Still, a 52-boat February team event here saw a 34.20-pound limit win, with the second-place team landing 24.53 pounds. This is a slot-limit lake, but the average bass brought to the scales weighed 3.73 pounds! This place is the Lake Fork of the East, and it should be high on your bucket list if you are looking for lunkers.
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9. Lake Eufaula, Alabama/Georgia
[46,000 acres] After missing the rankings completely last year, this border fishery came back with a vengeance! An April Alabama Bass Trail event here saw a 27.41-pound limit earning the first-place spot. More significantly, though, it took at least 20 pounds to break the Top 12, and if you didn’t have at least 18 pounds, you were outside the Top 25. We looked up another four tournaments from 2018, spanning from February to May, and the average winning weight was 21 pounds.
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10. Lake Seminole, Georgia/Florida
[37,500 acres] This fishery is an oldie, but still a very goodie. A Reel Money Team Trail event here in January was won with 32.86 pounds, with the 12th-place angler weighing in 22.12. In February, it took 21.03 pounds to win; March required 23.85; and the April event saw 23.34 take the top spot. All of these events were fields of less than 40 anglers, so know that the quality of fish at Seminole right now is super solid.
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11. Rodman Reservoir, Florida
[13,000 acres] This controversial fishery fell off the map last year. Will it be drained, or will it not be drained? That is the question. For anglers, hope that they keep it as is. This year’s Save Rodman Reservoir Bass Tournament saw a first-place limit of 26.35 pounds. The late April derby also saw limits of 24.76 and 20.70 for second and third place, respectively. According to the Florida TrophyCatch data, 14 largemouth over 8 pounds have been registered from Rodman, with the biggest tipping the scales at 11 pounds.
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12. Cooper River, South Carolina
[30-mile stretch below Moultrie dam] It makes sense that this section of river is off-the-charts good, seeing only a giant slab of concrete separates it from Santee Cooper Reservoir. Still, it produces unusually large limits for any river. It took 23.90 pounds to win an April Carolina Team Trail event here, with two other limits exceeding the 20-pound mark. And those results pale in comparison to the event held there a couple of weeks prior, where 25.62 pounds won and five bags over 20 pounds were weighed. This remains the most productive fishery in the state.
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13. Wilson Lake, Alabama
[15,500 acres] This lake is often overlooked by bass anglers, seeing as its better-known sister, Pickwick, is just up the road. Still, anglers need to seriously consider a stop here. It took 29.32 pounds to win an April Fishers of Men event here, and 26.49 took second place. Neither of these teams had big fish of the event, which was a 6.98-pounder. According to the Alabama fisheries department, it is the second-healthiest bass lake in the state, behind Guntersville.
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14. Lake Ferguson, Mississippi
[Typically 1,400 acres, but depends on water level of river] According to data provided by the state of Mississippi’s bass tournament program, this is the best lake in the state. The average first-place limit for all of 2017 was 20.74 pounds. To make sure this newcomer to the rankings was still producing in 2018, we did some digging. It’s not easy to find results for this lake, but we did locate a Fishers of Men event held here in April, and it took 22.21 to win. This is an oxbow lake off the Mississippi River, so fluctuations in water levels will affect its productivity. But when it’s good, it’s really good.
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15. Lake Burton, Georgia
[2,775 acres] This little bass gem in the northeast corner of the state makes its debut on the Best Bass Lakes rankings with quite a splash. An early May Weekend Warriors Team Trail event here took 27.66 pounds to earn the first-place trophy. And that team didn’t even have the big bass of the event, which was a 6.93 largemouth. Now, there’s not a lot of data on this fishery because it is too small to hold big events. Still, this lake is healthy and full of big ‘uns, so it’s vacation worthy.
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16. Lake Murray, South Carolina
[50,000 acres] This lake showed out big time last year and continues to prove it is no red-haired stepchild to the better-known Santee Cooper lakes in this state. This April, a team weighed in a 26.26-pound limit, which included an 8.93-pound kicker. Of course, this is not exactly the norm here, but it does show the potential when all conditions are perfect. Normally, expect 17 to 19 pounds to earn a first-place check.
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17. Falls Lake, North Carolina
[12,410 acres] It’s possible for a bass angler to have a memorable day on this fishery without ever getting a bite. Yes, it is that pretty. But, getting bites shouldn’t be an issue. Just look at an event held here in March: first place, 25.89; second place, 22.23; third place, 22.12. This lake is kind of like that gorgeous, super-smart girl everyone hated in high school … nobody should be so blessed.
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18. Harris Chain of Lakes, Florida
[46,000 acres] These eight lakes, connected by canals, have been absent from the rankings for several years. However, several (including Lake Harris and Lake Griffin) are producing scads of trophy bass. Although it generally takes only 15 pounds to win a tournament here, 19 fish over 8 pounds have been submitted to the TrophyCatch program, with a 12-2 being the biggest. A Big Bass Tour event held here in February saw the Top 10 anglers weigh in fish heavier than 8.74, with the winner landing a 10.80.
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19. Lake Greenwood, South Carolina
[11,400 acres] The state fisheries department alerted us to this lake. It makes its debut on the 100 Best Bass Lakes rankings on the heels of an April team event that took 23.82 pounds to win. Big fish of the day was a 7.26-pound largemouth, and all of the Top 5 teams weighed in more than 17 1/2 pounds. This lake has a lot of homes on it, so you know precisely where to skip a jig.
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20. Bay Springs Lake, Mississippi
[6,700 acres] This is a cool lake because you can catch the three main species of bass here: largemouth, spots and smallmouth. What some anglers may not know is that the state stocked 75,000 pure-strain Florida largemouth in the fishery in 2013. Those fish are 5 years old now, and big. It’s hard to find tournament data on this lake, but we did locate the results of a March benefit event here. The winner had 22.27, with the Top 6 anglers all cracking the 19-pound mark. The big bass of the derby was an 8.11 largemouth, and the big spotted bass of the day weighed 4.85 pounds.
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21. Kerr Lake (Buggs Island), North Carolina/Virginia
[50,000 acres] Some surprisingly big fish have been caught out of this border lake this year. An 8.84-pound largemouth was landed at the February Carolina Anglers Team Trail event, as well as a couple of fish nudging the 7-pound mark. The winning team had 23.96 pounds, while it took 18.69 to be in the Top 6. Recently, though, fishing has been a little tougher here, with 15- to 18-pound limits winning events. Still, the fishing is solid, and those big bass are still alive and swimming.
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22. High Rock Lake, North Carolina
[15,180 acres] After a few years of not making the 100 Best Bass Lakes rankings, The Rock is back! In a Fishers of Men event held here in April, it took 24.59 pounds to win. Two other 20-pound limits were weighed, and a 6.38 took home the big-fish check. The lake still has yet to reach its former glory, but all signs indicate that it is on a killer upswing.
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23. Lake Hartwell, Georgia/South Carolina
[56,000 acres] When Jordan Lee won the Bassmaster Classic here in March, he averaged only 16 pounds per day. However, unseasonably warm weather played havoc on the bite that week. Since then, it has taken more than 18 pounds to win single-day events here. Both largemouth and spotted bass roam this big reservoir, and it is very easy on the eyes!
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24. Kenansville Reservoir, Florida
[2,500 acres] This small big-bass factory made the rankings for the first time last year. Since January, 16 Florida TrophyCatch entries have been caught here. In the past 12 months, though, five bass over 10 pounds have been landed. This lake is catch-and-release only, so make sure to bring your camera!
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25. Logan Martin Lake, Alabama
[15,263 acres] So, you will not catch a 20-pound limit here, which makes this lake a little different than almost every other fishery on this list. What you will do, though, is catch a bunch of bass. This year, tournaments are being won with 17- to 19-pound limits. This place is chock-full of spotted bass, and they are almost always willing to bite.