Since 2012 Bassmaster Magazine has published the annual 100 Best Bass Lakes, which also appears here on Bassmaster.com. Fans have loved it, and some have certainly criticized our choices. This year, we've incorporated some of that feedback and changed the formula for the Top 100. We started things off with the Top 10 Best Bass Lakes. Next we are presenting the top 25 lakes from each of the following four regions – Southeast, West, Central and Northeast. It's still 100 lakes, but now, readers can see the Top 25 lakes closest to them. This also creates four No. 1 regional fisheries. Enjoy the 25 Best Bass Lakes in the Central.
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25. Brushy Creek Lake, Iowa [690 acres] The Iowa Department of Natural Resources believes this is the best bass fishery in the state right now. Last year’s tournament results show 15 pound limits winning, but that should increase significantly this year because of forage retention and high recruitment levels for bass. It wasn’t too long ago that mid-20-pound bags were the norm. This may be the case again this year.
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24. Table Rock Lake, Missouri [43,100 acres] Let’s welcome The Rock back to the rankings! After a lackluster showing in 2015, this White River impoundment is looking really good this year. A March Solo Pro Series tournament took 20.48 pounds to win, with the big fish landing at 5 1/2 pounds. The average weight of fish brought to the scales was 2.63 pounds — and that’s a mix of largemouth and smallies.
Photo: James Overstreet
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23. Lake Texoma, Texas/Oklahoma [89,000 acres] This is the triple threat of the Southwest. Anglers here can catch largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass in a single outing. And, stripers abound, if you are into that sort of thing. You’ll not catch giant fish here, but numbers and variety more than make up for that. Still, it took 21.47 pounds to win a Texas Team Trail event here in April, with an 8.10 winning bigbass honors.
Photo: Larry Towell
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22. Lake Dardanelle, Arkansas [40,000 acres] According to the fisheries folks in this state, Dardanelle offers your best shot at a limit over 20 pounds. An FLW event fished here in March proved that it’s possible, as two limits topped that mark, the heaviest being 2315. As an added bonus, this fishery is easy on the eyes.
Photo: Gary Tramontina
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21. Leech Lake, Minnesota [103,000 acres] If you don’t have a kicker outboard motor mounted to the transom of your boat, you are in the minority here. This is walleye country, which means you’ll have those pesky bass all to yourself. Be careful when slinging spinnerbaits, though, because a giant muskie might try to ruin your favorite blade (and don’t tell locals how many muskies you landed as bycatch to bass; they actually believe they are difficult to hook). By the way, some will be surprised to learn that largemouth are the dominant Micropterus species here. Smallmouth are just now trying to get a foothold in the fishery.
Photo: JIm Dowson
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20. Lake Hudson, Oklahoma [12,000 acres] The Oklahoma fisheries department raves about this lake, but it’s not easy to find tournament data to substantiate its claims. Based on the little we found, though, more tournaments should focus on this little brother to Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees. A small team event here in March was won with 22.83 pounds — and that was with just four fish! Six fish over 6 pounds were weighed in, with an 8.56-pounder winning the big-fish loot.
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19. Mississippi River, Pools 48, Minnesota/Wisconsin [from Lake City past La Crosse] Although this region of the mighty Mississippi is not known for trophy fish, a May 15 Upper MidWest Bass Challenge event took almost 19 pounds to win. There were eight bass in the 5-pound range. But the real reason to fish here is because of the crazy numbers of fish, both brown and green. You have to work pretty hard not to get your limit in short order.
Photo: Seigo Saito
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18. Squaw Creek Reservoir, Texas [3,275 acres] This little lake can be nuclear at times. Well, technically, it always is, as it provides the water to cool a nuclear power plant on its banks. But the fishing can be explosive, as seen in the results of a couple of Media Bass events earlier this year. A January derby saw 23.24 pounds take the top spot, while it took 26.24 to win an event there in February (a quarter of the field weighed in more than 20 pounds). Because this is a power plant lake, it’s better in the cold months.
Photo: Texas Water Development
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17. Minocqua Chain of Lakes, Wisconsin [six small lakes up to 3,600 acres] Brown bass aren’t the only targets for cheeseheads. In this chain, you will find largemouth right alongside the smallies. Although you will not see giants here, you can have 100-fish days. Navigate between the lakes through small canals (awesome for the kayak crowd) to see the diversity each lake offers. Although walleye and muskies swim here, bass are the dominant predators.
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16. Lake Bistineau, Louisiana [15,500 acres] There are a few fisheries from this state that were removed from the rankings because of the intense flooding during the spring. The Red River and the Louisiana Delta were basically unfishable the first four months of the year. So, this leaves Bistineau as one of the hottest fisheries in the state right now. It took 23.64 to win a B.O.S.S. team event here in March.
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15. Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota [14,528 acres] A September 2015 team derby here took 29-14 to win (eight fish limit), but more importantly saw twin 6-6 largemouth weighed in for a tie for big bass. While you are casting for the green fish, be on the lookout for Lou, the 10-foot sturgeon. Not exactly the Loch Ness monster, but you will make local headlines if you get a photo of it. Oh, there are plenty of smallies in here, too, so prepare your tackle accordingly.
Photo: Minnehaha Creek Watershed District
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14. Lake Fork, Texas [27,690 acres] This slot limit lake continues to pump out double-digit fish. There wasn’t a big bass derby in the past 12 months held here that didn’t see at least one 10-pounder. That’s pretty remarkable. Because anglers must release bass over 16 inches and less than 24 inches, the number of 6-to-8-pound bass is exceptional. Be prepared to fish in a crowd if you come here, though. The Bass Champs event here last March drew 1,900 anglers from 30 states.
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13. Green Bay, Wisconsin [up to Little Sturgeon Bay] Jonathon VanDam demonstrated how good the fishing can be at Green Bay when he won a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament here with 79-2. Expect to battle good numbers of hefty smallmouth bass should you visit Green Bay. Tournament winners generally sack over 20 pounds, and many of those who fail to earn a check catch 17 pounds or more.
Photo: Seigo Saito
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12. Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri [54,000 acres] Many anglers thought this Osage River impoundment had gotten as good as it could get last year. Well, the limits of bass are weighing even more in 2016. A Bass Fishing League (BFL) tournament was won here in March with 24-15, and 26 limits topped the 15-pound mark.
Photo: Shaye Baker
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11. Rainy Lake, Minnesota [360 square miles] Seemingly endless islands featuring boulder shoals and shallow reefs are accented by the crystal-clear waters of this fishery that straddles our international border with Canada. Expect 50-smallmouth days, but triple-digit catches are not uncommon. The big fish here are old, like 25 years old, so be delicate while posing for a Facebook selfie.
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10. Newton Lake, Illinois [1,775 acres] Because this lake is intensely managed and has an 18-inch minimum for bass, the state’s fisheries biologists believe the biggest fish in the state live here. According to the Department of Natural Resources, the lake has improved from a very good bass fishery to one of the premier bass lakes in the Midwest. Expect a ton of 1-to 3pound fish, with the occasional 7-pounder mixed in. A February 20 club event here was won with 23.69 pounds in five fish.
Photo: Illinois DNR
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9. Lake Ray Roberts, Texas [29,350 acres] This north Texas fishery flies a bit under the radar. With Fork, Rayburn and Toledo Bend within a pretty easy drive from the Dallas region, many anglers overlook the tremendous largemouth that call Ray Roberts home. An April Bass Champs event here took 28.32 pounds to win. A Texas Team Trail Championship fished here in May included limits of 27.92 and 24.59. This is not a bad backup plan for Lone Star Bassmasters who want to stay a little closer to the metroplex.
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8. Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, Oklahoma [46,500 acres] This lake is good, but it’s not supposed to spit out a 29-pound limit. However, that’s exactly what it did during bass fishing’s biggest event. Edwin Evers brought in 29-3 on the final day to win his first Bassmaster Classic. Normally, however, this lake is money for all-day action with 3-to 5-pounders, which is nothing to shake a flippin’ stick at.
Photo: Seigo Saito
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7. Caddo Lake, Louisiana [25,400 acres] If you take Toledo Bend out of the conversation, this is the best lake in Louisiana right now. An April Skeeter Trail tournament saw 11 fish over 7 pounds weighed in, including an 11.42. The winners had over 30 pounds. An April B.O.S.S. event required 26.14 pounds for first place, and a 9.58-pounder took big bass.
Photo: Larry D. Moore
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6. Lake Palestine, Texas [25,560 acres] Bassmasters, allow me to introduce Lake Palestine ... your new favorite lake. At least, it’s the favorite lake of anglers who fished the Fishers of Men event here in March. The winning team weighed in five bass for 33.10 pounds. A 29.49 and 27.68 limit were also weighed. But the monster bass is the real story of this event. A 10.23 was weighed in — and got third place. It was beat out by an 11.95 and then a 12.11 — again, all at the same one-day derby!
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5. Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin [from Little Sturgeon Bay to Fish Creek] Here’s the deal: For about a month, usually in May, this is the best smallmouth fishery on the planet. Period. The 2015 North American Bass Circuit one-day event last May took 26-9 to win with five bass. If you didn’t weigh in at least 20 pounds, you did not place in the Top 28. That said, if you hit this region outside of the magic window, it can be very tough.
Photo: Seigo Saito
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4. Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Texas [114,000 acres] If Rayburn and Toledo Bend were sisters (almost Siamese twins, based on their proximity), The Bend would be Jessica Alba and Rayburn would be Jennifer Aniston. Although Alba is certainly hotter than any other female walking, Aniston is pretty stunning, as well. When you separate the two, Rayburn
becomes even more appealing. A February FLW event here required a 20-pound-per-day average to win. A 27-pound, 10-ounce limit was weighed, as well as another handful in the 24pound range. The productivity of this lake is a result of focused stocking efforts, according to Dave Terre of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “The TPWD routinely stocks Florida largemouth bass to further enhance the trophy aspects of this fishery. Rayburn has produced a total of 26 Sharelunkers (bass 13 pounds or more), second only to Lake Fork,” Terre said.
Photo: Gary Tramontina
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3. Falcon Lake, Texas [83,654 acres] Watch out bass world: This beast is grumbling. Named No. 1 lake in the nation in 2012, drought and overfishing maimed this world-class largemouth destination. It has slowly filled with water, and fishing pressure has decreased. The green fish have responded quickly. An April Bass Champs event here took 31.97 pounds to win. Two other limits topped the 29-pound mark! And you were not in the Top 32 if you didn’t have at least 20 pounds. A 10.67 took big-fish honors. If you look back to a January Bass Champs event here, it took 32.63 to win, and an 11.78 won the big-fish pot. The lake still is not as consistent as it was in 2012, but it is quickly heading in the right direction.
Photo: Gary Tramontina
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2. Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota [132,000 acres] This lake is a hot mess right now. Locals prefer walleye here, as they are surrounded by one of the best smallmouth fisheries in the nation. Known as one of the nation's top walleye destinations, the largemouth and smallmouth fishing is some of the finest in the upper Midwest. Hopefully, the state will not allow the overharvest of brown bass while the walleye population struggles. You have as good of a chance to catch a 6-pounder in this lake as anywhere in the world. Expect eye-popping catches in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship in September.
Photo: Mille Lacs Tourism
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1. Toledo Bend, Texas/Louisiana [185,000 acres] If becoming the No.1 lake in the nation were a game of thrones, Toledo Bend would be the world’s first dynasty. In the history of the rankings, this is the first time a fishery has held the No. 1 spot for more than one year. In 2015, we thought this legendary fishery was showing off by producing 81 verified fish over 10 pounds. Well, the lake went from showing off to being downright obnoxious this year. As of May 17, Toledo Bend had already produced 139 double-digit bass! So far, the big-fish crown sits atop a 14.15 landed this past March. And remember, these fish are weighed on verified scales before being returned to the lake — no guestimates allowed. Ten-pounders aren’t the only reason to come to this sprawling border fishery. Limits of 6-pounders are fun, too.
Photo: Gary Tramontina
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Just ask Kevin VanDam, who won the May Elite Series event on The Bend. He just barely missed the 100-pound mark when the dust settled on the four-day derby. In all, 36 limits over 20 pounds were weighed in. What makes that number most impressive is that the anglers were seeing these results during a time when the lake was fishing tough! The region had seen record rainfall leading up to the Elite tourney, and fish were still confused by the high water. If you look back to just before the flooding, the results are nothing less than phenomenal. During a March Fishers of Men event, a husband/wife duo weighed in a five-fish limit that reached 34.81 pounds! That’s just shy of a July 2015 limit that weighed 38.22 pounds.“There is no doubt that this is the best big-bass factory in the nation right now,” VanDam said from the weigh-in stage. And there is little evidence that Toledo Bend will slow down any time soon. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries employed 20 Elite Series anglers who did not make the final-day cut to help distribute Florida-strain largemouth fingerlings throughout the lake. Being the No. 1 bass fishery in the nation is a big deal to the communities surrounding this lake, and it seems they are going to fight to retain the title.