[132,516 acres] The Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship was held on this great body of water, and it really shined. Each of the Top 5 anglers averaged north of 20 pounds per day, with Seth Feider topping the field with a three-day total of 76-5 (more than 25-pound per day average). There were 94 limits over 20 pounds weighed in this tournament! Research reveals that about half of the bass in this fishery measure longer than 17 inches, with 10 percent surpassing 20 inches. That means there are a lot of burly fish swimming around. But that’s not the best of the available data: 30-pound stringers were weighed during all five 2016 Minnesota Tournament Trail stops at the lake, with two five-bass limits breaking the 36-pound mark. Remember, these are all smallmouth! A Cabela’s Team Tournament stop in August required 20 pounds just to make the Top 12, with the big bass weighing an ounce shy of 6 pounds — so you can average 5-pounders pretty easily. If ever you wanted to catch the smallmouth of a lifetime and the biggest 5-pound smallmouth limit of your life, head to Mille Lacs!
Photo: Seigo Saito
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2. Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Texas
[114,500 acres] This lake is no longer playing second fiddle to its larger cousin to the east (Toledo Bend). In fact, the fishery has been on fire this year. The Bass Champs circuit stopped at Rayburn twice this spring, and it required a 30-pound sack to win both times. And every one of the Top 50 teams during the March 11 event weighed in five-fish stringers exceeding 20 pounds — with the Top 3 teams breaking the 30-pound mark. The Texas Team Trail weigh-in at the lake in January included six bass topping 7 pounds, with two of those surpassing 10 pounds. And a 31-pound bag earned the top spot during a March Bass Fishing League stop at Rayburn. Most impressively, the May Elite Series event here was won by Brandon Palaniuk with 93-12, who weighed in more than 23 pounds per day. As for quantity of bass swimming here, consider that of the 281 possible limits, 280 were weighed in! The one angler that didn’t fill his limit one day of the derby had four fish.
Photo: Ronnie Moore
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3. Falcon Lake, Texas
[83,654 acres] This fishery is really dependent on water levels, which can fluctuate wildly. When lake levels crash, the fishery gets tough. But right now Falcon is full, and the bass have responded accordingly. The combination of ample shad and tilapia, abundant habitat and the influence of Florida largemouth bass genetics has produced a huge swell in fishing success — and the bass in this border lake get big in a hurry. A Skeeter Bass Champs event in January was won with 30.98 pounds, and the Top 21 teams bested the 20-pound mark. Ten bass topped the 8-pound mark, with four reaching double-digit status. The heaviest bass weighed during that event logged in at 11.94 pounds. Those hefty weights continued for the circuit’s March stop, which was won with a 28.09-pound stringer. Six fish over 7-pounds were included in the big-bass parade going across the scales.
Photo: Gary Tramontina
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4. Toledo Bend Reservoir, Texas/Louisiana
[185,000 acres] This has been the place to be for trophy fishing the past several years, pumping out double-digit bass like no other lake in the country. But the 185,000-acre reservoir along the Texas/Louisiana border wasn’t able to keep up the pace in the past 12 months. As of March 22, the number of bass entered into the Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program fell to 73 — about half the number entered in 2016. And while John Murray won the Elite Series stop there in April with a 19-pound daily average, it required just a 13-pound average to finish in 12th in that event. All that said, there are still studs swimming in the lake, as evidenced by the Texas Team Trail event in February, during which the Top 12 teams weighed in 20-plus-pound stringers — topped by a 30.09-pound five-fish limit. And, to be fair, 73 double-digit bass (and those are just the ones we know about) is very stout.
Photo: Seigo Saito
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5. Lake Palestine, Texas
[25,560 acres] You have to be a stick to break the Top 10 on this lake, at least on the Media Bass circuit. In January, if you didn’t have a 17-pound limit, you weren’t even looked at. A 27.64-pound sack topped the eight 20-pound limits placed on the scales. That trend continued in February, with six 20-pound stringers led by 25.47 pounds. A Texas Bassmaster Team Trail event in October 2016 was won with a 10-fish stringer tipping the scales at 41.62 pounds.
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6. Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
[4,945 acres] If you want to catch trophy smallmouth, a trip to Sturgeon Bay should be at the top of your must-visit list. The action really kicks off in May, and there are big smallies living in these waters. Want proof? The two-day spring 2016 Sturgeon Bay Open Bass Tournament was won with a 10-fish total of 55.28 pounds. Even more impressive, breaking the Top 20 in that event required anglers to put together 20-plus-pound bags each day. Want more? The winning team weighed in just over 30 pounds of smallmouth the first day.
Photo: Seigo Saito
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7. Newton Lake, Illinois
[1,775 acres] This little lake pumps out 20-pound stringers. An October Bass World Sports Tournament Association event, for instance, was won with a five-fish limit weighing 25.86 pounds, but that was bested in February when the winning team sacked 26.71 pounds. That’s in addition to two other 20-pound limits since October, with fish weighing at least 5 pounds being the routine big-bass winner.
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8. Lake Ray Roberts, Texas
[29,350 acres] If you show up for a tournament on this lake, you best bring your A game because it takes big weights to win. Take the Bass Champs stop on April 1, for instance, during which eight 20-pound sacks were brought to the scales. And if you didn’t have 18 pounds, you wouldn’t even make the Top 20. The winner put together 24.05 pounds, and the weigh-in included five fish topping 7 pounds, with a 10.22-pounder taking big-bass honors. Also, a USA Fishing Trails event in March was won with 23.82, while second was nabbed with 22.04.
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9. Lake Oahe, South Dakota/North Dakota
[370,00 acres] This 231-mile-long reservoir along the Missouri River might not be a household name, but it’s worth the trip if you’re looking for unpressured bass. The massive reservoir, best known for its walleye fishery, holds plenty of smallmouth that grow quickly because of an incredible forage base. Anglers can expect to catch 50 fish in a day when conditions are right. A Bass Federation divisional held in September was won with a three-day total of 56 pounds, 3 ounces — a whopping daily average of almost 18-12.
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10. Lake Amistad, Texas
[64,900 acres] This lake came to prominence in 2007, but faded away as quickly as its water levels receded. However, much like its border cousin Falcon, this fishery is again riding a crest of great fishing due to a couple of high-water years. Skeeter Bass Champs anglers showed the potential in February, when it took more than 17 pounds to break the Top 20. The Top 8 weighed in better than 20 pounds, and the winner had 25.49 pounds.
Photo: James Overstreet
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11. Lake Fork, Texas
[27,690 acres] This lake has a storied history, with 65 percent of Texas’ Top 50 bass and more than half of the state’s ShareLunkers coming from these waters. But does that mean it’s still one of the best lakes in the country? Well, an 11-pounder topped the Sealy Big Bass Splash in September 2016, with 20 other bass weighing more than 7 pounds entered into the two-day hourly event. The Top 5 fish all exceeded 9 pounds.
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12. Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
[54,000 acres] This impoundment has plenty of chunky bass, as tournament results in the past year prove. A Bass Fishing League event in September was won with 20 pounds, 12 ounces. But the lake really showed its potential during a March BFL that was won by a five-bass limit weighing 25-5. It also produced eight other 20-pound bags and gave up 32 limits weighing more than 17 pounds.
Photo: Seigo Saito
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13. Caddo Lake, Texas/Louisiana
[25,400 acres] OK, so this lake is often overlooked, especially with the two-time national championship fishery just to the south. But Caddo showed its potential in March by giving up a 15.7-pound monster bass. If that fish had been weighed in on the Louisiana side, it would have ranked as the state’s No. 4 bass. Two fish exceeding 7 pounds were weighed in during the Skeeter Team Trail in March.
Photo: Larry Hodge
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14. Squaw Creek Reservoir, Texas
[3,275 acres] Don’t even think about thumping your chest on this small lake unless you have a 20-pound sack. A USA Fishing event in January featured two 20-pound stringers, and it only got better in February when the circuit’s Squaw Creek stop was won with a five-fish limit weighing 25.46 pounds. Second place was taken with 21.84 pounds. The Media Bass stop here in February required 20 pounds to claim the win, and big fish was 7.5 pounds.
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15. Table Rock Lake, Missouri
[43,100 acres] There are a lot of bass in this lake, with state biologists turning up 200 bass per hour during their 2016 electroshocking surveys. Seventy-five percent of the fishery is composed of largemouth, and the ample supply of gizzard and threadfin shad allows bass to reach the minimum limit of 15 inches in four years. The opportunity to catch numbers and quality fish has been improved with added fish habitat structures. All of this means you have a great shot at catching solid fish, as illustrated during April’s Big Bass Tour, when the Top 10 bass exceeded the 5-pound mark.
Photo: Steve Bowman
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16. Lake Texoma, Texas/Oklahoma
[89,000 acres] This remains a stout fishery, offering plenty of options and lots of solid bass to catch. The USA Fishing Trails circuit has stopped here twice this spring, and both events were won with 19-plus-pound limits. The February event was won with 20.06 pounds, and big fish (which was part of the third-place bag) pushed the scales to 7.77 pounds.
Photo: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
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17. Lake Dardanelle, Arkansas
[34,300 acres] This lake is loaded with 3-plus-pound bass. That’s what Arkansas Bass Team Trail anglers had to average to make the Top 15 during a stop at the Arkansas River impoundment last June. But don’t think it can’t turn out bigger fish, as the 23.2-pound winning bag of that event proved. The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission reported a healthy population of 4-pounders, and that is borne out by checking the Arkansas Bass Team Trail results that show 20-pound limits for the Top 5 teams during a June 2016 event.
Photo: Gary Tramontina
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18. Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, Oklahoma
[46,500 acres] This lake continues to impress, producing hefty tournament limits. A BFL event in April featured two 21-pound sacks, and the Top 5 anglers had to average 3 pounds just to make that cut. Also in April, a USA Fishing Trails event was won with 20.25 pounds, and in March, it took 27.87 pounds to win a Nichols Marine team event. That limit included an 8.86-pound anchor.
Photo: Seigo Saito
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19. Lake Waco, Texas
[8,465 acres] What this lake lacks in size it makes up for in big bass. The Bosque River reservoir offers bass anglers plenty of opportunities for success. Flip the water willow, cattails, pondweed and flooded buttonbrushes, and you could average 5 pounds. That was proved last spring, when a USA Fishing Trails event was won with a five-bass stringer tipping the scales at 25.34 pounds.
Photo: John Provine
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20. Millwood Lake, Arkansas
[95,200 acres] State biologists rave about this lake, saying it’s currently one of the hottest water bodies in the state. Twenty-five-pound bags are not uncommon during springtime tournaments, and 8-pounders are usually required to earn the big-bass payout. It took 19.58 pounds to win a Media Bass event in July 2016. A Big Bass Clash event in April at Millwood was topped by a 7.45-pounder.
Photo: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
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21. Lake Bistineau, Louisiana
[15,500 acres] This sprawling, cypress-studded impoundment might not get the attention of other Louisiana reservoirs (think Toledo Bend and Caddo Lake), but there is some great fishing to be had here. The sleeper produced big during the B.O.S.S. team circuit’s April event with a 22.41-pound limit.
Photo: Louisiana Department of Wildlife Fisheries
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22. Lake Ouachita, Arkansas
[40,324 acres] We’re adding this lake because it has some amazing potential. State biologists say winning sacks are typically in the 18-pound range, but 25-pound bags are not uncommon. A Bass Federation event in March was won with 18.38 pounds, while a pair of 18-pound stringers led a February event.
Photo: Thomas Allen
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23. Mississippi River Pools 4-10, Minnesota/Wisconsin
[from Lake City past La Crosse] These pools are smallmouth and largemouth factories, and masses of 2- to 4-pound fish are everywhere. An abundance of habitat, plentiful groceries and clear water mean this stretch of Old Man River has what it takes to keep anglers busy. Tournaments are definitely won with 20-pound limits, but 16- to 19-pound sacks are most common. A Classic Bass event held in April on Pools 4 and 5 was won with 20.8 pounds, and second and third places bested 19 pounds. If you want to finish in the Top 10, you best have a 3-pound average.
Photo: Seigo Saito
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24. Bull Shoals Lake, Arkansas/Missouri
[45,000 acres] One Arkansas biologist described this lake as a “boom or bust fishery,” but it’s currently in a boom because of prolonged high water that has increased nursery habitat for bass fingerlings and the baitfish on which bass feed. Arkansas sampling this year resulted in the highest per-hour catch rate since spring samples began in 1987 — with a sampling run turning up 1,146 bass per hour. The bottom line is the Ozark fishery offers easy catches with the real chance of hooking largemouth topping 5 pounds, along with 3-pound smallies and spots — all in a scenic package that is hard to beat.
Photo: Gary Tramontina
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25. Okoboji Chain of Lakes, Iowa
[3,847 acres] This little chain of lakes has a healthy population of bass that draws clubs from all over the region. Five-pound averages are possible, as Minnesota’s Bass Seekers club proved in May 2016 when the winning team put together a 22.8-pound stringer. Second place was just shy of 20 pounds, and third topped 18 pounds. Big bass was 6.41 pounds, and 75 percent of the field brought five fish to the scales.
Photo: DJ Vogeler
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Bassmaster Magazine ranks the top 100 Best Bass Lakes each year, split by region. Look at the Top 25 Best Bass Lakes for the Western, Southeastern and Northeastern regions and the Top 12.