Best Bass Lakes 2023: Southeastern

1. Lake Murray, South Carolina
[50,000 acres] There is a new king of the Palmetto State, and this fishery should be No. 1 on your bucket list for angling the southeast portion of our great nation. We saw hints last year when every tournament we researched took a little more than 20 pounds to win. This year, however, 20 pounds will do little for your goal to reach the gold-medal podium. This lake is called the Jewel of the South, and rightly so, as it currently wears the crown in this region. Just look at the results of the April Elite Series event held here. There were 49 limits weighed in over 20 pounds. Of the 103 anglers competing, only a handful didn’t catch a limit every day. Six limits topped the 24-pound mark, and three limits were over 26 pounds! The average weight of bass weighed in for the entire event (1,311 fish) was 3.4 pounds. Big bass of the event was 7-11. This fishery is beautiful, full of fish and has some giants swimming around to boot. Many Elite Series anglers believe it is the best lake in the country right now, and they are not too far off.
2. Fellsmere Reservoir/Stick Marsh/Kenansville Lake, Florida
[10,000 acres; 6,500 acres; and 2,500 acres, respectively] These Sunshine State triplets were the best the Southeast had to offer last year, and you could argue the fact again this year. Now, pressure is affecting the numbers of bass an angler can expect to catch when they visit, but the giants still swim here. Looking at Florida’s TrophyCatch data (which awards anglers who catch a largemouth over 8 pounds), 73 were reported from Fellsmere (also called Headwaters), with an 11-8 being the biggest. That’s the most of any lake in Florida. Two came from Stick Marsh, including a 9-6. So you know, there is currently a drawdown on Stick Marsh for a habitat-enhancement project, so the fishery is kayak-only until the water levels rise. Kenansville boasted seven TrophyCatch lunkers, with a monster 13-10 leading the pack!
3. Orange Lake, Florida
[12,550 acres] If you were to guess where the biggest bass was caught in the state of Florida this year, you’d be wrong. Unless, of course, you guessed this fishery. Yep, we were shocked, as well. A 14-1 was landed here in April by Chad Dorland. Plus, three 13s were caught here in February. In all, 50 TrophyCatch lunkers, 17 of which were over 10 pounds, were landed here in the past 12 months. The numbers of 8-pound fish don’t hold a candle to Fellsmere, but the number of truly giant fish swimming in this lake is unrivaled. Oh, and an Xtreme Bass Series event was held here in February and was won with 28.87 pounds, anchored by a 12.59 big fish.
4. Lake Okeechobee, Florida
[730 square miles] Last year, we announced that the Big O was back. This goliath of a fishery was finally on the mend and nearly cracked the Top 10 in these rankings. Well, we just thought it was good last year. The Roland Martin Marine Center Series held an event there this past May. It was not only epic, but perhaps even historic. Weighing in 29 pounds on this day wouldn’t crack the Top 25! The top 20 anglers weighed in over 30 pounds. Not kidding. The winning weight was 36.82, which barely edged out the second-place finishers’ 36.19. This, of course, is not normal. It was a once-in-a-lifetime perfect storm. Still, it showed what is currently swimming in this lake, and you’d be smart to hit it while it’s hot.
5. Lake Guntersville, Alabama
[69,000 acres] The rise of the Big G continues! Although the lake continues to see monumental pressure, it is standing strong, and data shows improvement over last year. For example, an Alabama Bass Trail team derby this past March saw 22 limits top 20 pounds, with the winning team bringing 29.55 to the scales. A Fishers Of Men event held in April was won with 28.16. And a SALT Invitational held in May took 28.18 to win, with the Top 5 teams weighing in more than 25 pounds. So, yes, Guntersville is baaaaack!
6. Jordan Lake, North Carolina
[14,000 acres] This jewel of the Tar Heel State continues to impress. A Piedmont Bass Qualifier held here in February took almost 31 pounds to claim the top spot, with a 29-pound limit nipping at its heels. Although this was a standout event on this pristine fishery, a CATT Team trail event in March was won with 23.91 pounds, with the Top 5 all landing more than 20 pounds. Between the two events, seven fish topping 7 pounds were weighed, with the biggest pushing the scales to 8.26 pounds.
7. Lake Tohopekaliga, Florida
[22,700 acres] This lake remains the crown jewel of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. Take a quick glimpse at the Florida TrophyCatch lunkers caught here in the past year and you’ll find 19 entries, with an 11-13 currently wearing the crown. Although data doesn’t suggest that Toho is in its prime, there was an Xtreme Bass Series event held here in May that was won with a limit just shy of 31 pounds. Most other events are being won with limits in the 22-pound range.
8. Lake Sinclair, Georgia
[13,380 acres] Welcome back! It has been a minute since this central Georgia fishery has made the rankings. But, when a 27-pound limit is caught, we pay attention. This is exactly what happened during a Berry’s Tournament Trail event held here in April. It wasn’t a fluke, either, as 26.14 took second place. Big fish was an 8.34-pound stud. A mid-April Fishers of Men event here took 24 pounds to win. This lake was created in 1953 with the damming of the Oconee River, and 70 years later it seems to have hit its stride.
9. Lake Eufaula, Alabama/Georgia
[37,500 acres] Also known as Walter F. George Lake, this Chattahoochee River impoundment easily slides into the Top 25 lakes in the Southeast. First off, the fishing is very good right now. The Bassmaster Open held here in March was won with a two-day total of 48-9, which included a 25-6 limit on Day 1. That was overshadowed by a 27-6 limit landed on Day 2! And to add icing on this already delicious largemouth cake, if you head north up the river, you will find a world-class shoal bass fishery. The river (near Columbus) gave up a new state record last year when Joseph McWhorter landed an 8-pound, 5-ounce shoalie, shattering a 45-year-old record.
10. Falls Lake, North Carolina
[12,410 acres] This Neuse River fishery is always touted as one of the best in the state by the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Results from a Five Alive team event held in May support their claims. First place was captured with 24.52 pounds, which included the big fish of the event (8.16 pounds). Largemouth have to be 14 inches to keep, and there are hordes of them under … so getting bit is not a problem. Beyond the exceptional bass fishing, know that this lake is very easy on the eyes and worth a visit to absorb the scenery.
11. Lake Seminole, Georgia/Florida
[37,500 acres] This old girl can be finicky, but when she decides to fire, the results are exceptional. In the February Elite event held here, Joey Cifuentes III won with a four-day total of 85-2, which included a Day 2 limit of 26-1. Tyler Rivet found five bass on Day 3 that went 25-11, and Greg Hackney brought 24-7 to the scales on the second day. Still, the best in the biz had to average only 16 pounds per day to make the Top 10. So, head to this lake knowing you could catch the five biggest of your life, but the Seminole winds need to blow a little luck your way.
12. High Rock Lake, North Carolina
[15,180 acres] If you want to get bit, cast here. That should be the mantra for this North Carolina fishery. Looking at the results from tournaments this past year, seldom do you find a competitor who did not fill his limit. Now, those limits may hover in the 15-pound range, but who can complain about an abundance of 3-pounders? There are exceptions: A March Fishers of Men event was won with 27.84 pounds, including a 9.89 big fish. Usually, fishing here looks more like an April Carolina Bass Challenge event that was won with 20 pounds; 34 teams weighed over 15 pounds. A 6.83 took big-fish honors, which was nothing to shake a flippin’ stick at.
13. Lake Placid, Florida
[3,320 acres] This small, spring-fed lake just a few miles southwest of Lake Istokpoga is not your normal Florida fishery. The average depth here is 27 feet, with the deepest hole reaching 57 feet deep. A recent BFL event here took 23 pounds to win, with the Top 10 all catching more than 18 pounds. However, take a quick look at data from Florida’s TrophyCatch program and you can see how impressive this fishery truly is. In the past 12 months, 43 bass over 8 pounds have been caught here, with a 12-1 leading that race.
14. Roanoke Rapids Lake, North Carolina
[4,600 acres] This little lake continues to produce not only big limits of largemouth, but giant individual fish, as well. Looking at some CATT events, it seems to take an average of 23 pounds to win here. That was the case in March when 23.30 won, including an 8.56 big bass (an 8.10 was also weighed in). A late March derby took 24.78 to win, which did not include the 6.74 tournament big bass. And an April derby required almost 21 pounds to take home the trophy. Since the lake is fairly small, you should be able to dial in a pattern quickly.
15. Pickwick Lake, Alabama/Mississippi/Tennessee
[43,100 acres] This lake borders three states and is one of the best fisheries in the country for the three major species of bass. Kind of makes sense. The smallmouth here get very big. You can catch one over 6 pounds if you fish long enough. The largemouth that top 10 pounds get caught just about as often. You may not find a spotted bass over 5 pounds here, but it will be knocking on the door. As for eye-popping tournament limits, three passed the 24-pound mark at a National Professional Fishing League event held here in March. I guess good things do come in threes!
16. Lake Panasoffkee, Florida
[4,460 acres] Another newbie to the rankings, this Fish Management Area lake grabbed our attention when we noticed that 37 TrophyCatch lunkers, 12 of which were over 10 pounds, were caught here. The biggest registered in the past 12 months was a 12-14! There’s not a lot of tournament data out there on this fishery, but an Xtreme Bass Series event held in June 2022 took 25.40 pounds to win, with the Top 5 teams weighing in more than 20 pounds. An 8.20 took big-bass honors.
17. Santee Cooper Lakes (Marion/Moultrie), South Carolina
[110,000 acres and 60,0000 acres, respectively] We learned a lot about these sister lakes this year while watching the Elite Series event held here in April. First, it’s not always easy to get a limit. The majority of the field did not catch five bass each day they fished, including second-place finisher Mark Menendez. That said, Luke Palmer won with almost 97 pounds, and there were four limits weighed in that topped 26 pounds! So, this year, don’t go to Santee for a lot of bites. But, when you get one, hang on!
18. Dale Hollow Lake, Tennessee/Kentucky
[27,700 acres] For a lake known for producing the world-record smallmouth, largemouth seem to have taken center stage here. The Dale Hollow Bass Club Classic was won with almost 25 pounds, and every fish in the limit was green. Smallmouth still grow big in these waters but are a little tougher to find these days. Spotted bass are also here, which makes this lake one of the best in the nation to offer anglers a lunker opportunity for all three species of bass.
19. Lake Hartwell, South Carolina
[56,000 acres] This is a big freaking lake … and it is simply full of fish. Now, don’t visit looking for a “personal best,” unless that PB is less than 6 pounds. However, if you enjoy catching 4-pound-class bass all day long, this briar patch is for you. A great example is a B.A.S.S. Nation team event held here in March. All 17 teams caught their limits. Ten fish nearing 5 pounds were individually weighed for lunker rights, with a 6.57 taking the honors.
20. Lake Lanier, Georgia
[38,000 acres] This may be the best spotted bass lake in the country. It took over 20 pounds to win a Fishers of Men event here in March, with a 5.59 bass taking big-fish honors. Three other spots in that derby topped the 4-pound mark. Look back to a January derby held by this group, and it took even more to claim the top spot, 22.48 pounds. When you tussle with a 5-pound spotted bass, you never want to quit looking for 5-pound spotted bass. And this lake, to that end, is your huckleberry.
21. Lake Istokpoga, Florida
[26,762 acres] The Xtreme Bass Series has held four events this year on this storied Florida fishery as of this writing, and the data from these derbies show a bit of a decline in what we have come to expect. Still, a good (not great) Istokpoga is better than a lot of fisheries in the nation. If you take the average winning weight of these events, you are looking at just over 20 pounds to collect the first-place check. Plus, 30 bass from here earned Florida TrophyCatch status in the past 12 months, with a 10-12 leading the pack.
22. Ross Barnett Reservoir, Mississippi
[33,000 acres] When most people consider bass fishing in the Magnolia State, this is the lake they think of — and for good reason. A Weekend Warrior Bass Club event held here in March took 24.28 pounds to win. Runner-up had over 23 pounds. Big bass tipped the scales at 8.95 pounds! And remember, these aren’t pros piling up this kind of weight. Of course, most events, like the Catch-A-Dream Foundation Bass Classic held in May, are won with around 18 pounds. Still, who is going to complain about a 3 1/2-pound average?
23. Withlacoochee River/Lake Rousseau, Florida
[20-mile radius of Dunnellon] This west-central Florida bass haven flies under the radar, but 57 bass over 8 pounds have been registered from here this year, with a 13-14 topping the list. The lake covers 3,657 acres, and the river stretches a total of 157 miles. A February Xtreme Bass Series event was won here with 24.03, but it typically takes a little over 20 pounds to earn the top spot. Still, fishing the river takes you back to old Florida, and don’t be surprised if a manatee slides by your boat while you are flipping the grass.
24. Chickamauga Lake, Tennessee
[36,240 acres] This storied fishery almost did not make the cut. If you look at winning weights, though, it’s hard to ignore that The Chick still has a world-class stock of giant bass swimming around. The suckers simply don’t like to bite as often as they used to. Regardless, it took 24-1 to win an event here in February, but the winner caught only five fish all day. The two-day Bassmaster Kayak Series Championship was held here in March, and the winner measured 180 inches of bass (18-inch average) for the win. That equates to a 3 1/2-pound average, which is still very good.
25. Natchez State Park Lakes, Tennessee
[825 acres, combined] For those who love to bank fish or tote a kayak or canoe to the water’s edge, this one’s for you. Four lakes are nestled within the confines of this state park: Cub Lake (58 acres), Pin Oak Lake (680 acres), Maple Creek Lake (90 acres) and Brown’s Creek Lake (167 acres). Interestingly, two are managed by the park and two are managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA). According to the TWRA, some of the best bass fishing in the state can be found here if you are willing to go without a combustible engine. Brown’s Creek Lake does have a slot limit and is managed for trophies, with double-digit bass landed on occasion.