1. Santee Cooper Lakes (Marion/Moultrie), South Carolina
[110,000 acres and 60,000 acres, respectively] These sister lakes have been a juggernaut on the rankings since the inception of the research. This year, Marion and Moultrie continue to prove they are a must-visit for every bass angler. A May CATT event here saw a winning weight of 25.64, and an early April derby took 27 pounds to win. That said, the real eye-opener was the late April CATT tournament that saw 33.31 pounds earn the first-place prize. Santee Cooper lakes have the secret sauce to produce giant bass and remain the crown jewel of South Carolina bass fishing.
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2. Jordan Lake, North Carolina
[14,000 acres] The last time we were able to research these rankings was 2019 (thanks, COVID-19). That year, state biologists ranked this fishery second best in the state. Well, the pandemic was evidently good for the bass population here, because now it ranks No. 1 in the state. Look at the late March Collins Bass for Cash event held here, and the numbers speak for themselves. It took more than 26 pounds to win, with second place bringing almost 25 pounds to the scales. A CATT event held here a week later made those results look pedestrian. The winners had five that weighed 34.76 pounds, while the next-closest competitor had to take their 26 pounds to the second-place table.
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3. Pickwick Lake, Alabama/Mississippi/Tennessee
[43,100 acres] This border lake is not only easy on the eyes, but also offers anglers the opportunity to catch a trophy trifecta: smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass of above-average size. When the Alabama Bass Trail visited here in February, the results were more than impressive. It took 27.79 pounds to earn the first-place check. And that team didn’t run away with the win. Second place landed a five-fish limit weighing 27.16. The Top 20 all cracked 20 pounds, and a 7.66 earned big bass honors.
Photo: Ronnie Moore
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4. Fellsmere Reservoir, Florida
[10,000 acres] This man-made lake was designed with the intent to create a bass fishing paradise. And it worked. Over 1 million pure Florida-strain bass were stocked in 2015. The FWC states the average fish is now 3 pounds, but locals believe that’s a gross underestimation. This lake was only accessible via kayak or canoe until last August, when a new boat ramp was installed (much to the chagrin of the yak crowd). Now, bass boats have unfettered access to this world-class fishery. According to the Florida TrophyCatch stats, 29 bass over 8 pounds have already been landed this year, with a 12-5 leading the pack.
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5. Falls Lake, North Carolina
[12,410 acres] This Tar Heel fishery hit our radar a couple of years ago, and the production has not slowed down. A 5 Alive Team Trail event here in April illustrated why this fishery should not just be on your radar, but in the crosshairs for your next trip. The winning team hoisted just over 30 pounds to the scales, including the 8.20-pound big fish of the derby. The second-place team had to be a little disheartened after boating 27.87 and having to settle for silver.
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6. Lake Tohopekaliga, Florida
[22,700 acres] One of the most consistent lakes in Florida, Lake Toho continues to produce not only trophy fish, but impressive limits of Florida largemouth. An April Xtreme Bass Series event was won with over 28 pounds, anchored by an 8.25-pounder (which did not win big bass honors). You had to have 20 pounds to place in the Top 7, and there were only 21 anglers competing. As for the entries submitted to the TrophyCatch program, Toho was responsible for 21 bass over 8 pounds, 12 of those topping 9 pounds.
Photo: Ronnie Moore
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7. Lake Guntersville, Alabama
[69,000 acres] The Big G remains an anomaly. It receives as much intelligent bass fishing pressure as any other body of water in the world and simply continues to produce. That said, there have been years when the massive fishery has flexed its muscles in a more impressive fashion. But you simply can’t ignore the results. An Alabama Bass Trail event held here in March took 28.28 pounds to win. Four fish over 7 pounds hit the scales, and the Top 43 anglers all had over 15 pounds.
Photo: Seigo Saito
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8. Rodman Reservoir, Florida
[13,000 acres] After a stunning year in 2019, when 34 bass over 8 pounds were submitted to Florida’s TrophyCatch program from this lake, it looks like this fishery has caught fire. As of this writing, 65 fish over 8 pounds have been caught and released here. A dozen exceed double digits, and a 13-4 beast is leading the charge. Tournament results support booking a trip here, as well. A March Xtreme Bass Series event took 23.62 to win, which included an 8.07 big fish, which was bested by an 8.16 that hit the scales. The Top 7 teams all had over 20 pounds.
Photo: Vance McCullough
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9. Kenansville Lake and Stick Marsh/Farm 13, Florida
[2,500 acres and 6,500 acres, respectively] Kenansville is a small, shallow impoundment that was once a cow pasture. The state flooded it in 1993. Now local bass anglers call it “Jurassic Park” because of the beastly largemouth that live there. Eleven bass have been submitted to the Florida TrophyCatch program this year, five of which topped 10 pounds. Add to this killer little lake Stick Marsh/Farm 13 (only 2 miles away, and the overflow parking for Kenansville), which has given up 13 bass over 8 pounds this year — including a 12-2 — and you have sister lakes where dreams are made. By the way, Fellsmere, also in these rankings, is a stone’s throw away.
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10. Harris Chain of Lakes, Florida
[eight lakes connected by canals totaling 46,000 acres] When the Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens visited the Harris Chain in March, fans were able to see some incredible limits cross the scales. Elite Series pro Patrick Walters showed out on the first day with five bass weighing 24 pounds. But, it was Keith Tuma who eventually took home the trophy after his final-day limit of 26-2 wowed the crowd. If only they had been around during the Marion County Bassmasters Open. In this single-day derby, the winning team dropped 36.17 pounds, including a 9.82, to claim the gold. This chain of lakes has been responsible for 15 bass over 8 pounds in the TrophyCatch program, including an 11-13 landed in January. This fishery fell off the rankings in 2019 but is now back with a vengeance.
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11. Chickamauga Lake, Tennessee
[36,240 acres] The Chattanooga Bass Association has held four events on this Tennessee River fishery this year. The average winning weight has been 24 pounds, and the biggest bass nearly cracked the double-digit mark. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency gives it top marks in the state for both big fish and production. Remember, the riverine bite here is dictated by current and the water flow created by power production. So, watch those measurements carefully if you really want to smash ’em here.
Photo: Ronnie Moore
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12. Lake Okeechobee, Florida
[730 square miles] This south Florida monster has roared loudly on the rankings in the past. That said, the beast is in sleep mode compared to its best years. Eleven bass over 8 pounds have been entered into the Florida TrophyCatch program this year, which requires a minimum of 8 pounds. The biggest was a 9-11 landed in March. It took 22-14 to win a recent single-day Bassmaster event, but if you had 15 pounds, you were in the Top 12. That said, a March Bass Busters event was won with 32.27 pounds. The Big O is not shining its brightest, but big fish are there for the finding.
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13. Wheeler Lake, Alabama
[67,100 acres] This lake is the overlooked sister of Pickwick, which is blooming into the more attractive of the two siblings. OK, maybe not more attractive, but pretty dang close. Like its sibling, this fishery is fed by the incredibly productive Tennessee River. The bass don’t care which side of a dam they are on when it comes to growing plentiful and big. Take a gander at the Alabama Bass Trail event held here in April. The winning team landed 25.43, and their big fish was only 5.40 pounds. If you didn’t have 20 pounds, you didn’t make the Top 8. The big fish of the event was a 6.97. So, you may not have the opportunity to catch a double-digit fish here like you do at Pickwick, but 5-pounders abound. Hooking into five of those sounds like a pretty awesome date.
Photo: Gary Tramontina
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14. Lake Murray, South Carolina
[50,000 acres] After scouring through tournament data, we determined this lake seems to have 5-plus-pounders growing on trees, ripe for the plucking. The Big Bass Tour stopped here in early May, and all the hourly winners brought in fish topping the 5-pound mark. The majority of hourly winners weighed in fish over 6 pounds. A CATT event held the following week was won with 22.59 pounds, which included a 6.56-pounder. This lake may not spit out giants like Santee Cooper, but there are wads of supersolid largemouth.
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15. Wilson Lake, Alabama
[15,500 acres] When you talk to the fisheries biologists for the state of Alabama, you’d be surprised to find out where they rank this lake in a state full of great lakes. Based on some data points, they’d rank it above all others. In the state’s most recent BAIT study, it took anglers 54 hours to catch a bass heavier than 5 pounds. This may sound like a lot, but the only other lake ever to top this number was Guntersville back in 2014. Overall, Wilson accumulated more quality indicator points than any other lake in the state, placing it as No. 1 for the fifth consecutive year. As for tournament results, the data isn’t as eyepopping as the more popular fisheries. Winners typically have 19 to 20 pounds, and the big fish is usually a 5-something. Still, the numbers don’t lie. This lake has ’em.
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16. Lake Eufaula, Alabama/Georgia
[46,000 acres] Looking at tournament results from this lake, it seems that if you like a 3-pound average, this is your spot. A recent Alabama Bass Trail event here saw 50 teams bring 15 pounds to the scales. Of course, they grow bigger here, as well. The winning team landed almost 24 pounds to hoist the trophy. A 6-pounder took big-fish money home in that event, but 8-pounders are not rare.
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17. Lake Seminole, Georgia/Florida
[37,500 acres] The Georgia Department of Natural Resources ranked this storied bass fishery as the best the state has to offer based on catch rates and shock assessments. The Reel Money Team Trail visited here twice this spring, and both times it took more than 22 pounds to win. The April event saw an 8.10 hit the scales, while the May event’s big bass was a 7.31. Interestingly, the weights dropped quickly in the small-field events. Still, Seminole has big fish swimming there, and it should be on every angler’s bucket list to add their memories to the legend of this fishery.
Photo: James Overstreet
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18. High Rock Lake, North Carolina
[15,180 acres] This is one of the oldest lakes in the country, impounded in 1926, and one on which legends were built. It hosted three Bassmaster Classics in the ’90s. Denny Brauer won the last in 1998 with 46-3 after three days of fishing … and he beat second-place finisher George Cochran by 10 pounds! The fishing is better now. A CATT one-day tournament held in April produced a winning limit of 22.25 pounds. Unbelievably, there was a tie for second at 19.79 pounds. A 6.89 took home the big-fish trophy. And there is little doubt Cochran would have gladly accepted that fish 23 years ago.
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19. Ross Barnett Reservoir, Mississippi
[33,000 acres] This fishery has been absent from the rankings for several years. Based on 2021 tournament results, the Pearl River impoundment is making a serious comeback. State biologists now rank it third best for overall bass production and size. The 2021 Catch-A-Dream benefit derby took 21 pounds to win. You weren’t in the Top 8 if you didn’t have at least 15 pounds. A recent electrofishing survey showed 47 bass per mile, which is impressive, with the largest measuring 22.7 inches. So, the lake is full of fish and they are getting bigger.
Photo: Ronnie Moore
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20. Lake Hartwell, South Carolina
[56,000 acres] There are plenty of lakes on this list where you will have a chance to catch bigger bass. That said, this is one of the most consistent fisheries on the planet when you are looking for better-than-average bass willing to bite your cricket. Sure, 20-pound limits are caught, but most derbies are won with a little over 18. The April Carolinas Bass Challenge event is the perfect illustration. It took 18.28 pounds to win. Big fish weighed about 6.25. But, the Top 20 all had over 14 pounds and only 2 pounds separated 20th place from 40th.
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21. Lake Ferguson, Mississippi
[10 miles long] This unique fishery is an oxbow off the Mississippi River. The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks ranks it as the second-best option in the state for bass, just behind Pickwick. Take a gander at recent tournament results to find out why. A Media Bass derby held last July took 23 pounds and some change to win — and this was in the heat of the summer. Big fish weighed 7.53 pounds.
Photo: Chad Washington
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22. Lake Burton, Georgia
[2,775 acres] This fishery is the northernmost in a chain of six lakes in the northeast corner of Georgia. It made the rankings in 2018 but fell off in 2019 due to a lack of data. Although there is still not much information to dig out, local fishing reports are impressive. Easy limits of both largemouth and bigger-than-average spotted bass give anglers the opportunity of 30-fish days with an expected average of 3 pounds. A look at the lake records shows 14 pounds for largemouth and a whopping 8-2 for spotted bass.
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23. Kerr Lake (Buggs Island), North Carolina/Virginia
[50,000 acres] When you get this far north, lakes featuring largemouth lose the Florida influence and, as a result, the bass get smaller. Still, averaging 4 pounds per Northern largemouth is an impressive feat. That’s precisely what the winning team of an April CATT event accomplished when their 20.58 pounds hit the scales. This wasn’t a fluke. Another 20-pound bag was weighed, as well as three others over 18.
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24. Fort Loudoun Lake, Tennessee
[14,600 acres] This fishery is located at the headwaters of the Tennessee River. Elite Series pro Jeff Gustafson plied the deep areas to accumulate enough smallmouth (his biggest limit weighing over 17 pounds) to win his first blue trophy this year. But you don’t have to be a pro to take advantage of the plentiful bass here. A March Tennessee Team Trail event took 19.80 pounds to win, with another five anglers exceeding Gussy’s best day. It’s cool to consider you can catch both smallmouth and largemouth over 5 pounds on any given cast.
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25. Bay Springs Lake, Mississippi
[6,700 acres] Most anglers wouldn’t think of smallmouth living in Mississippi. But here, they do, along with largemouth and spotted bass. That said, the state is really focusing on making this lake a trophy largemouth fishery. There were 75,000 pure Florida-strain fish stocked here in 2013 and an additional 110,000 pure Floridas added in 2019. If these Florida fish have lockjaw, focus on the big, plentiful spotted bass that live a little deeper.