Top 10 Best Bass Lakes of 2023

After months of gathering data on hundreds of the best lakes in the nation, the cream of the bass fisheries has risen.

If you are like most bass anglers, you have a home lake. It may be 30 minutes down the road. You have your favorite spots. And you may even catch bass with consistency. But, where should you go fishing when you get the rare hall pass or free weekend? That was the question that spawned the 100 Best Bass Lakes franchise 12 years ago.
There’s no need to jump on the Google machine and chase fishing reports down rabbit holes. We did the chasing for you … about two month’s worth. As mentioned every year in this feature, Bassmaster contacts the fisheries departments in every state to get feedback on the current state of their bass lakes. We survey the B.A.S.S. Nation presidents and conservation directors in every state to get their feedback on the best fisheries they’ve experienced in the past 12 months. Then, we dig into tournament results and fish-catch surveys from every lake mentioned, as well as some we come across independently, to create a master list. Numbers are crunched and a blue-ribbon panel of industry insiders vote on the rankings.
What follows is a whole lot of homework that we hope allows you to cheat on the test of finding bass eager to bite.
1. O.H. Ivie Lake, Texas
For the second consecutive year, O.H. Ivie is an easy choice as the best bass lake in the Central Region, and for the first time ever, the easy choice for best lake in the nation. And, oh my, why not? As of late April, a total of 38 of the 214 bass entered in this year’s Toyota ShareLunker program, operated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, were caught in this gem of a fishery. An amazing 15 of those 38 bass were Legacy Class, meaning they weighed more than 13 pounds and were caught during the spawning period of January through March. The biggest of the bunch was a 17.03-pound behemoth hooked by Jason Conn of Anna, Texas, on Feb. 13 — a Top 10 catch in state history. Another 14 Elite Class bass (at least 10 pounds) were among the heaviest catches on Ivie in early 2023. Ivie crashed the national spotlight in 2022 when 11 Legacy Class bass were caught through early May. Amazingly, the lake has only gotten better in 2023.
2. St. Lawrence River (Thousand Islands), New York
A Bassmaster Elite Series tournament in July 2022 demonstrated that this could be the best smallmouth fishery to ever exist. Wisconsin’s Jay Przekurat won the four-day event with 102 pounds, 9 ounces. He is the first angler in B.A.S.S. history to win with over 100 pounds of solely smallmouth. His catch was just the tip of the iceberg. Canada’s Cory Johnston finished second with 100-5. The Top 5 anglers all weighed in more than 98 pounds of brown bass. Of the 90 anglers in the event, 55 of them averaged more than 20 pounds per day. The big bass weighed 6-12. In a word, astounding.
3. Clear Lake, California
After falling out of the top spot for the past two years, California’s largest natural lake is the best in the West once again. And with one of the wettest springs in history putting an end to a multiyear drought, Clear Lake will only get better as 2023 progresses. Plenty of flooded vegetation providing ideal habitat, with an abundance of baitfish keeping hungry bass well fed, makes this the place to go for that limit of a lifetime. And largemouth in the 8- to 10-pound class, which are practically common here, offer many a great opportunity to catch your personal best. In six of 11 tournaments surveyed, the winning angler had limits with bass averaging 5 or more pounds apiece. Big fish at a NewJen Bass TOC in late January, American Bass contests in March and April and a Best Bass Tournament Trail event in April tipped the scales at 10.78, 10.13, 10.86 and 11.85 pounds, respectively.
4. Lake Murray, South Carolina
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.
5. Fellsmere Reservoir/Stick Marsh/Kenansville Lake, Florida
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!
6. Toledo Bend Reservoir, Louisiana/Texas border
The Bend is back! Not that it ever left, really, but boy, did it sure feel like a revival when Ben Milliken caught 77-14 over the course of three days to win the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Toledo Bend in mid-April. It was the third-heaviest total in a three-day Open tournament in B.A.S.S. history and as impressive a victory as witnessed in recent years. Milliken’s average weight, just shy of 26 pounds a day, was a hammering reminder that not only is Toledo Bend one of the biggest bass lakes in the country, but also one of its most productive. And it wasn’t just the Texas pro catching ’em. A total of 5,053 pounds, 6 ounces was caught over the course of three days in the boater division. That’s one of the highest totals in recent memory, though it trails the three-day record caught at (you guessed it) Toledo Bend, when boaters caught 6,275-4 over three days back in 2002.
7. Lake St. Clair, Michigan
Despite the intense fishing pressure Lake St. Clair receives, it reigns supreme for yielding smallmouth bass in quantity and quality. An annual study by Tom Goniea, tournament specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, compiled the results of 83 tournaments here. Of the 6,582 bass caught, 1,040 weighed over 4 pounds. Only one bass exceeded 6 pounds. The average fish weighed 3.18 pounds. Over 90% were smallmouth. Heavy limits are commonplace, such as the 27-13 winning catch during a high school tournament in July 2022 that drew 21 teams. The top three teams had over 20 pounds. The following month it took 24-3 to win a 44-team collegiate tournament. The top 12 all had over 20 pounds.
8. Orange Lake, Florida
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.
9. Lake Erie/Upper Niagara River, New York
Lake Erie’s eastern basin continues to thrill smallmouth anglers with trophy bass and plenty of action. New York B.A.S.S. Nation President David Repman claims you can expect to catch 30 to 50 smallmouth a day and that 15% of them will weigh over 4 pounds. He mentioned that a big bass event held here in May 2023 produced several smallmouth over 6 pounds. “If you want a 7-pound smallmouth, come here from mid-September to mid-October,” Repman said. “That’s when the big mommas move shallow.”
10. Lake Okeechobee, Florida
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.