Take a look at the list of fisheries on the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series schedule and four locations stand out: Lake Okeechobee, Lake Seminole, Lake Murray and Lay Lake, all top-rated fisheries that were idle playing fields in recent years.
The addition of those standouts adds intrigue and allure to a schedule that tracks across the best times to fish them all, during the prespawn, spawn and postspawn cycles.
What we all stand to gain is new knowledge about lures and tactics for catching more and bigger bass, by watching the coverage on FOX Sports and Bassmaster.com.
Here is the lineup of the 2023 Elite fisheries, history from previous events and an analysis on what could play out during the competition.
Lake Okeechobee, Florida; Feb. 16-19
History: The Elite Series last visited Okeechobee in late Feb. 2017, when 83 pounds won the four-day event. The Big O’s trophy largemouth reputation shined with a 9-pounder taking Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors, with numerous bass weighing above 7 pounds. Even so, the weather served up a few curveballs, namely a northeast wind that muddied up prime fishing areas to the south. On the sunny side, the tournament escaped the cold fronts that can shut down the bite during winter.
The following chatter is guaranteed to come from the pundits, and why not?
1) Could the season begin with the winner joining the B.A.S.S. Century Club? 2) Will a (not the) spawn be underway? 3) Will the wind or a cold front put the damper on the fishing? Yes, is the answer to all questions, keeping in mind this was written in late December, or two months prior to any knowledge of the forecast for tournament week. As we all know, weather and namely cold fronts from the North influence success, or lack thereof, during February tournaments anywhere in Florida, and even as far south as Okeechobee.
Lake Seminole, Georgia; Feb. 23-26
History: The Elite Series last visited Seminole about three weeks earlier than the scheduled 2023 event; the winning weight was less than 3 pounds away from hitting the 100-pound mark. A predominantly prespawn bite was in full swing, with staging fish caught on grassy shorelines along the river channels.
Just like any lower South tournament in late February, it’s too soon to predict the spawning cycle status. The severity of the weather during January and into February will dictate status of the prespawn bite. With an average depth of only 10 feet, it doesn’t take much to speed up (warm winters) or slow down (cold winters) the migration. Numerous warmer, grassy flats near the river channels will likely be in play. Areas protected from a north wind will be favored for warmer, clear water and potential sight fishing opportunities.
Lake Murray, South Carolina; April 20-23
History: It took 61 pounds to win the 2011 Elite Series event in mid-May on Lake Murray, the last time an Elite Series tournament was held on Murray.
Analysis: A spawn or early postspawn bite is likely to be in play during the tournament, depending on how soon winter transitions into early spring. Early spring rains and runoff into the creeks can add color and warmth to the clearer water, speeding up the potential for a productive bite. If all that pans out, a blue herring spawn — and early topwater bite — would play, should water temperatures rise to 65 degrees or more.
Santee Cooper Lakes, South Carolina; April 27-30
History: The Elite Series returns one year later to Santee Cooper, where last March Drew Cook went wire-to-wire with an amazing winning weight of 105 pounds. Cook spent the entire week doing what he does best, sight fishing for spawning largemouth. Other top finishers targeted bass in all phases of the spawn with a bite in play from offshore to ultra-shallow, clear water.
Analysis: The 2023 event comes three weeks later, with a postspawn bite likely in play by late April. With the bass headed in the same direction, that could mean productive fishing in migratory transition areas between the shallow creeks and the offshore areas.
Lay Lake, Alabama; May 11-14
History: There have been no recent B.A.S.S. tour-level events in May on Lake Lake.
Analysis: A postspawn bite is expected for the tournament, with largemouth and spotted bass anticipated to be along migratory transition areas in creeks and out on the Coosa River channel. A shad spawn is possible, and if so, that will create a first-light window of opportunity.
Sabine River, Texas; June 1-4
History: In 2021, winner Jason Christie won far up the gnarly Sabine River with 43-15, while runner-up Brock Mosley traveled 110 miles west to suburban Houston to fish productive canals. The remainder of the field fished a variety of cover in the swamps, bayous, channels and sloughs.
Analysis: If there is a level playing field on the schedule, this is it. The (Texas side) of the Sabine River is just part of the playing field as the vast backwater sloughs, bays, industrial canals and backwaters along the coast.
Lake St. Clair, Michigan, July 27-30
History: In 2020, Lake St. Clair showed out, as the Top 10 weights were above 80 pounds (winning weight: 86-7). The tournament was dominated by smallmouth, making those weights even more impressive. The winning area in 15-feet of water featured grassline edges with an abundance of baitfish. Similar areas produced for the top finishers, as did finessing soft plastics around manmade structures.
Analysis: St. Clair’s smallmouth population is healthy as ever, setting up the 2023 event for another productive tournament, even though one month later than the last visit.
Lake Champlain, New York, Aug. 17-20
History: Bryan Schmitt won the mid-July 2021 event landing 78 pounds with a catch made up mostly of largemouth (his specialty) with bonus smallmouth. Overall, the presence of baitfish along grassy flats and edges bordering deeper water fed the prevailing patterns.
Analysis: Champlain is healthy as ever, with similar patterns expected to play out for the 2023 event. As big as it is, the Inland Sea was mostly popular in 2021, due in part to its varied habitat that includes ideal largemouth areas.
St. Lawrence River, New York, Aug. 24-27
History: A rare stretch of calm, sunny weather and a super moon ignited the smallmouth, setting the stage for record breaking catches at the 2022 event. That led to a new all-smallmouth category created for the Bassmaster Century Club, as winner Jay Prezkurat and runner-up Cory Johnston both weighed more than 100 pounds. Prezekurat and other top finishers rightfully spent all four days on Lake Ontario, south of Chaumont Bay.
Analysis: Under normal conditions, gusty winds, rolling waves and all the nuances of fishing a wide-open Great Lake make navigation and boat positioning a challenge for all but the anglers accustomed to such scenarios. Like always, the wind factor will set the course for which playing field gets the most attention. Will it be the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, or a combination of both? Either way, another epic smallmouth event will be likely.