The right choice

I hate conundrums. Typically, when it comes to difficult decisions, I’m pretty stellar at making the wrong one. Actually, that may be my superpower. Still, that’s precisely what we were facing the morning of May 9, 2022. We had just learned of the passing of Ray Scott. We were preparing to go to print with the July/August issue of your magazine, which always features the annual 100 Best Bass Lakes rankings. However, we knew that we needed to celebrate the life and accomplishments of the founder of B.A.S.S., a man who changed the trajectory of our sport. And that is precisely what we did. In order to dedicate the majority of the July/August issue to Ray, we had to push our annual rankings of America’s best bass fisheries to the issue you are holding in your hand.

This led to an unusual situation. All the work (which takes about two months) was done by May. The rankings seemed solid. However, there was an opportunity to collect more data or, at the very least, test the data we had received. Of course, we couldn’t fish all 100 lakes, but even limited verification would be beneficial. Luckily, I had trips planned to two of the fisheries on the rankings during the month of June. My first trip was to Lake Erie/Upper Niagara River.

I hadn’t fished this area in over seven years and had heard the smallmouth were coming back strong after a few years of average fishing. I hopped on a boat with Captain Frank Campbell, who has been guiding up there longer than I’ve been out of diapers. The wind was howling, so we launched in the river to avoid the giant swells of Erie. Our first stop was a riprap bank that protected a busy highway. I was casting a jerkbait and received immediate feedback. The first smallmouth was 3 pounds. As we drifted down that bank, primarily powered by the Niagara’s current, we landed another 15 fish up to 4 pounds. “Let’s try another spot,” Campbell said.

Our second spot was the mouth of a small marina downriver. It took three casts with the jerkbait to get bit. However, the next 100 casts yielded 70 smallmouth up to 5 1/2 pounds. It was the most amazing jerkbait bite I have ever experienced and made me believe that this fishery not only deserved its ranking, but should be a priority on every bass angler’s bucket list.

Two weeks later I was on Lake Champlain as a guest of the Pure Fishing folks to test their new products. I hadn’t fished this monster lake in over a decade. I remember tons of fish, but the smallmouth averaged 2 1/2 pounds, the largemouth 3 pounds. Well, the fish here have grown up. I shared the boat with two Elite Series pros. First was Hunter Shryock. Using forward-facing sonar, we hunted individual smallmouth on a flat with amazing results. We caught a dozen, averaging probably 3 1/2 pounds. When I joined Justin Atkins, we landed on a point that was loaded! He dropped down his Aqua-Vu camera and I saw what appeared to be 50 bass. We caught a dozen of them on drop shots. My two biggest both topped the 5-pound mark. Yes, Champlain is currently on fire and is well-deserving of its ranking. Honestly, if I hadn’t caught a single bass, I would want to fish this lake. Its pristine water and mountainous surroundings bring both peace and expectation to the angling experience. If you haven’t fished here, you need to.

Although it was amazing to verify a couple of lakes highly ranked this year, it was an Elite Series event held on the St. Lawrence River that made us alter the list. I’ll not go into detail here, as you will read about the results in a few pages. However, I truly believe the postponement of the rankings made the results stronger. Honoring Ray was the only right choice, and we witnessed a few bass fishing miracles to prove the point.