May 12, 2020
Bass—both largemouth and smallmouth—are America’s favorite fish species according to most surveys. These piscatorial critters have made themselves quite at home in lakes, rivers, streams and even farm ponds across America.
Where are the Top 10 spots to chase bass in the U.S.? To answer that question, it’s a good idea to turn to the professional anglers who know the fish—and the fisheries—better than most.
Lake St. Clair, Michigan
Kevin VanDam is no stranger to fishing the nation’s top bass waters, having won four Bassmaster Classics, seven B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year titles, 25 B.A.S.S. tournaments and several Major League Fishing Cups among his many career accolades.
What lake is No. 1 in the mind of professional bass angling’s G.O.A.T., or greatest of all time?
“Hands down, my number one lake in the nation right now would be Lake St. Clair,” said VanDam of the 430-square-mile water body lying between Detroit, Mich. and Windsor, Ontario, Canada. “It’s a phenomenal fishery in the spring, summer, and on into fall for both numbers and size of smallmouths.”
VanDam cites past tournament experiences along with family fishing trips as the fuel for his choice of St. Clair.
“I fished there with my two boys right after I got back from Lake Fork (on the Bass Pro Tour in the spring of 2020),” said VanDam. “We caught 150 bass in a seven-hour day. We had about 50 go over the four-pound mark and probably 15 to 20 of those were over five pounds. I’ve had so many great days there at various times of the year, but that was certainly one of the best.”
Lake Okeechobee, Florida
Like VanDam, Edwin Evers is one of the most successful professional bass anglers of all-time, having won the 2016 Classic, 10 other B.A.S.S. events, and several MLF titles including the 2019 REDCREST championship as well as the 2020 points title on the Bass Pro Tour.
And in his mind, the Talala, Okla. resident says it’s tough to beat Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida.
“It’s a fish factory,” said Evers of the vast 734-square-mile natural water body. “It’s just awesome, year in and year out. There may be more bigger fish in that lake than just about any other one in the country.”
While the pros love Okeechobee for its tournament glory, it’s also a pretty good spot for those simply wanting a good fishing trip.
“A lot of tournament lakes we go to, you need to be able to put a bait into a tight area to have a real chance to catch a giant,” said Evers. “But that’s not the case at Okeechobee. If you’re a new fisherman, you can go with a guide, put a live shiner under a balloon, cast it out and let it swim up into a tight place, and have a real chance to catch a 10 pounder.”
Lake Fork, Texas
Kelly Jordon, the first pro to win tour-level tournament events in each of the sport’s three main circuits (Bassmaster Elite Series, FLW Tour, and MLF), is quite fond of Lake Fork, a reservoir he used to guide on back in the 1990s.
Certainly, no lake in Texas has the lunker history that the 27,264-acre Fork does. Its legacy includes Barry St. Clair’s current state record of 18.18 pounds along with 260 ShareLunkers (bass that weigh 13 pounds or more). Add in seven of the state’s Top 10, 16 of the state’s Top 25, and 30 of the state’s Top 50 and Fork is tough to beat.
“It takes a bass weighing 15.45 pounds to get onto Texas’ ‘Top 50’ list and Fork has 30 of those spots,” said Jordon, who once lost a Fork largemouth that he estimated at nearly 20 pounds.
With plenty of 8-, 9-, and 10-pound fish caught each year—see Major League Fishing’s recent visit to Fork during the spring of 2020—Jordon says the lake remains one of the best spots to fish in the big bass-rich Lone Star State.
“Fork grows giant bass,” he said. “Always has and it still does today.”
Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Texas
Another legendary bass water is 114,500-acre Sam Rayburn Reservoir near Lufkin, Texas. With 27 ShareLunkers to its credit, the vast lake saw a 15-pounder caught in the spring of 2020 along with a five-fish tournament bag limit that tipped the scales to an amazing 49.31 pounds.
“If you want an unbelievable place to catch numbers and size, I think Sam Rayburn is right there (with the best of them),” said VanDam. “It’s been on an upswing the last five years with lots of hydrilla coming back into the lake and good water levels that have produced good spawns. Sam Rayburn has been the shining star in Texas the last few years. Amistad is good, Falcon is good, and everybody knows about Fork, but I think that Sam Rayburn is the top one right now.”
Toledo Bend Reservoir, Texas/Louisiana
Another lunker factory rich in history, Evers points to Toledo Bend as another top choice.
“It’s a fish factory from one end to the other,” said Evers of the 181,600-acre reservoir that straddles the Texas/Louisiana border. “It’s a relatively shallow lake, which mean that even out in the middle, there is usable water for bass in the 10-, 15-, 20-, and 25-foot depths. So, you can fish for bass from the middle of the lake to the backs of the creeks, anything from offshore structure to shallow grass and timber, and (catch a pile of good fish).”
Table Rock Lake, Missouri/Arkansas
For VanDam, one of the more underrated bass venues in America is 43,100-acre Table Rock Lake in the Ozarks of southwestern Missouri and northwestern Arkansas.
“It’s one of my favorite lakes,” said KVD. “Because of my sponsorship relation with Bass Pro Shops, I’ve spent so much time there for promotions and I’ve fished it a lot in competitive events. It’s a very dynamic fishery and most days, you catch largemouths, smallmouths, and spotted bass too.”
VanDam rates the lake as incredibly good in the spring and very solid in the mid and late autumn months too.
“Really, from mid-October through the end of May, there isn’t a bad time to fish there,” said VanDam. “They’ve had a series of high water years over the last 10 years and a bunch of great spawns. That’s good for the bass and the shad they feed on.”
Grand Lake, Oklahoma
Known officially as Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees, Evers has a soft spot in his heart for the 46,500-acre reservoir near Groves, Okla. After all, it’s the spot where he weighed a final day 29-pound, 3-ounce limit to overtake his angling pal Jason Christie en route to capturing the 2016 Classic in dramatic come-from-behind fashion.
“The fishing there is just phenomenal,” said Evers of a lake that will serve as the site of the 2021 Bass Pro Tour REDCREST championship event. “It has so much good habitat and there are so many boat docks on it. In fact, there are a lot of bass that spawn every year behind those boat docks, fish that don’t get messed with because you just can’t get to them.”
Clear Lake, California
For Jordon, perhaps the most visually appealing bass lake in the U.S. is California’s Clear Lake, a 68-square-mile natural water body situated near mountains, wine-rich valleys, and San Francisco.
“There’s lots of everything there in terms of habitat,” said Jordon, who claimed a Bassmaster Elite Series “Century Belt” when he weighed in 100+ pounds of bass during a tournament stop there. “There are docks, shallow creeks, rocks, grass, and the water is relatively clear. And it’s absolutely loaded with bass and a lot of big ones at that. It’s kind of like Lake Fork, in that you are always thinking that on your next cast, you’ve got a chance to catch a 10-pounder.”
Guntersville Lake, Alabama
Site of the 2020 Bassmaster Classic won by Hank Cherry, Guntersville is known for two things—grass and bass—and a lot of both.
“There are a lot of incredible fisheries on the whole Tennessee River chain, but Guntersville is a real Mecca for bass fishermen, just a phenomenal lake,” said Jordon. “It occasionally kicks out some fish in the 13- or 14-pound range, but it has just great numbers of 3- to 5-pounders.”
With massive amounts of grass, underwater structure (topography) consisting of points, ridges, humps, and river channel bars, the amount of habitat is amazing according to Jordan.
“It’s about as fertile a fishery as there is for sheer numbers of bass that it kicks out,” he said.
Lake Toho, Florida
For the last great American bass water to consider, how about 22,700-acre Lake Tohopekaliga near Kissimmee, Fla. Because when the fishing is right on Toho, situated near Orlando’s Disney World complex, the action is northing short of magical.
Want proof? Well, consider the Jan. 17, 2001 haul of Major League Fishing’s Dean Rojas, then competing on the Bassmaster Elite Series. As the spawn peaked on the shallow, vegetation filled lake in central Florida, Rojas had a legendary day, bringing in a five-bass limit that weighed 45 pounds, 2 ounces.
And even that doesn’t top the outing that Larry “Coach” Joseph enjoyed back in 1979 when he caught a five-fish limit that weighed a staggering 54.95 pounds. The photo of his phenomenal catch hangs in the Big Toho Marina shop, showing off bass that weighed 10.1, 10.2, 10.4, 11.75, and 12.5 pounds!
Does Toho cough up 10-pounders on every trip? No. But on three mid-summer trips to the lake during the ICAST Media Cup event, I’ve seen two fish weighed in from colleagues that have tipped the scales at more than 8 pounds. And that’s in the middle of July, a hot month that isn’t always the best time to fish in Florida.
But when you’re fishing on one of America’s top bass lakes, anything is possible, no matter what the time of year happens to be!