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Best Bets to Catch a Record Fish for 12 Freshwater Species

Head to these hot fishing spots if you're looking to make the record books.

Best Bets to Catch a Record Fish for 12 Freshwater Species

In the U.S., Lake Michigan and the Little Red River in Arkansas are good bets for record-size brown trout. (Shutterstock image)


If you want to set a new record for a particular species of fish, the following suggestions might help you in your quest. Though some waters are famous for their propensity to grow big fish, other rivers and lakes off the beaten path also have the right stuff. We’ve included them, too. What constitutes a likely record producer? A lot depends on habitat, food sources, predation by other fish and water quality … and, of course, angler expertise.

LARGEMOUTH BASS

largemouth bass
The world record for largemouth bass is 22 pounds, 4 ounces, held by two anglers. (Shutterstock image)
  • Best Bet: The world record is 22 pounds, 4 ounces and is shared by Lake Biwa in Japan and Montgomery Lake in southern Georgia. There’s probably bigger bass swimming in Lake Biwa, but Montgomery Lake has pretty well had it as a lunker fishery. Set your sights on California to deliver the next world record. Take your pick: Castaic Lake near Los Angeles, Dixon Lake near Escondido or Casitas Lake north of Ventura. All of them have given up 20-pound-plus bass. Even so, they’ve been quiet lately, with only a few bass over 10 pounds being caught from them in recent years.
  • Sleeper: Lake Fork in Texas is the hot spot for numbers of jumbo bass, but O.H. Ivie, about 55 miles west of San Angelo, has pretty much replaced it as the source of big bass possibly approaching record size. Ivie gave up a couple of 17-pounders in 2022 and 2023, plus a few 16-pounders in the same time frame. Most of Fork’s biggest bass were caught in the 1990s.
Casitas Lake
California’s Casitas Lake has been a top target for anglers looking to break the largemouth world record. (Shutterstock image)

SMALLMOUTH BASS

  • Best Bet: It’s a three-way tie among Pickwick Lake (where Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi meet), Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. None stands out above the rest. Any backwoods lake in the Canadian provinces of Ontario or Quebec also is a suitable candidate for greatness.
  • Sleeper: Dale Hollow’s heyday is long past, as no record-size fish have been caught there since 1986 (10 pounds, 8 ounces). Still, whatever grew big bass at Dale Hollow back in the glory days of David Hayes (who caught the world record of 11 pounds, 15 ounces in 1955) still might yield a 10-pound-plus smallmouth.

SPOTTED BASS

  • Best Bet: This is tricky, because most of those huge northern California bass known as “spotted” are actually Alabama bass, a separate subspecies that tends to grow larger on average. The IGFA keeps up with true spotted bass, and it recognizes a 2-pound, 4-ounce spot from the Trinity River in Texas as being the record holder. There are several vacancies in line-class records for this subspecies, too. The Trinity is a good starting point.
  • Sleeper: Various small rivers in eastern and central Kentucky, southern Ohio and northern Georgia are capable of producing record spots. Just remember, you might have to get the spot’s genetics tested by a biologist before it can be counted as a record.

BLUE CATFISH

  • Best Bet: Virginia has a lock on big blues, as the 143-pound world record caught from Kerr Lake in 2011 would attest, plus the 10 line-class records the state has racked up.
  • Sleeper: Virginia’s James River shadows Kerr Lake as a producer of the most record-size fish in various line classes. Otherwise, line-class records are scattered around the South, including Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida, but nothing approaching the current world record. Lake Texoma, astraddle the Oklahoma-Texas state line, gave up an Okie state-record 98-pound blue.
blue catfish
Santee-Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina produced the current world-record channel catfish of 58 pounds. (Shutterstock image)

CHANNEL CATFISH

  • Best Bet: We think of channel catfish as being as American as apple pie, but the Red River in Manitoba holds a bunch of line-class records. Whether Canadian waters can top 58 pounds, the current record from Santee-Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina, remains to be seen.
  • Sleeper: Channel catfish are seemingly everywhere in Midwestern rivers, though not always in record class. The St. Croix River in Wisconsin is a likely candidate to nudge Santee-Cooper out of first place. Its best channel cat weighed 45 pounds.

FLATHEAD CATFISH

  • Best Bet: Most Southern states have each scored one line-class record, but Kansas rules with four. The world record of 123 pounds came from Elk City Reservoir in Independence, Kan.
  • Sleeper: Lake Lewisville, Texas, is a catfish haven and in the running with a 91-pound, 4-ounce whiskerhead. Otherwise, reservoirs and rivers in Kansas, and the Cape Fear River in North Carolina, are known for jumbo flatheads.

CUTTHROAT TROUT

  • Best Bet: This is easy; the current world record of 41 pounds was hauled from Pyramid Lake north of Reno, Nev., in 1925. In fact, a dozen men’s and women’s line class records have come from there.
  • Sleeper: There are three exceptions to the Pyramid Lake supremacy. The Salmon and Lochsa rivers in Idaho and an unidentified lake in Wyoming. Each has scored line-class or tippet records. Any stream in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho or Colorado is prime cutthroat water.

RAINBOW TROUT

rainbow trout
Saskatchewan and Argentina seem to be the most likely places to find a world-record rainbow trout. (Shutterstock image)
  • Best Bet: Here’s another no-brainer. The 48-pound world record, plus seven line-class records, have been caught at Lake Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan since the current century began.
  • Sleeper: Whether you’re using conventional tackle or fly tackle, you’ll get your line stretched at Jurassic Lake in Argentina. Stateside, the Santa Ana River lakes in California have some toads.

BROWN TROUT

  • Best Bet: These fish seem to flourish wherever they call home. The world record of 44 pounds, 5 ounces was set in 2020 in the Ohau Canal in New Zealand. In the U.S., Lake Michigan has a slight edge over other fisheries.
  • Sleeper: Record-size brownies have been caught from Arkansas’ Little Red River (40-4) the White River (a 20-12 line-class record), Lake Michigan (41-8) and various other fishing holes in New Zealand and the Great Lakes region.

CRAPPIE

crappie
Clear Lake in California, Grenada Lake in Mississippi and Lake Fork in Texas all produce huge crappies. (Shutterstock image)
  • Best Bet: No contest; Clear Lake in California is loaded with jumbo-size papermouths. The state record 4-pound, 5-ounce black crappie came from Clear in February 2021. Incidentally, the current world-record crappie weighed almost 5 1/2 pounds and was caught from a small pond in Paint Rock, Tenn., in 2018.
  • Sleeper: Crappies weighing more than 4 pounds apiece are caught on a regular basis from Grenada Lake in Mississippi. Lake Fork, east of Dallas, is a top pick, too.

BLUEGILL

bluegill
One of the oldest world records in the book is the bluegill entry, dating to 1950. (Shutterstock image)
  • Best Bet: Wet a line in any of the Tennessee Valley Authority lakes or Toledo Bend between Texas and Louisiana. Good luck; this farmboy favorite represents one of the oldest records in the book and perhaps the hardest to top. In April 1950, T.S. Hudson caught a 4-pound, 12-ounce bluegill from one of the two Ketona Lakes north of Birmingham, Ala., to set the mark.
  • Sleeper: Your favorite pond or lake, especially one that receives a steady supply of fish food to supplement the natural food chain.

MUSKELLUNGE

  • Best Bet: Just pack your bags and head for various lakes or rivers in Ontario, starting with Georgian Bay. Remoteness of the fishery is a factor when it comes to finding big muskies.
  • Sleeper: A few lakes in northern Michigan, New York, Minnesota and Pennsylvania are known for big muskies as well. Try Mille Lacs in Minnesota, the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania, Lake Bellaire in Michigan and the St. Lawrence River in New York.

  • Note: This feature was published in the February 2024 issue of Game & Fish magazine. Click to subscribe.



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