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Fishing Destinations: Bucketmouth Bucket List

A handful of private lakes across the South provide serious bass anglers with the chance to catch the fish of a lifetime.

Fishing Destinations: Bucketmouth Bucket List

STREAMSONG RESORT: Golf might get top billing at this popular central-Florida resort, but the bass fishing is world-class, too. (Photo by Ken Duke)

I dream of giant bass. The fact you're reading this tells me that instead of counting sheep each night, you, too, count largemouths and fantasize about double-digit lunkers.

For most of us, dreaming is as far as it goes. On the all-too-rare occasions when we can slip away for a little fishing, it's typically to waters that we know hold few giants, get lots of fishing pressure and make the news only when there's a mishap at the ramp on Memorial Day weekend.

And while that's convenient and often the best we can do, we want more than a longshot. We want to go somewhere big bass are proverbially "jumping in the boat," where a weekend angler can "catch fish like the pros" and where no one ever says, "You shoulda been here yesterday." Those places do exist, and they're closer than you think. That's the good news. The bad news is that they're private—and they're not cheap.

World-class fishing on carefully managed private waters is a luxury—especially when you add comfortable accommodations and good food. The owners of resorts with such offerings know it and price the experience accordingly. Nevertheless, we all deserve a bit of pampering from time to time, and what better way to get it than on the water chasing the fish of our dreams?


If you're ready to break out the credit card and treat yourself to world-class fishing, here are eight spots to consider.


SOUTH BUCKET LIST
BIENVILLE PLANTATION: Well-appointed lodging and amenities at this resort in northern Florida will make your time off the water as enjoyable as your time on it. (Photo by Ken Duke)

BIENVILLE PLANTATION

  • White Springs, Florida
  • 386-397-1989; bienville.com
  • Biggest bass on record: 15 lb. 11 oz.

Bienville is one of America's most renowned trophy bass fishing destinations. With a dozen lakes (reclaimed phosphate pits) covering more than 4,000 surface acres, there's a lot of water to choose from. Pretty much everyone in the bass-fishing industry has experienced the charm of Bienville Plantation at one time or another. In fact, you've probably seen anglers hook up with Bienville largemouths from the comfort of your couch on a Saturday morning. Countless fishing shows have filmed there over the years, and with good reason.

Bienville caters to individual sportsmen as well as families and corporations. Along with stellar guided bass fishing, the resort offers kayak fishing, alligator hunting, skeet shooting, fine dining and well-appointed lodging. The cabins are large, luxurious and comfortable, each featuring wood-burning fireplaces, satellite TV, wireless internet, a full kitchen and five bedrooms with two double beds and a private bath in each room.

Meals in the main dining room are nothing short of gourmet, and the well-stocked bar is a welcome stop following a day on the water. If you're running low on whatever baits are producing, just stop by the resort's well-stocked pro shop for more.


SOUTH BUCKET LIST
GROSSE SAVANNE LODGE: Aside from bass fishing, guests at this resort in southwestern Louisiana enjoy inshore saltwater fishing, skeet and alligator and waterfowl hunting. (Photo by Ken Duke)

GROSSE SAVANNE LODGE

  • Lake Charles, Louisiana
  • 337-598-2357; grossesavanne.com
  • Biggest bass on record: About 12 lb.

When I ran into former Bassmaster Elite Series pro Dennis Tietje at Grosse Savanne, where he now works as the host, he told me, "I traded the ‘Elite' life for the elite life." A few days at the southwest Louisiana resort were all the explanation I needed.

Not only was the fishing outstanding (in one particularly memorable six-cast stretch I caught five bass that would have totaled well over 20 pounds), but the food may have been even better. The lodge is big and comfortable, and the outdoor opportunities extend well beyond bass fishing. There's also inshore saltwater fishing, alligator and waterfowl hunting, a skeet range and eco tours. The place is a gorgeous reminder that Louisiana is truly a sportsman's paradise.


Grosse Savanne has five lakes that cover about 1,100 surface acres, plus a marsh area that covers 5,000 more. The bass here are hefty and plentiful, plus a new lake or two that will be stocked with pure Florida bass promise some future giants.

HEARTLAND 10-10 RANCH

  • Marshall, Texas
  • 318-455-4808; heartland1010.com
  • Biggest bass on record: 15 lb. 14 oz.

The two tens in this ranch's name refer to 10-pound bass and 10-point bucks, so you know their focus is on the right stuff. In fact, the fishing is so good that professional bass legend Denny Brauer leaves his home on Lake Amistad—one of the best public bass waters in the world—to fish there.

Heartland features four lakes totaling 220 acres, and Brauer says it's not just a great spot to potentially hook into the bass of a lifetime, but also the perfect place to learn a new technique. With lots of bites from big fish, you will learn fast.

SOUTH BUCKET LIST
LEAVELLWOOD: If you're thinking of a paying a visit to this western Alabama lodge, keep in mind they shut the bass fishing down during July and August. (Photo by Ken Duke)

LEAVELLWOOD

  • Eutaw, Alabama
  • 205-372-2323; leavellwood.com
  • Biggest bass on record: About 15 lb.

Since it opened in 1998, Leavellwood has hosted more than 30 television fishing programs. With three lakes totaling just over 100 surface acres, Leavellwood's fisheries are small but mighty. They offer bass fishing from March through June, and then from September until November 15. This takes the pressure off the Micropterus population during the heat of summer, when mortality can be high. Your best shot at the bass of a lifetime here will be in the early part of the year.

P-ARROW PLANTATION

  • Livingston, Alabama
  • 205-499-8000; parrow.net
  • Biggest bass on record: About 15 lb.

P-Arrow Plantation has been open to paying customers for 20 years, but it's been in the Pruitt family for about 50. In that time, the eight fishing lakes covering roughly 110 acres have been carefully managed for outstanding fishing.

The best time to go if you're targeting a lunker is March through April or October. The former is no surprise—pre-spawn and spawn bass fishing is always best for big fish—but the latter is a testament to fall productivity on plantation waters.

STREAMSONG RESORT

Golf is the big attraction at Streamsong Resort; they have three of the top 50 courses in the country. With most guests focused on the links, that helps to take the pressure off the bass, which grow big in the waters of this central-Florida gem.

The lake is actually three reclaimed phosphate pits that are connected by canals, and it covers just 100 surface acres, but it's good enough that it's been the site of several television programs in recent years. That's impressive since Streamsong is the newest of the entries here, opening in 2014. The resort also offers a spa, sporting clays and archery. And since Streamsong's focus is on golf rather than fishing, you'll want to coordinate your trip with their director of recreation, Tyler Ramsdell, to ensure you're lined out for lunkers.

SOUTH BUCKET LIST
WOODS-N-WATER: This southern Georgia outfit offers excellent fishing on five separate private ponds. (Photo by Ken Duke)

WOODS-N-WATER

Blaine Burley, owner of Woods-N-Water, is a wildlife management specialist and recognized expert in the whitetail deer-hunting world. He's also good at finding and leasing big bass waters for his lodge customers, which he's been doing for 25 years.

These waters include five ponds ranging from three to 10 acres in size across four counties in south Georgia. Just get yourself to Woods-N-Water and they'll handle the rest. They provide boats, trolling motors and a limited guide service. The waters have no launch ramps and are strictly private.

LA PERLA RANCH

La Perla has set its sights on growing the next world-record largemouth bass. So far, the best they've produced was a specimen that weighed in at 14.3 pounds. That's eight pounds short of the hallowed mark, but a personal best for all but the most fortunate anglers.

Will La Perla be able to produce a record largemouth? The odds might be against them, but wouldn't you like to be there if it happens?

SOUTH BUCKET LIST
Here's what to keep in mind to net your personal-best bass. (Photo by Ken Duke)

KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE

If there's a caveat to luxury bass resorts, it's that the food and accommodations are often so good they take the edge off your angling. By all means, partake in the amenities—after all, you're paying for them—but don't lose sight of the reason you ponied up the big bucks to begin with.

Another occasional issue is that the action can be fast—but for small fish. And while small fish (anything less than five pounds) are fun, they're not the reason you go to one of these spots, nor will they fill that empty space above your mantle. By the way, you'll need a fiberglass replica of a giant for that—these resorts are catch-and-release only.

To net your personal best, keep two things in mind. The first is the timing of your visit. Pre-spawn and spawn periods represent your best chance at a leviathan. That's when big females are full of roe and shallow enough to be enticed by a well-placed lure.

Second, use big-fish baits like jigs, large swimbaits or even live bait. Bring beefy rods, reels with smooth drags and stout line. Leave the finesse stuff at home.

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