January 23, 2017
If you've ever dreamed of hitting the road to fish some of the top bass waters across the country, here's a primer on some places you want to consider. All of them offer good fishing action in the spring, as well as other close-by attractions to fill the time off the water. We'll start in the Northeast and work our way to the Midwest!
1. GOOSE POND NEW HAMPSHIRE
Located near Canaan in the central part of the state, this natural warm-water lake covers 625 acres, averages 10 feet deep, but has a maximum depth of 35 feet. The 6.3-mile shoreline is lightly developed and the rocky bottom of the pond is ideal habitat for smallmouth bass. The pond also gives up some largemouths.
Claim to Fame: Goose Pond yielded the New Hampshire state-record smallmouth of just slightly more than 7 pounds, 14 ounces.
Tips: Average ice-out is around the end of April on Goose Pond. After that the fishing is best up through June. Targeting rocky bottom areas or along the shoreline riprap with topwater twitch baits like the Rapala Minnow can draw vicious strikes from smallmouths. Also try probing the rock ledges on steeper shores with soft plastic baits.
Facilities: The college town of Hanover is a short drive to the west, offering an array of accommodations and eateries. A public boat ramp and picnic area are situated on the northeast side of the lake on Goose Pond Road.
2. SAMPSON POND MASSACHUSETTS
At just 310 acres in size, Sampson Pond near Carver in the eastern end of the state is noted for yielding some giant largemouths. In June of 2013 a 14-pound, 2-ounce lunker was caught and released on the lake.
Claim to Fame: Sampson Pond yielded the biggest largemouth ever taken in New England. That Massachusetts state-record fish weighed 15 pounds, 8 ounces.
Tips: The lake is shallow with only a 9-foot average depth and maximum depth of 14 feet. About 10 percent of the surface area becomes covered with emergent vegetation. Targeting that edge with stickbaits on the surface or plastic offerings on the bottom is a good bet for landing some 3- to 4-pounders.
Facilities: A wide variety of accommodations and hotels are available within a 10-mile radius of the pond. The town of Carver has a paved boat ramp on the south shore off of Main Street.
3. LAKE CHAMPLAIN NEW YORK, VERMONT
At 490 square miles of surface area, Champlain has every kind of smallmouth cover: rocks, weeds, docks and points from shallow to deep water. A huge forage base from alewives to young perch supports a large population of big bass.
Claim to Fame: The FLW has ranked Champlain in the top 5 bass destinations in the country. Bags hitting the 22-pound mark are common in tournaments.
Tips: By June the smallmouth anglers are in full force, but many fishermen like the fall action: baitfish move shallow and with them are packs of hungry smallies in 6 to 12 feet of water. Find flats or sloping points and hit them with spinnerbaits or jerkbaits. Cover some water and you have chances at 5-pounders.
Facilities: Plattsburg, N.Y., has great food and good hotels, including the Marine Village Cottages, which are right on the water and a mile or so from the boat ramp. The Westport Marina is also a great place to launch — you are in good water right off the ramp.
4. RAYSTOWN LAKE PENNSYLVANIA
Raysville Lake is in the mid-state region near Mount Union on the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River and is 30 miles long. The reservoir is noted as a springtime fishery, mostly due to the heavy boat traffic in the summer months.
Claim to Fame: Raystown is the largest lake situated entirely within the borders of the Keystone State, covering 8,300 acres.
Tips: The lake holds both largemouth and smallmouth bass, with 5-pounders of either species possible. For the largemouths, concentrate your efforts on the upper lake over rocky bottom flats from Mile Markers 22 up to 25. Buzzbaits are a good spring bait choice. The smallmouths are in the lower lake in 12 to 14 feet of water around Seven Points, or MM 3.
Facilities: Raystown has eight Corps of Engineers public boat ramps, along with several private marinas. Lake Raystown Resort and the Seven Points Marina both offer restaurants and boat rentals. A variety of overnight accommodations are available in the town of Huntingdon at the upper end of the impoundment.
5. PLEASANT HILL RESERVOIR OHIO
Located 2 miles south of Perrysville on the Ashland-Richmond County border, the lake spans 786 acres with 12.4 miles of shoreline. The lake's dam is on the Clear Fork Branch of the Mohican River.
Claim to Fame: Biologists consider Pleasant Hill as possibly the Buckeye State's best inland option for both large largemouth and smallmouth bass from a single destination.
Tips: When targeting largemouth bass, stick to the shallow upstream western end of the reservoir. Plastic worms fished around stumps or in the marshes of the western end of the lake work best. For the smallmouths, fishing jigs up to 35 feet deep in coves and on rocky ledges of the portion of the lower lake after it turns south is a good bet.
Facilities: A paved boat ramp is available in Pleasant Hill Lake Park on the north shore in Pleasant Hill Lake Park. The park is on Covert Road, just south of State Route 95. The site also has cabins, a campground, a convenience store and a snack bar.
6. PATOKA LAKE INDIANA
This 8,880-acre impoundment is an Army Corps of Engineers project on the river of the same name. The reservoir is in the south-central portion of the Hooser State and just south of the town of French Lick.
Claim to Fame: Patoka is Indiana's second largest lake and one of its most popular fishing and boating destinations.
Tips: The lake has a good forage base of sunfish that supports a healthy population of largemouth bass. These fish regularly turn up in the 3- to 5-pound range, but fish up to 8 pounds also are present. In the spring try spinnerbaits in shallow areas of the lake, but once the summer arrives, move out to creek ledges in old channel swings near shore and use big plastic worms.
Facilities: Patoka Lake has a total of 11 public boat ramps spread around the reservoir. Additionally, the Patoka Lake Marina & Lodging offers boat rentals, lodging, floating cabins, a restaurant and a marina store.
7. LAKE TAYLORVILLE ILLINOIS
This reservoir on the south fork of the Sagamon River is 30 miles southeast of Springfield. The lake is quite shallow, averaging just under 7 feet deep, as it stretches over an area of 1,286 surface acres. This habitat is ideal for largemouth bass.
Claim to Fame: Taylorville suffered a collapse of its fishery in the 1990s due to silting problems. Once fixed, the lake received stockings of 45,000 bass fry over the next decade.
Tips: Due to the shallow nature of the lake, action for largemouths is spread throughout the impoundment. Keys to finding the fish are locating blown-down trees along the shore, logs sticking up in coves or points running out to the old creek channel. Targeting those places with plastic worms, jigs or spinnerbaits is the best bet.
Facilities: Access to the lake is available in the Kiwanis and Optimists parks, each of which has a public boat ramp. Picnic areas also are offered in those locations. Fees are charged for boat launching.
8. LAKE CHARLEVOIX MICHIGAN
Lake Charlevoix is situated near the northern tip of the lower peninsula of Michigan, with the Boyne and Jordan rivers as its main inflows. This natural lake has an area of 17,260 acres, making it the third largest in the state.
Claim to Fame: The lake is a favorite fishing hole for pro bass circuit star Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, who loves to sight cast for Charlevoix's smallmouths.
Tips: Charlevoix is a smallmouth fishery that is full of 3- to 5-pound bronzebacks. Top areas of the lake for these fish are Hemingway Point, Horton Bay and the area around Advance on the main lake. On the North Arm also try Oyster Point and Two-Mile Point. Walking-the-dog lures in the clear water and going deeper with a Senko are two good tactics.
Facilities: The town of Charlevoix at the north end of the lake has a wide range of hotels, inns and bed & breakfasts, restaurants and the City Marina. There are five other public boat ramps on the south end of the lake.
9. WEST OKOBOJI LAKE IOWA
Situated in the northwest quadrant of the Hawkeye State, West Okoboji is one of the state's Great Lakes system. In 2015 Bassmasters rated the lake in the Top 100 for bass fishing in the nation. The water here spreads over 3,847 acres of Dickinson County terrain.
Claim to Fame: This glacier-formed natural lake gave up the Iowa state-record smallmouth bass. That 22.8-inch fish tipped the scales at 7 pounds, 12 ounces.
Tips: West Lake Okoboji holds both largemouth and smallmouth bass in good numbers. For the smallmouths in the spring, look for them over rocky points. One that is particularly good is Hiawatha Point. Also, topwater stickbaits walked around emergent vegetation can attract both smallies and largemouths.
Facilities: Triboji Beach offers a variety of options for accommodations, while Gull State Park on the west side of the lake has campgrounds and a host of activities for the entire family. The state also maintains three hard-surface boat ramps on the lake. One is on the east shore with the other two at the north and south ends.
10. LAKE MINNETONKA MINNESOTA
Covering 14,528 acres, Minnetonka is a natural lake that features 125 miles of shoreline. Located just 15 miles southwest of Minneapolis, this body of water is one of the state's most popular boating and fishing destinations.
Claim to Fame: Lake Minnetonka offered popular and plush hotels to the well-to-do beginning in the 1880s. It also was featured in the classic Prince movie "Purple Rain."
Tips: Minnetonka offers some of the best smallmouth action in Minnesota. The fish tend to hang around points, rock piles and over sandy flats during the spring and summer. Imitating the forage fish that support the bass population is a good tactic. Tossing small minnow-shaped crankbaits or jigs with soft plastic trailers usually turns the trick.
Facilities: Access to Minnetonka is excellent with the state maintaining eight concrete boat ramps and one dirt launch at various points around the lake. The nearby Twin Cities provide literally thousands of hotel rooms and hundreds of restaurant options.
11. GREEN BAY, LAKE SUPERIOR WISCONSIN
Green Bay is an arm off of Lake Michigan's western side, stretching south to the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin. If the area was not so closely associated with the sport of football, Green Bay's reputation for sport would be more tied to its great smallmouth bass fishery.
Claim to Fame: Green Bay is by far the largest body of water covered in this list of great bass waters. The bay is 120 miles long, from 10 to 20 miles wide, and covers 1,626 square miles.
Tips: The key to this smallmouth bass action is fishing the west-facing portion of the shore along the eastern side of the bay, from the city of Green Bay to north of Sturgeon Bay. The smallies are plentiful and get big. Five-pounders are common, especially in Sturgeon Bay, and fish up to 8 pounds are caught every summer. Lures that match the gobies that are the forage fish work best.
Facilities: A public boat ramp is located in the city of Green Bay on Bay Beach Road, just east of the Fox River. For access to Sturgeon Bay there's a ramp at the north end of Potawatomi State Park. The Green Bay and Door County areas have a host of eateries and hostel options.
12. LAKE OAHE NORTH & SOUTH DAKOTA
This impoundment on the Missouri River is truly an inland sea. It stretches 231 miles from Bismark, North Dakota, downriver to Pierre, South Dakota. The 370,000-acre lake has a shoreline of 2,250 miles.
Claim to Fame: Oahe is the 4th largest man-made reservoir in the U.S. and was named after the Oahe Indian Mission founded in Sioux country in 1874.
Tips: The smallmouth action on Lake Oahe is so good that Bassmaster consistently ranks the lake among the Top 100 in America. Look for the fish early in the spring on rocky points that drop off close to shore. Tossing lipless crankbaits is a good choice. Later as the summer arrives, go to deeper points, but continue to look for rock on which to fish deep-diving crankbaits.
Facilities: All told, the Army Corps of Engineers has 51 public use areas on the shores of Oahe. Most of these contain picnic areas, campgrounds and other facilities. Dozens of them also have paved boat ramps open to anglers.
13. LAKE MCCONAUGHY NEBRASKA
Located 9 miles north of Ogallala in the western portion of the state, Lake McConaughy is deep — it has a maximum depth of 142 feet. It also sports 76 miles of shoreline. Though best known for walleye fishing, the impoundment also offers overlooked largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Claim to Fame: McConaughy is the largest reservoir in the state of Nebraska. It is 22 miles long and covers 35,700 acres.
Tips: Smallmouths far outnumber largemouths on this reservoir. The best area for the largemouth, particularly during the May spawn is in the Clear Creek Waterfowl Area at the west end. For smallmouths, any rock piles or creek ledges in 10 to 12 feet of water should produce some strikes.
Facilities: The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission maintains seven concrete public boat ramp spaced around the lake. Eagle Canyon Hideaway offers log cabins, RV or tent camping and guide services on the south shore of the lake.
14. MILFORD LAKE KANSAS
An oddity for this list, Milford Lake has populations of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. The impoundment on the Republican River is an hour west of Topeka and immediately north of Junction City.
Claim to Fame: Milford is Kansas' largest man-made lake at 15,700 acres. It also produced the state-record smallmouth bass of 6.68 pounds.
Tips: From 2004 to 2010 the big smallmouths seemed to have disappeared from the lake, but they now are back. Target them around rocky bluffs using jig-and-grub combos, plastic worms in green pumpkin or black or Senkos. For largemouths look to the abundant flooded greenery in the summer months.
Facilities: Acorn Resort offers accommodations right on the lake, while 11 other recreation areas provide campgrounds. There are four marinas, five fee boat ramps and five free public ramps located on the lake as well.