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April 12, 2017

America’s Best Bass Fishing Lakes and Ponds

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According to the American Sportfishing Association, 60 million Americans identify themselves as fishermen, a number that includes license-buying adults age 16 and older, along with youngsters, seniors and others who are license-exempt.

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service places the fishermen number at 33 million but excludes youth, seniors and other license-exempt anglers. When the 16-and-under crowd is added, USFWS estimates jump to around 45 million.

By either count it’s a large and diverse group. Recreational fishing is one of the few activities that crosses all social, economic, age, gender and ethnic lines. The fish don’t care what you look like or how much money you have.

Although anglers are united in passion for their sport, they’re rarely in agreement when the subject is best fishing spots.

Black bass — primarily largemouth and smallmouth — are the most sought-after game fish in America; the target of more than 11 million fishermen who, according to reams of research compiled by federal fish and wildlife officials, annually spend a collective “176 million days” trying to catch a bass. They also spend billions of dollars to do so.

So, where are the top spots for bass? Conventional angling wisdom says the best place to go fishing is the place you can most readily reach, and while there is truth in this sage advice, some spots are more productive than others.

I queried touring bass fishing professionals for their top fishing spots. Opinions varied, sometimes widely, but according to the guys who fish for a living, five can’t-miss locales for bass (largemouth and/or smallmouth) include, in no particular order:

Lake Champlain

This gem of the northeast may come as a surprise to anglers who view black bass as a southern or regional pursuit. Champlain is a long (120 miles), narrow (12 miles at the widest point) and deep (average 65 feet but plunges to 400 feet) natural lake that shares the border between upper New York and Vermont before spilling to Quebec. It covers more than 280,000 acres and is generally regarded as one of the most diverse and prolific bass fisheries in North America.

“Champlain is my personal favorite,” said Texan and veteran touring pro Clark Wendlandt, who has fished Champlain numerous times and has pocketed more than $2 million in career earnings. “You can catch both largemouth and smallmouth. The setting is rural with great mountain scenery. It’s a gigantic lake and you can’t go wrong anywhere on it. If I were planning a (fishing) vacation this would be my first pick.”

“This place is one of the most fun fish catching places I’ve ever been,” added Alton Jones Jr., another Texas-based pro. “It’s not abnormal to catch over one hundred bass in a single day.”

More info: lclt.org/about-lake-champlain/lake-champlain-facts.

Lake Okeechobee

This Florida jewel has been surrendering bags of bass for generations. It covers 730 square miles (about half the size of the state of Rhode Island), making it the largest freshwater lake in Florida and one of the largest in the United States.

It is also saucer-shallow with an average depth of 9 feet and harbors astounding numbers of very large largemouth bass.

“Incredible numbers of fish,” said Jameson Lecon, a 32-year-old paramedic from Ohio and weekend tournament angler who occasionally makes his way to Florida’s landmark bass producer. “And on any cast it could be a giant.”

More info: myfwc.com/fishing/freshwater/sites-forecast/s/lake-okeechobee.

Falcon Lake

Falcon straddles the U.S.-Mexico border on the Rio Grande River about 40 miles east of Laredo, Texas, in Zapata and Starr counties. The 83,654-acre lake was impounded 62 years ago and, thanks to its relative isolation, for decades was legendary with locals but largely remained under the bass fishing radar.

No longer.

“Falcon Lake would be (my) No. 1,” said Denny Brauer, who retired in 2012 after a 37-year pro career that included being the first professional bass angler to earn a spot on the Wheaties cereal box and appearances on Late Night with David Letterman. “Falcon is a great shallow or deep water fishery and gives up a lot of big fish.”

Falcon has also been the scene of some isolated criminal activity that has victimized fishermen and recreational boaters, including shooting deaths in 2010 and 2016.

More info: tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/falcon.

Toledo Bend

There is no shortage of fishing pressure on this famed, sprawling, 185,000-acre Sabine River impoundment that shares the Texas-Louisiana border.

No shortage of big bass, either, according to veteran bass pro Zell Rowland.

“It’s one of the top lakes in the country right now for largemouth bass,” he said.

More info: tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/toledo_bend.

Sam Rayburn Reservoir

Located in Jasper County, Texas, 114,500-acre Sam Rayburn might lack the mystique of Falcon, the glamour of Champlain, the history of Okeechobee or the gloating reputation of Toledo Bend.

But it’s got it where it counts.

“Rayburn has been spitting out bags of fish with regularity,” said Wendlandt. “It a big lake with a ton to offer. People catch fish both deep and shallow.”

“The sheer number of bass per acre is phenomenal,” added Texas-based guide and tournament pro Ray Hanselman. “The bass are easy to catch at any experience level.”

More info: tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/sam_rayburn.

Here are some honorable mentions from our panel:

• Lake Fork. This 24,264-acre lake has held Texas bragging rights for 26 years. It produced the currently state record largemouth bass, an 18.18-pound brute. tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/fork

• Guntersville Lake. Located on the Tennessee River system in northwest Alabama. 68,000 acres. A popular tournament trail stop and proven bass producer. guntersvillelakeinfo.com

• Lake Erie. Erie is the shallowest, most southern and fourth largest of the Great Lakes. It is also arguably the most productive fishery. “Tremendous numbers of smallmouth in the 4 to 6-pound range,” according to bass pro Mark Davis. great-lakes.net/lakes/ref/eriefact.html

• Kentucky Lake. This lowland reservoir is the final and largest impoundment on the Tennessee River. Its 160,309 surface acres spill across the Kentucky-Tennessee border and make it the largest manmade reservoir east of the Mississippi River.

“Kentucky (Lake) is known for consistently having 4 and 5-pound bass with the occasional 10-pounder,” said bass tournament veteran and television host Shaw Grigsby.

“The reason this lake is so good,” added Indiana-based pro Bill McDonald, “is that it has everything in it. Grass. Rocks. Wood. And you can fish it anyway you want, deep or shallow.” kentuckylake.org

• Clear Lake. California’s largest natural freshwater lake, Clear Lake covers approximately 68 square miles and is generally considered to be the most productive bass fishery on the West Coast. And one of the prettiest.

“Beautiful scenery,” said tournament veteran Mark Menendez. “And a chance at a double-digit bass on any cast.” co.lake.ca.us/Page2593.aspx

• Lake St. Clair. While not officially a Great Lake, 162-square-mile St. Clair is part of the Lake Erie basin. Extremely shallow (average depth is 10 feet), St. Clair is a proven smallmouth producer.

“It has the best smallmouth fishing around,” said Bill McDonald. “It’s not a huge body of water and it’s pretty easy to get on fish.” great-lakes.net/lakes/stclair.html

• Mille Lacs Lake. This large (207 square miles) shallow natural lake is located about 100 miles north of Minneapolis and is a smallmouth bass lodestone.

“The most incredible smallmouth bass fishery I have ever fished,” said Shaw Grigsby. “At Mille Lacs, a 3-pound (smallmouth) is a small bass.” dnr.state.mn.us/millelacslake/index.html

Our panel also named some hidden gems:

• Lake Jordon. Approximately 6,800 acres impounded on the Coosa River in Elmore County, Ala., and packed with hefty spotted bass, according to Mark Menendez.

“Spots” are sometimes viewed with a hint of disdain by some bass fishing purists. But not Menendez.

“At Jordon you have a chance at a 6-pound spotted bass or five spotted bass bag that weighs 25 pounds,” he said. “It’s a special lake with structure and cover.” outdooralabama.com/lake-jordan

• Lake Chickamauga. Impounded on the upper Tennessee River, Chickamauga floods about 35,000 acres. The rich food base fuels the bass fishery.

“(Chickamauga) has been incredible over the past couple of years,” said Clark Wendlandt. “It also has a lot to offer. Shallow grass. A lot of wood, docks and deep ledges. And an incredible shad population and it spreads out over a large area.” lake-maps.com/lakeinfo/tennessee/chickamauga/info.htm


Copyright 2017 USA Today. All rights reserved. From http://www.usatoday.com. By Gary Garth, Special for USA Today.
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