Bass nuts are some of the most fanatical fishermen out there. They’ll pack their bags and drive flat across the country to fish a hot bass lake without batting an eye—and almost always say it’s worth it. I recently spoke with Field & Stream’s resident bass fanatic Derek Horner to get his perspective on the best places to rip lips on largemouth and smallmouth bass in North America. If you live in or near one of them, you’re in luck. If not, pack your bags. It’s time for a road trip.
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1) Okeechobee, Florida
The Sunshine State is the capital for U.S. bass fishing—and Lake Okeechobee is its crown jewel. With a surface area of 730 square miles, the lake itself offers a lifetime of bass fishing, not to mention the ponds, canals, and creeks in the area brimming with largemouths. Most bass anglers on Lake Okeechobee employ either live shiners or artificials—topwater frogs are especially popular. The City of Okeechobee is a small outpost of around 5,000 people about 1000 miles south of Orlando. If you’re serious about bass fishing in Florida, it’s the place to be.
2) Guntersville, Alabama
The 69,000-acre Lake Guntersville is a famed bass fishery situated in Alabama along the Tennessee River. It’s a massive body of water that’s considered one of the best bass fishing destinations in the south—with all kinds of prime habitats from hydrilla and milfoil grass to steep ledges and shallow sloughs. A boat is crucial for anglers here to cover water and get to the fish—and chase some of the lake’s true lunkers. Most anglers focus on thick cover and breaklines when targeting big bass here. Guntersville, Alabama is a small city on a peninsula that’s literally surrounded by the lake. So regardless of where you are in town, you don’t have to go far to wet a line.
3) Clayton, New York
The St. Lawrence River is the only river on this list—and it’s hands-down one of the most legendary bass fishing destinations in North America. The St. Lawrence offers decent largemouth bass fishing, but it’s world-renowned for its smallmouth. The river flows to the Atlantic Ocean from Lake Ontario and one of the best places for anglers to fish it is from the small municipality of Clayton, New York, which is a true fishing village. Summer is primetime for bronzebacks, which are found throughout the river. The spawn takes place in early summer along island points and mainline shores. The fish typically push out to deeper structure as the summer progresses.
4) Dayton, Tennessee
Chickamauga Lake is another impoundment on the Tennessee River renowned for its bass fishing. The 59-mile-long lake is known as the “Land of the Giants” for the numerous giant 10-plus-pound Florida-strain largemouth bass that haunt its depths. And, according to recent electrofishing surveys, big fish are becoming more common in the lake. Dayton, Tennessee, is considered the “Bass Fishing Capital of the South” because of its close proximity to the lake.
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5) Quitman, Texas
The Lone Star State is a clear contender for being one of the bass fishing states in the U.S. and Lake Fork is its best lake. According to Texas Parks & Wildlife, restrictive harvest regs, stocking of Florida-strain largemouths, and abundant habitat make the lake perfect for growing jumbo bass. Around 65 percent of the Lone Star State’s 50 biggest bass were caught here as well as the standing state record—an 18.18-pounder caught in 1992. If you’re serious about getting a trophy fish, you’ll want to fish the shallows in the spring before and during the spawn. Quitman, Texas is the biggest town near the lake. With a population of around 2,000 people, its human-bass ratio is astronomical.