Best Bass Lakes 2023: Northeastern

1. St. Lawrence River (Thousand Islands), New York
[50-mile stretch, plus eastern Lake Ontario] A Bassmaster Elite Series tournament in July 2022 demonstrated that this could be the best smallmouth fishery to ever exist. Wisconsin’s Jay Przekurat won the four-day event with 102 pounds, 9 ounces. He is the first angler in B.A.S.S. history to win with over 100 pounds of solely smallmouth. His catch was just the tip of the iceberg. Canada’s Cory Johnston finished second with 100-5. The Top 5 anglers all weighed in more than 98 pounds of brown bass. Of the 90 anglers in the event, 55 of them averaged more than 20 pounds per day. The big bass weighed 6-12. In a word, astounding.
2. Lake St. Clair, Michigan
[430 square miles] Despite the intense fishing pressure Lake St. Clair receives, it reigns supreme for yielding smallmouth bass in quantity and quality. An annual study by Tom Goniea, tournament specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, compiled the results of 83 tournaments here. Of the 6,582 bass caught, 1,040 weighed over 4 pounds. Only one bass exceeded 6 pounds. The average fish weighed 3.18 pounds. Over 90% were smallmouth. Heavy limits are commonplace, such as the 27-13 winning catch during a high school tournament in July 2022 that drew 21 teams. The top three teams had over 20 pounds. The following month it took 24-3 to win a 44-team collegiate tournament. The top 12 all had over 20 pounds.
3. Lake Erie/Upper Niagara River, New York
[30-mile radius from Buffalo] Lake Erie’s eastern basin continues to thrill smallmouth anglers with trophy bass and plenty of action. New York B.A.S.S. Nation President David Repman claims you can expect to catch 30 to 50 smallmouth a day and that 15% of them will weigh over 4 pounds. He mentioned that a big bass event held here in May 2023 produced several smallmouth over 6 pounds. “If you want a 7-pound smallmouth, come here from mid-September to mid-October,” Repman said. “That’s when the big mommas move shallow.”
4. Burt/Mullett lakes, Michigan
[17,120 acres and 16,630 acres respectively] Of the Wolverine State’s many spectacular fisheries, Burt/Mullett is the place to go if you dream of catching a trophy smallmouth. A study by Michigan fisheries biologist Thomas Goniea reveals that the average bass in 12 tournaments here weighed 3.8 pounds. Each derby drew nearly 40 anglers who caught 92.2% smallmouth. Of the 745 bass registered, 244 topped 4 pounds. The average big bass weighed 5.6 pounds. Five of those bruisers exceeded 6 pounds, including one over 7.
5. Lake Champlain, New York/Vermont
[490 square miles] This vast, picturesque lake hosts several tournaments every year due to its fabulous bass fishing. You can do everything from froggin’ shallow grass for largemouth to finesse fishing deep, rocky structure for smallmouth. It typically takes 20 pounds or more to win a one-day derby. A New York B.A.S.S. Nation event here in June 2022 was typical. It took 19.26 to best the 66 competitors, with the top eight weighing in over 18 pounds. The big bass weighed 4.79.
6. Lake Erie, Ohio
[30-mile radius of Sandusky] Lake Erie’s western basin features copious islands, reefs and rockpiles that attract chunky smallmouth bass. The Canadian side of the lake generally produces greater numbers of them, but heavy brown bass may be caught in Ohio and Michigan waters, as well. A tournament in Ohio waters in April 2022 substantiates this fact. It took 25.96 to win the event, which drew 22 teams. The top eight teams weighed in over 20 pounds. Bear in mind that the largemouth population is increasing in grassy areas near the southern shore.
7. Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan
[32 miles long, 10 miles wide] Massive Grand Traverse Bay near the tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula grows paunchy smallmouth bass in its spectacularly clear water. Seven tournaments that averaged 39 anglers per event registered their results with the Michigan DNR. Of the 471 bass they brought to the scale, 56 weighed over 4 pounds. The average smallmouth weighed 3.3 pounds. The average big bass went 5.6 pounds, with the heaviest of these at 6.04.
8. Lake Charlevoix, Michigan
[17,200 acres] Trout, salmon and smallmouth bass thrive in the pristine waters of Michigan’s third-largest inland lake. A study by Michigan’s DNR shows that Charlevoix received more bass fishing pressure in 2022 than in 2021 but yielded better results. Nine tournaments that drew an average of 65 anglers weighed 1,351 bass, 97.5% of which were smallmouth. The mean weight was 3.1 pounds, with 343 bass eclipsing 4 pounds. The average big bass weighed a stunning 6 pounds, with the largest going 6.75.
9. Bays de Noc, Michigan
[Escanaba to Little Summer Island] The few bass fanatics who venture to Bays de Noc in Michigan’s upper peninsula are rewarded with relatively untapped smallmouth fishing. The vast majority of anglers who fish these waters target walleye. A study by Michigan’s DNR shows that six tournaments here in 2022 treated the fishermen to bass that averaged 3.1 pounds. The 15 or so competitors in each event caught 99.5% smallmouth. Forty-six of the 484 bass surpassed 4 pounds. The average big bass weighed 5.5 pounds, with the heaviest of the season going 6.75.
10. China Lake, Maine
[3,845 acres] “China is the best bass lake in Maine and the most fun one to fish,” said Maine’s Tyler Williams, who won three tournaments here in 2022. He is fishing the Bassmaster Opens Elite Qualifiers Division in 2023. “You can go anywhere on the lake and catch them,” Williams continued. “It usually takes a 5-pound average to win here, even with a seven-bass limit.” Offshore rockpiles, docks and shallow cabbage grass all produce good fish, Williams pointed out. The lake has plenty of smallmouth, but they rarely win tournaments, he added.
11. Cayuga Lake, New York
[38 miles long, 3 1/2 miles wide] This deep, glacial Finger Lake consistently produces good fishing for hefty largemouth and smallmouth. Both species win tournaments here. The brown bass generally hold deeper than the largemouth, with the exception of the spawning phase. Although Cayuga regularly gives up limits of more than 20 pounds, 18.85 won a sizable event here in mid-July 2022. The top three anglers all had over 18 pounds, and the big bass was a 5.64 largemouth.
12. Presque Isle Bay, Pennsylvania
[5.8 square miles in the bay, plus 77 miles of Lake Erie’s central basin shoreline] Electrofishing results show that Presque Isle Bay is one of Pennsylvania’s best largemouth fisheries. However, smallmouth are the big attraction here in springtime when they swarm into the bay from Lake Erie to spawn. A tournament limited to the bay in April 2022 produced limits of more than 20 pounds for the top two teams. But, only nine teams weighed in bass. After the smallmouth spawn, fishing offshore on Lake Erie yields more consistent catches of heavy brown bass.
13. Great Pond, Maine
[8,533 acres] Maine bass fanatic Tyler Williams, who is fishing the 2023 Bassmaster Opens Elite Qualifiers Division, stated that smallmouth are more abundant in Great Pond but that it takes one or two kicker largemouth to win tournaments here. A heavy limit of smallmouth will run 17 to 19 pounds. One or two largemouth typically boosts the weight to 22. A limit of largemouth, which is rare, could weigh 28 pounds. “The bass feed on alewives and chase bait over flats and deep water,” Williams said. “It’s a lot like fishing topwater baits for spotted bass at Lake Hartwell.”
14. Candlewood Lake, Connecticut
[5,420 acres] Despite relentless fishing pressure, Candlewood proves that small lakes can grow and sustain an abundance of quality bass. Smallmouth have long dominated tournaments here, but the largemouth are coming to the scales in greater numbers. A Reynolds’ Boats team tournament in April 2023 drew 70 teams. It took 28.85 (a 6-pound average) to win the six-bass-limit event, with the top 17 teams weighing in more than 20 pounds. The heaviest smallmouth went 6.35. The biggest largemouth weighed 6.80.
15. Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia
[20,600 acres] Because Smith Mountain lies at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, casting into this picture-perfect lake would be enjoyable even if you didn’t catch anything. That’s not likely due to the lake’s population of quality largemouth and smallmouth. A tournament with 105 contestants in April 2022 was true to form. It took 19-6 to win, and the Top 10 anglers had over 16 pounds. A big-bass derby that same month yielded five bass that weighed from 6.75 to 7.57 pounds. An 8.62-pound bass won another such event in late September.
16. Cobbosseecontee Lake, Maine
[5,543 acres] The lake’s many coves, jetties, islands and docks can make it challenging to find the bass here, but it’s worth the effort. “It typically takes a 4-pound average to win at Cobbossee,” said Tyler Williams, one of Maine’s most accomplished tournament anglers. A two-day Maine B.A.S.S. Nation Fish-Off in September 2022 yielded a winning catch of 39.61 pounds. The Top 5 teams sacked over 30 pounds. The lunker largemouth weighed 6.97; the biggest smallmouth weighed 3.11. Williams pointed out that this annual event always seems to coincide with the fall turnover, which makes for tougher fishing.
17. Oneida Lake, New York
[79.8 square miles] Oneida will again yield excellent bass fishing, as it has done consistently year after year. Tournament limits are commonplace and the weights are tight. Most of the bass are smallmouth, but largemouth occasionally win derbies here. A New York B.A.S.S. Nation event in July 2022 delivered typical results. The winner bested 68 anglers with 18.54. Eleven limits topped 17 pounds, with the big bass going 4.98.
18. Potomac River, Maryland/Virginia/Washington, D.C.
[405 miles] You can literally catch bass from the banks of Washington, D.C., while fishing this historic tidal river. The diversity of man-made and natural habitat, including lush aquatic vegetation, keeps anglers flush with bass. A tournament with 115 anglers in May 2022 produced typical results. It took 18-2 to win, and the top nine anglers had over 16 pounds. Big bass weighed 5-2. A month earlier, a 7-9 largemouth claimed big bass.
19. Saginaw Bay, Michigan
[1,143 square miles] This colossal, open bay juts into Michigan’s eastern shoreline. While it can give up heavy limits of smallmouth, most anglers venture here to target aquatic vegetation for the abundant largemouth. Twenty-eight tournaments that drew roughly 33 anglers each weighed 2,671 bass, with 241 of them over 4 pounds. Largemouth made up 82% of the catch. The average bass weighed 2.6 pounds, while the average big bass was 4.6. The biggest bass in all of these events weighed 6.8.
20. Green River Lake, Kentucky
[8,200 acres] This pretty, serpentine lake lies in the rolling terrain of Kentucky’s Highland Rim. Kentucky fisheries biologist Eric Cummins reports that it has been one of the state’s most consistent bass fisheries for the past decade. Justin Tucker, a technician for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, competes in tournaments here and elsewhere in the state. He claimed that it typically takes over 20 pounds to win weekend derbies here and a largemouth over 6 pounds to claim the big-bass pot.
21. Chautauqua Lake, New York
[13,156 acres] Excellent fishing for smallmouth and largemouth continues at Chautauqua, the largest lake in western New York. A two-day, 44-team championship tournament here in September 2022 demonstrated what this lake is capable of. Although September is generally a slow fishing month, the winning team boated 25.81 the first day and finished with 39.13. The top six teams all boated over 31 pounds. A 6.10 largemouth took big-bass honors.
22. Barren River Lake, Kentucky
[10,100 acres] Another of Kentucky’s scenic, winding reservoirs, Barren vies with Green River for the state’s top bass fishery. It lies in an area known as the Barrens, where Native Americans burned the forests to attract buffalo and other game. In early May 2022, a Fishers of Men tournament that drew 28 teams took place here. The winning team sacked 18.68 pounds, second place was 17.31 and the top six teams weighed in over 14 pounds. The biggest bass weighed 5.46.
23. Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire
[20 miles long, 9 miles wide] Many islands, offshore reefs and shallow bays give bass anglers who visit Winnipesaukee a rich and varied playing field. As with any lake, success depends on timing and conditions. A B.A.S.S. Nation team event in early May 2023 was won with 13.72 pounds. In early October 2022, a two-day team event was won with 35.15. Later that month, two of the 11 Merrimack Valley Bassmasters teams participating in a tournament here sacked over 20 pounds, with three other teams weighing over 17. The biggest bass from all three events included a 6.48 largemouth and a 4.05 smallmouth.
24. Upper Chesapeake Bay, Maryland
[The entire bay is more than 64,000 square miles, but the best fishing is in the top one-third] This tidal fishery produces solid limits of largemouth, but you need to be on your game to make that happen. A tournament with 136 anglers in May 2022 was won with 21-5, and the top six all weighed over 18 pounds. Fifteen bass weighing 39-12 won a Bassmaster Open in September 2022. The top eight anglers had over 30 pounds, but 17 anglers failed to catch a bass in two days of fishing.
25. Lake Cumberland, Kentucky
[65,530 acres] Tourists flock to this large, scenic impoundment in the hills of southern Kentucky, which is known as the Houseboat Capital of the World. Bass anglers come here to tangle with largemouth and smallmouth bass. Kentucky fisheries biologist Marcy Anderson stated that spotted bass have also come on strong over the past few years. A large tournament here in late May 2022 was won with 16-6, with the top six anglers catching over 13 pounds. This event represents a good indication of what anglers can expect at Cumberland.