By Terry Gibson
Every year, B.A.S.S., the nation’s oldest and largest bass-fishing institution, ranks the top 100 bass lakes in the United States. Seven legendary Florida lakes made the List of best lakes of 2013, with five finishing in the top 50.
B.A.S.S. developed the list by asking every state’s agency in charge of freshwater fishing to provide catch rates, population studies and stocking schedules for all the fisheries they managed. Then they sent the list to B.A.S.S. Nation presidents and conservation directors to rank each of these bodies of water based on the tournaments they held. A panel of Elite Series pros, outdoor writers and industry professionals finalize the lakes list and rankings.
This year, B.A.S.S. membership pitched in, with 3500 members helping to legitimize these rankings with their insights. We fish these lakes regularly, and here are a few words about how and when to make a successful trip to any of them.
#8: Lake Okeechobee
The “Big O” is so big it’s sometimes called Florida’s “inland sea.” But most of the bass fishing takes place from the edge of the vegetation lines shoreward. The biggest fish are caught flipping heavy cover from January through early April. Later in the spring, it’s not uncommon for anglers to release more than 50 fish per day, as the schoolies gang up. Accommodations range from hotels and lodges to RV Parks to condos. Clewiston and Okeechobee offer the most amenities.
#14: Rodman Reservoir/St. Johns River, Florida
The reservoir was created in 1968 when an earthen dam was built across the Ocklawaha River. The best fishing takes place along the river channel and barge canal. Deep-running crankbaits and long, Carolina-rigged worms produce well. The biggest fish are caught February through April, but anglers enjoy great success year round. This stretch can be a bit tricky to navigate, especially during the water draw downs that are done every few years to revitalize the fishery. The reservoir is just south of Palatka.
22: Kissimmee Chain Of Lakes, Florida
This area spans more than 21,000 acres and includes numerous lakes along the Kissimmee/Okeechobee watershed. They include legendary Lake Kissimmee, Lake Toho and Lake Marion. The northern waters are close to Orlando. The watershed’s southern shallows tend to draw bedding fish first, by the end of January. Many anglers opt to stay in and around Kissimmee, St. Cloud or Haines City. These lakes are shallow and weedy, so bring rods loaded with heavy braided line. Jigs, worms and Skinny Dipper-type baits work well.
#47: Lake Istokpoga, Florida
Located just north of Lake Placid, this shallow, weedy lake has been producing a bunch of lunkers recorded in the state’s TrophyCatch program. The fishing will get better and better into spring. Frog patterns, plastic worms fished slowly, and Skinny Dippers are real fish finders. A solid flipping stick is also a must.
52: Florida Everglades, Florida
The water conservation areas west of Boynton Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami produce more fish per hour of fishing than any other bass fishery in the state. The fish are concentrated in the canals as springtime water levels drop. The biggest fish come out of heavy cover. Note to fly fishermen: you can catch dozens and dozens of chunky bass on popping bugs early and late in the day as the weather warms and water levels drop.
69: Lake Tarpon, Florida
Located just east of Tampa in Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs, this 2500-acre FWC Fish Management Area is a suburban jewel. Check out the Lake Tarpon Resort, especially if you’re traveling with family and want to stay in style. You’ll mainly be fishing shallow, weedy area, so bring weedless soft-plastic baits, including plenty of frogs.
60: Lake Seminole
Florida shares this boundary water with Georgia. For more information on license requirement if you plan to fish the entire lake. This massive reservoir is a short ride from Tallahassee. In the spring, bass are often caught out in the open lake around structure while they chase shad and other forage fish species. Also check out south-facing coves on warm days. Spoons, plugs and worms are the ticket.