A fisherman holding his 11-pound bass with boat and water in the background.

O’Neill’s fishing buddy with an 11-pound bass.

Will these five lakes be the very best for all of you? Of course not.  There are thousands better than the five I’m choosing, but these are MY five best lakes because I’ve been to each multiple times.

  1. Kingfisher Society, Laural Hill, North Carolina. Some 130 professionally operated acres with accommodations, boats in the water with electric motors and no more than four fishermen per day. It’s expensive but it’s one of a kind. You can look them up on the Internet and tell them I said hello.

So, what’s the deal? First of all, the water is very acidic so whatever management improvement is made chemically stays that way.  It’s a bit like an aquarium.   Kingfisher Lake has been owned by the same family since the Civil War and has managed the pond most effectively. It was drained 10 or so years ago and restocked with Florida and Tiger specie Largemouth Bass all above two pounds each both male and female.  What does that do? In principle, all the new spawn each year are eaten by the mature bass so there are no ‘yearling’ bass left over to catch like most ponds. Indeed, most “ponds” eventually get overpopulated with Largemouth bass, then get stunted because there’s not enough food, so it becomes a disappointment.

Not Kingfisher.

The owners have installed dozens of automatic feeders with specially sized pellets for the bass.  These feeders spin out feed twice per day in a multitude of areas, so the bass are well fed and grow rapidly and live long lives. When fishing there you can’t keep anything but photos. I have been there to shoot TV shows and have caught as many as 30 per day over five pounds. Once, when fishing there with Bassmaster veteran Davy Hite, the air temperature was 24 degrees and water temperature a very chilly 42. It was one of those days when you usually say, “I think I just got a bite.” Anyway, Davy and I fished with Mop Jigs for two hours. We caught seven bass that totaled 35 pounds. From the back of the boat, he caught five and from the front, I caught two. He is at least two and a half times better than me, so I was not surprised.  However, the lake produced them.

Look up www.kingfishersociety.com and inquire.

  1. Lake Lanier. 37,000 acres of OK bass fishing historically. Spotted and Largemouth Bass are plentiful. Am I getting far afield with this? What makes Lanier so good now? About 20 or so years ago, some enterprising fisherman ventured to the Savannah River, netted some Blueback Herring, and traveled them to Lanier to use for Striped Bass bait. Of course, many were dumped in the lake after a trip, some just survived after being manhandled by the fishermen and some just escaped off the hook. Result? The Bluebacks have flourished and now the Spotted Bass have a specie of bait that shares the water temperature and serves to “blow up the average” size Spot. In tournaments in the late ’70s and ’80s, in which I participated, the top five weigh-in catches of Spots usually weighed in at eight or 10 fish at 15 pounds, a 1.5-pound average. Since the Bluebacks have become the baitfish of the lake, a 5-fish limit of Spots weighs in at a 5-pound average, 25 pounds. Lanier is the best Spotted Bass fishing lake in North America.
  1. Okeechobee! What can I say, 400,000 acres 8 feet deep, full of grass, pads, hiding places and warm water for 12 months each year. There are lots of lodges, guides, fish camps, lodging, restaurants and tackle shops, etc. that can help you get started. It’s easy, safe, accessible and fun.
  2. Rodman Reservoir, Northeast Florida, at only 9,500 acres, is legendary for the number of trophy bass it has produced over the years ever since it was created in 1968. It is consistently ranked with the state of Florida as one of the top 10 best bass lakes in the country. So, what’s it like? You’ll be fishing floating cover, “dollar weeds and pads” and water hyacinths here where bass set up housekeeping. There’s plenty of eel grass, hydrilla and lily pads so tackle up with heavy gear, get some live bait, 9 or even 12-inch plastics and count on exercising some patience. The Rodman Lake record Largemouth Bass is 17.2 lbs.
  3. Pickwick Lake at Wilson Dam. Sorry, I thought I was going to quit but just can’t leave this one out. The upper reaches of Pickwick Lake reach all the way upriver to Wilson Dam. I fished there with Brian Barton from brianbartonoutdoors.com. You should too. In November, we caught Largemouth, Smallmouths, Stripers, White Bass, Black Drum and Channel and Blue Cats on every cast. Listen now, every cast produced a hook up, a break off or a miss of very respectable gamefish. Sizes? We’re talking 6-pound Smallies, 8-pound Largemouths, 20-pound Stripers and 30-pound Blues. We’ve shot two television shows there and each took no more than 3 hours. Now that’s production.  Anyway, Pickwick is all part of the Tennessee River system, is fertile, packed with bait and gamefish.  The only time I’ve fished with Brian has been in the Fall so can’t comment on other times of the year but, if you can, please do telephone Brian and book a few days in the Fall on Pickwick up the river at the base of Wilson Dam.