As Hoover famously said, “Fishing is much more than fish. It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers.” Millions of Americans enjoy fishing for sport. And we know that it’s not all about the thrill of the catch. Fishing in a stunning location allows you to feel more connected with nature, and with the very ground you stand on.
So, when thinking about our recommendations for the best fishing lakes in the United States, we didn’t just think about where you’ll be able to catch the biggest, and the most, fish. Yes, there are many competitions, where professional anglers fight for the top spot. But for many of us, it isn’t all just about the size of our catch.
Our following recommendations include considerations of scenery and activities to do in the surrounding area, into the mix. We’ve also considered the spots where you’ll be able to catch the biggest variety of fish, and the lakes where you’ll be able to break up your day fishing and casting in different styles. Read on, to hear our favorite lakes to fish, and why.
Kentucky Lake, Tennessee & Kentucky
Kentucky Lake is a reservoir along the Tennessee River. It’s the largest artificial lake in the US by surface area, with a whopping 2,064 miles of shoreline. This is a great area for getting a really sizeable catch and holds records in the state for the size of some of the fish caught there. These include white bass, buffalo carp, and yellow perch.
But the reason why most people flock to this lake is for the excellent crappie fishing. There are lots of habitats perfectly designed for crappie in Lake Kentucky. The Tennessee River runs through the lake, controlled at the mile-long Kentucky Dam. The main and secondary channels of the Tennessee River connect huge flats, and there are lots of shallows with plenty of bush and weeds to provide shadows for the crappie to hide under. This makes for excellent crappie territory.
Kentucky Lake is also a great place to plan a fishing holiday. Here you’ll be fishing surrounded by stunning scenery. And you also have nearby access to two State Parks: Village State Resort Parka and Kenlake State Resort Park.
Santee Cooper Lakes, South Carolina
The Santee Cooper Lakes in South Carolina consists of two lakes: Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie. Head here to find some of the best freshwater fishing in the entire of the state. The Santee Cooper Lakes is a stunning environment to fish in: you’re surrounded by wild, mossy trees and stunning sunsets. This is especially important considering that dusk is the perfect time to catch largemouth bass, as they’re more likely to come out from their shelters inflow light. Make sure to research the best time of year to fish for bass.
Lake Marion is the largest lake in South Carolina and is even referred to by some as South Carolina’s inland sea. It’s situated in 110,000 acres of stunning river valley landscapes and former marshes. Not only is this a great place to catch a largemouth bass: you can also try your hand at catching striped bass, and white bass. If you’re looking for really big bass, then look no further. People have caught bass here weighing up to 20lbs! Even on a normal day, you’ll be able to catch a 5-7 pound bass, which should be more than enough to impress with your catch.
This is also an excellent place to head if you’re looking to catch crappie. There’s a 6 1/2-mile diversion canal that joins the two lakes, and here is perfect crappie habitat. There’s plenty of shade for them to shelter in. Consider jigging for crappie here, potentially using a jig with a weed guard, as the crappie love to hide here in the weeds. Vertical jigging through the vegetation might just land you a big ole’ black crappie.
Lake Fork, Texas
Lake Fork is a vast reservoir in Texas, with 315 miles of shoreline. Officially, it serves as a reservoir for Dallas and the suburbs, but more interestingly for us, it’s one of the best trophy bass fishing lakes in the entire world. This is in part because it’s famous for breaking records: it holds 15 of the top 20 Texas State Records for largemouth. It also offers a perfect habitat for many fish to thrive in, including standing timber, hydrilla, milfoil, and duckweed which serve as shelters for fish to hide under. It’s likely you’ll be successful with vertical jigging, for many species of fish who are nervous to be out in the open, and catch a two or three pounder.
This reservoir was designed as a fishery, and many species were introduced here to make it an angler’s dream. There are so many fish in Lake Fork that you’re bound to catch something interesting. Largemouth bass is one of the main reasons why people flock here. But there are tonnes of other species you’ll be in with a chance of catching: Catfish, Sand Bass, Yellow Bass, Black and White Crappie, Gar, Bowfin, Sunfish, and Bluegill.
Angling with live baits is particularly successful here. If you’re aiming to catch some of the bigger fish, then their main food source is Shad, Minnows, and Crawfish. We would recommend you either using them as your live bait (minnows especially, which are perfect for largemouth bass, can be bought often in shops in big frozen bags) or picking a lure which resembles these live baits in look and movement.
Grenada Lake, Mississippi
Grenada Lake is a reservoir on the Yalobusha River, one of four flood control lakes in North Mississippi. It was constructed to help control flooding along the Yazoo River Basin. It’s much smaller at some of the other lakes we’ve looked at, at 141.6 kilometers squared, but that does nothing to affect the main people why open flock here: crappie.
Grenada Lake is really top of the list when it comes to crappie fishing. It has some of the biggest crappies you can catch in the whole of America. This is early because they have been conservation-minded. Crappie here must be over the 12-inch mark to legally harvest on Grenada, which means many 1-pound crappies get thrown back. In the last Bass Pro Shops Crappie Master’s Tournament, held on the lake, the largest crappie caught was 3.87 pounds.
Lake Berryessa, California
Lake Berryessa is the largest lake in Napa County, California, located in the Vaca Mountains. It is home to a variety of fish, so the variety of your catch here could be extraordinary. People come here from all over for the following species: catfish, Chinook, and kokanee salmon, brown and rainbow trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass and spotted bass.
This is the perfect lake to head to if you’re looking to catch really big bass. The largemouth bass in Lake Berryessa range from about 15-20 inches, and the smallmouth and spotted bass about 12-18 inches.
If you’re fishing for bass here, we’ve got a couple of suggestions for you: in the spring, find bass in the shallows, where they feed when they are spawning. In the summer, head out at dawn or dusk, as bass prefer low light. These shallow waters are often close to the deep, dark waters where largemouth bass rest, so many anglers choose to fish here to target both big and little bass.
We would recommend starting in the inlets, like Capell Cove and Steel Canyon Inlet, and the areas next to Big and Small Islands. There aren’t many lakes where you can successfully catch three types of bass in one day, but at Lake Berryessa, there’s plenty of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass to catch.
This is also a great lake to plan a fishing trip or holiday around. If you’re going with your family, for example, and want another activity to engage your teenagers, then they can go water skiing in the center of the lake. It’s a beautiful place to sit and enjoy fishing, with lots of side channels moving off from the lake, offering sheltered, shaded spots for anglers to fish from.
Lake Okeechobee is a fantastic choice for fishing for largemouth bass, crappie, and bluegill. It’s less common, but you might be able to also catch a Pickerel. Lake Okeechobee is the largest freshwater lake in the state of Florida, and the second-largest in the US. It’s so vast that it’s sometimes even referred to as Florida’s Inland Sea.
One factor that makes this lake so perfect to fish, is that it’s pretty shallow throughout. It has an average depth of only 9 feet. This is ideal for catching bass in particular, who often prefer to hide in the shade of an overhanging structure, or under weed or other vegetation. A great option for fishing in the shallow waters of Lake Okeechobee is to use a floating lure, with a baitcaster, to tempt the fish out from their hiding place. This is the best way to catch really big largemouth bass, which Lake Okeechobee has a lot to pick from.
This is also a great option to choose for a getaway. There’s a lot of stunning surrounding habitat which you can explore and hike around. Namely: the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST), a part of the Florida National Scenic Trail, a 1,300-mile-long trail that gives you plenty of hiking and biking opportunities. This Florida National Scenic Trail is a beautiful, and invigorating way, to break up your fishing trip.
Lake Champlain, New York, and Vermont
Lake Champlain is a vast natural freshwater lake, located in the states of New York and Vermont. It’s so vast it even stretches up over the Canadian border into Quebec. Lake Champlain is situated in the Champlain Valley, which is the northernmost part of the Great Appalachian Valley. The Great Appalachian Valley is a geological wonder, that winds its way all the way to the south of the United States. Lake Champlain is the thirteenth largest lake in the US, measuring a whopping 490 square miles in area.
This vast lake holds too many fishing possibilities to count. People flock to Lake Champlain to catch a variety of species, including: lake trout, Atlantic salmon, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and rock bass. Flanked to the west by the Adirondack Mountains of New York and to the east by the Green Mountains of Vermont, you’ll be fishing in stunning scenery at Lake Champlain. The Bassmaster Tournament Series consistently ranks Lake Champlain in its top 100 bass fisheries, where quantity, quality, and even scenery are important factors.
There is something extra to note with Lake Champlain. Before heading off on any fishing trip, you always need to check you have all of the necessary documentation. Many lakes require for you to have a permit or license to fish them. Depending on which part of the lake you plan to fish, you’ll need an angler’s fishing license at Lake Champlain, from Vermont or New York. A New York State Fishing license is required to fish in South Bay, for example.
Lake Champlain has endless opportunities for catching largemouth and smallmouth bass. There are many spots you can target too. Anglers can fish offshore for smallmouth bass, or rock bass, or can target shallow vegetation or other potential hiding places for largemouth bass. We would recommend this lake as a perfect option for angling beginners. At Lake Champlain you can get instant rewards: catching four-pound largemouth bass here is run of the mill. But even pro anglers find themselves flocking back here time and again.
Lake Erie, Ohio, Michigan, New York, & Pennsylvania
Lake Erie is the fourth largest of the five Great Lakes in North America. The name of the lake originates from the Erie people, who were a Native American people who used to live on its southern shore. It’s from the trial name which roughly means “long tail”. And, being the eleventh largest lake in the world, oh boy is it long! It has a fascinating history, which you can delve into as you fish in its shores.
You can fish all round the year at Lake Erie, for a number of species: Walleye, Perch, Smallmouth Bass, Steelhead, Salmon and Lake Trout. There are also many different types of angling and fishing gear that are used successfully on the lake, so this could be a great place to go if you’re looking to trial some new fishing kit. Here people successfully use: flatliners, planer boards, divers, downriggers, weighted spinners and trolling. Select the right line for the lake too, check out our guide of fishing lines for more information. People often either fish from boats like bass boats or angle from the shallows.
Because Lake Erie is so shallow, the weather conditions can rapidly change from calm to stormy. This is actually a benefit for you if you’re planning on coming to fish for bass. Fishing just before a storm is perfectly timed, as fish are likely to feel it coming and become more active. The actively changing weather can sometimes get a bit dangerous though. Watch out if you’re going boat fishing as a very thick fog can appear quickly over Lake Erie. Also, take note: Lake Erie is now classified as a “big bass” water, meaning you can only take one smallmouth bass from the waters, and it must be over 20 inches. You should check out the rules and regulations before you plan your trip, to avoid disappointment.
Lake Erie is a prime spot for Smallmouth as, along most of the lake, the bottom drops to a depth of about 30 feet. Here is where most of the smallmouth bass are caught, as they hide in the shadows. On the east side of the City of Erie, there are more rocky areas, so this is the best area to fish for smallmouth bass. We would especially recommend to aim for the “cribs” off the Hammermill plant to the New York State line, and the mouths of Twelve, Fourteen and Sixteen Mile creeks.
So there we have it: some of the finest fishing spots in the whole of America. Here we have just reviewed the best lakes to fish in the US. So let’s outline some of the reasons why lake fishing is so popular. Lake fishing is some of the best fishing in the country because there’s often more water, and more fish to catch. Especially if you’re going boat fishing, you can cruise over a far larger body of water, and you’ll have access to bigger game fish.
Another benefit of lake fishing spots is that you can be more active. Instead of sitting and waiting for a bite, you can explore, and try lots of fishing techniques in different locations, to ensure a larger and more varied catch. You can also sometimes have some more privacy, due to the huge shoreline, and other estuaries or islands where you can find a private place to cast off. Boat fishing also often offers you the chance to cruise over the waters of the clear lake and observe some rare or interesting marine habitats.
We hope we’ve converted you to the joys of lake fishing, and that you enjoy trying out angling in some of the stunning lakes that America has to offer.
Bonus tip: For the bass anglers out there, check out this useful video on how to catch bass in any lake: