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10 great places to catch your first bass

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Even in an age of virtual thrills, nothing matches the excitement of catching a fish, says James Hall, editor of chief of Bassmaster Magazine

“I’ve never met a fisherman that doesn’t remember the very first bass they caught,” Hall says. “It’s really the concept of a chess match with an animal that is free-thinking. There’s a level of accomplishment that comes with that.”

Some lakes are particularly welcoming to beginners, and Hall shares favorites with USA TODAY.

1. St. Lawrence River, New York

The St. Lawrence River, Bassmaster’s top-ranked bass lake for 2019, wins praise for its abundance of large smallmouth bass. It’s quite possible for a first-timer to haul in a 9-pounder.

“The St. Lawrence is not only healthy right now, but seems to be showing off. I’ve watched folks catch fish right off the dock,” says Hall. “It’s the best place in the United States to fish currently.”

More information: visit1000islands.com

2. Lake Fork, Texas

This legendary East Texas lake owes its reputation to its “slot limit,” which requires that largemouth bass between 16 and 24 inches be returned to the water.

“There’s never a harvest of bass, which keeps the lake full of really, really nice size fish,” Hall says. ”You can fish from bridges and marinas, and there are plenty of public access points.”

More information: tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/fork/

3. Fellsmere Reservoir, Florida

Biologists specifically designed this new Central Florida impoundment to be a world-class bass fishing spot, and Hall says they nailed it. Just a few years old, it’s already winning rave reviews.

“Its whole reason for existence was to create heaven for bass anglers,” he says. “There’s no ramp for big boats, so it’s serene, not a lot of loud noises and people.”

More information: https://myfwc.com/

4. Lake Ouachita, Arkansas

This huge lake, created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, offers plenty of access points and tons to catch. “It’s almost overrun with bass. There are a kabillion fish in that lake right now,” Hall says.

Another plus is the clear water, letting anglers see fish before catching them. “There are a lot of areas where you can walk the bank for miles without running into another person.”

More information: arkansas.com/fishing-spot/lake-ouachita

5. West Lake Okoboji, Iowa

Few people think about heading to Iowa to bass fish, which is exactly why you should, Hall says. State biologists describe the fishing in the natural lake as exceptional.

“The population is very, very high,” he explains, “and the fishing pressure is very, very low, and anytime you get that combination, it’s very, very good fishing.”

More information: vacationokoboji.com/

6. Lake St. Clair, Michigan

At 430 square miles, this Detroit-area lake is a “monster,” with plenty of access points along its banks, Hall says.

“It’s ginormous,” he explains. “The smallmouth bass there are all over the place, and super easy to catch. They almost annoy you. There will be no lack of bites on Lake St. Clair.”

More information: http://www.tourlakestclair.org/

7. Lake Perris, California

Although a mere 2,000 acres, this Southern California lake near Riverside is a gem, with plenty of 9-pound bass just waiting to be caught.

“It’s simply one of the best fisheries on the West Coast right now,” Hall says. “That’s largely due to a habitat enhancement project by the state department of fish and wildlife, which added brush and rock reefs. “It has really paid dividends.”

More information: parks.ca.gov/?page_id=651

8. Cahaba River, Alabama

Like many small rivers, the Birmingham-area waterway located near Hall’s office doesn’t see a lot of fishing, which is why it’s such a great place to go.

“There’s very little pressure on it. A fish that doesn’t get fished for bites more readily,” he says. With plenty of public access points, it’s a great place to land a bass.

More information:  outdooralabama.com/rivers-and-mobile-delta/cahaba-river

9. Siltcoos Lake, Oregon

The scenery is so pretty around this mountain-region lake that you might forget to watch your line, but that would be a mistake.

“It’s the best fishery in the state,” says Hall, noting the abundance of submerged trees and underwater grass where bass love to congregate. “There are a lot of places to cast. The average person can expect to catch 3- and 4-pound fish.”

More information: dunescityhall.com/siltcoos-lake-2/

10. Newton Lake, Illinois

Although tiny by fishing standards, this 1,755-acre lake located about 130 miles east of St. Louis, delivers outsize rewards.

“The state of Illinois has done a really good job of stocking that lake. Fishermen can expect to catch a ton of 2-pound fish, with an occasional big one,” Hall says. “It’s an ideal little spot to go out and fish.”

More information:dnr.illinois.gov/Parks/Pages/NewtonLake.aspx

Bass fishing with a fly rod?Try it – they’re not just for trout anymore

Bass on the fly:  Your gear guide for tackling this new take on bass fishing

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