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Bassmaster poll appears as fluid as the waterways

05/30/2014, 12:00am EDT
Lake St. Clair drops to No. 16

When Saddam Hussein used to get 98 percent of the vote in Iranian elections, I felt sorry for that other two percent, since they could expect a knock on the door the next morning. When Kim Jong Un receives 100 percent of the vote in North Korea today, nobody can take those results seriously.

On a much less important scale, when Bassmaster Magazine recently released results of its balloting to determine the 100 Best Bass Lakes in America, and Lake St. Clair dropped from No. 1 last year to No. 16 this time around, and Ohio’s portion of Lake Erie sat at No. 56, I was equally flummoxed and puzzled.

This is not a criticism of Bassmaster, one of the more respected angling journals, or an accusation that the poll was rigged — dead fishermen registered to vote, or a number of hanging chads were all hanging against our neighborhood hot spots.

It’s just hard to comprehend how St. Clair fell so far in just 12 months, and that there are 55 bass fishing locales in the U.S. better than the Lake Erie Islands.

Bassmaster used extensive research, catch-rate data and polling across the nation to craft a working list of the most productive bass waters. The wildlife department in each state was asked to submit a ledger of its prime bass lakes, in order of bass-i-ness, with supporting arguments. Officials of the B.A.S.S. organization were also polled, and the more than half million Facebook fans of B.A.S.S. were allowed to voice their opinions.

Conversations with area guides, study over the Internet and interviews with fishermen were used to whittle a preliminary field of more than 180 down to a top 100. A “blue-ribbon” panel of bass fishing professionals, fishing industry insiders and outdoors writers (not this one) then assembled the rankings.

Like any “best of” list, this poll is ripe for discussion and an intensive, often territorial, debate. Name the best 10 golfers of all time, and an argument will rage over Nos. 6-10. Publish a list of the 25 best vacation destinations in the world, and 200 more will be ready to sue you. Compiling these types of lists is a wonderfully impossible adventure.

Having said that, I still challenge the order of the Bassmaster chosen 100, more so than the contents of the list. After having lived in Florida, California, and Ohio, and fished the best bass lakes in each place, I am admittedly biased, but not completely uninformed. Having fished four of the 2014 top 10, and another 16 on the rest of the list, I am licensed to grouse a little.

Lake Michigan’s Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin came out as this year’s No. 1, after the entire lake was ranked No. 29 last year. Sturgeon Bay hosted a tournament last year and put on a display that had to sway many voters. An 8.45 pound smallmouth was registered in that event, so size does matter, and the winning team weighed in 12 fish that totaled more than 67 pounds.

St. Clair also hosted a regional bass tournament in 2013, and according to fishing guide Spencer Berman, who makes his living plying the waters of the big lake that is sandwiched between Huron and Erie, that tournament caused St. Clair’s nosedive in the poll.

“There was just a lack of big fish caught on St. Clair that did it,” Berman said. “Two years ago, there was just a ridiculous amount of four, five and six-pounders caught here. Last year, the numbers were way down. The biggest fish in the tournament were caught by guys who made a run to Lake Erie or Lake Huron to fish.”

Bassmaster editor James Hall indicated the list is very fluid from year to year. “The Bassmaster 100 Best Bass Lakes project [is] spawned from our desire to not only identify traditionally good bass fisheries, but also to spotlight lakes that are red-hot right now,” Hall said.

Fair enough. Berman, the Lake St. Clair guide, agreed that the most recent data would require his big backyard pond to fall in the poll.

“Unfortunately, I think there’s a pretty good reason we saw St. Clair drop like that,” Berman said. “This lake is so shallow, so fertile, and just chock full of bass, but we don’t have the monster-sized fish on the top end that other places do. You’ll catch more bass here than in most places, but you won’t see those seven and eight pound fish that were caught in the tournament at Sturgeon Bay last year.”

Berman also believes there is a cyclical nature to the “big bass” status of a lake. He’s probably right. The traditional Texas largemouth hot spot of Sam Rayburn Reservoir was second in the 2013 vote, but plummeted to No. 26 this year.

Another Texas fishing hole, Lake Amistad, was ranked No. 6 in the nation just two years ago, but it fell out of the top 100 in the 2014 poll, showing that the voters can be just as finicky as the bass they pursue.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: or 419-724-6068.

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