North Carolina provides many different type of fishing opportunities based on its unique geography. With mountains in the west, ocean to the east and many major river systems and reservoirs in between, anglers are presented with a diverse set of lakes and conditions that require a big tackle box. Major regions and categories include, from west to east:
- Great Smokey Mountain Lakes
- Catawba River Lakes
- Uwharrie Mountains Region
- The Raleigh/Durham Area Lakes
- East Side Natural Lakes Region
- Northern North Carolina Roanoak River
This diversity of landscape and fishing opportunities make North Carolina a fantastic State to fish with a little something for everyone. Instead of focusing on a single lake ranking, we have ranked our favorite regions of the State of North Carolina based on the lakes associated to them and the best opportunity to catch big largemouth bass or fish a couple great waterbodies in a single trip. A top bass fishing lake does a great deal to boost the ranking of its region but multiple above average lakes in a single region was even more important. So, here’s the list of our favorite sections of North Carolina largemouth bass fishing lakes and the lakes that make them great:
1. Great Smokey Mountain Lakes
With more than 400 miles of undeveloped shoreline, over 10,230 surface acres of water, and a wide range of fish species, Lake Fontana is a top fishing destination in the Great Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. A top species targeted is bass but the lake also includes muskie, walleye, lake trout, crappie, and panfish. Bass species include largemouth, smallmouth, and Kentucky spotted bass. The Lake is very deep with a max depth of 440 feet and average depth of 135 feet. The shoreline drops off quickly. Lake Fontana was created by damming the Little Tennessee River in Graham and Swain Counties.
Fontana Lake (NC)
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Chatuge is almost 7,500 acre lake located on the state line between Georgia and North Carolina on the southwest corner of North Carolina. Lake Chatuge is home to Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Spotted Bass, Crappie, Bluegill, and Walleye. This wide number of species make this a very popular fishing lake for anglers. Having all three of the major species of bass also make this a popular lake for large scale tournaments. Bass can be caught by focusing on shallow cover like docks or laydowns, but can also be caught offshore during the warmer months when they school up. Crappies and Bluegills are often found around brush piles on tapering points or in the backs of creeks. Because this lake is located in both Georgia and North Carolina, regulations for both states apply, make sure you are up to date on current laws and have proper licensing.
Chatuge Lake (GA, NC)
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Lake Glenville probably doesn’t show up on many big bass must fish lists, but it has a healthy ecosystem for big bass, spectacular views and opportunities at such a wide selection of fish. Glenville is a 1,500-acre reservoir located about 8 miles from Cashiers, North Carolina. Lake Glenville has over 26 miles of shoreline and the water body has the highest elevation of any lake east of the Mississippi at 3,494 feet. Lake Glenville has a very diverse set of fish species available for anglers which include cold water species like walleye, smallmouth bass, rainbow and brown trout, perch, largemouth bass, and catfish. The lake has a healthy ecosystem for large quantities of blueback herring and bream which helps keep both numbers and quality of largemouth bass and other species very high.
2. Catawba River Lakes
The reservoirs along the Catawba extend from Hickory, North Carolina to Charlotte, North Carolina. Hickory Lake, Lake Norman, Wylie, and Lookout Lake receive a high amount of pressure, but they have good sized fish! This is also a case where size of the lake might not matter. While Hickory and Norman can produce decent sized largemouth bass, Lookout Shoals receives less pressure and can produce larger fish than its neighbors on the Catawba. Mountain Island didn’t make the list because it has a lot of private restrictions but big largemouth have been pulled out of that Lake.
At over 32,000 acres, Lake Norman in North Carolina provides abundant opportunities for recreational activities and catching bass, with large populations of Largemouth and Spotted Bass, Crappie, and Bluegill. Fishing around docks is a great way to find all varieties of fish, however bass and crappies can be located offshore in schools during the summer and winter months. These schooling fish can be ultra-aggressive and big baits can be the key to getting those reaction bites. Deep diving crankbaits, football jigs, and spoons are all excellent strategies to create a feeding frenzy. Panfish are often found by fishing brush piles off main lake points and are near deep water.
Lake Norman (NC)
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Lookout Shoals Lake
Lake Lookout Shoals Reservoir is approximately 1,300 surface acres in size and 9 miles long with largemouth bass as the most popular fish species targeted by anglers. Additional species include catfish and stripped bass. Lake Lookout sits just north of Lake Norman and south of Hickory Lake on the Catawba River. Fish have been reported to be bigger than those in Lake Norman with less pressure. Lookout Shoals has a constant flow through this relatively small Lake which keeps shad and bass active throughout the year making it a great destination for summer fishing. In the spring Bass can be found shallow around brush and blowdowns that can be located on your electronics. As the summer heat increases, they can be found closer to the river channel with finesse jigs with trailers and can even be located near docks when current is strongest. In late spring topwater fish can be caught with a Whopper Plopper.
Hickory Lake is a 4,200-surface acre lake that was formed north of Lookout Shoals Lake on the Catawba River. This large body of water has 16 boat launches and six marinas on it. Lake Hickory is further away from Charlotte and, as a result, receives less fishing and recreation pressure than Lake Norman. Anglers commonly target largemouth bass, crappie, catfish, bluegill, ad striped bass. Although largemouth anglers are popular on Hickory Lake and large numbers of 3-4 pound fish can be caught, striped bass get a lot of the attention and are an added bonus for the largemouth angler. The biggest largemouth are caught in the first wave of spawning that happens sometime in April depending on weather conditions. Hickory Lake fishes very much like a river and jerkbaits or crankbaits tend to help anglers find fish with lots of casts into the main creeks that include Gunpowder, Upper, and Middle Little Rivers. Bass normally spend the spring months on the northern end of the lake but move down river as the seasons warm up. Striped bass are commonly caught while trolling crankbaits in the early season but can be caught on umbrella rigs when fish move downstream.
Lake Hickory (NC)
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Lake Wylie is a more than 12,500-acre lake on the border of North Carolina and South Carolina and includes over 325 miles of shoreline of the Catawba River. Attractions in the area include McDowell Parkon the North Carolina side of the Lake. Anglers flock to Lake Wylie for a chance to catch a big largemouth, white bass, spot and striped bass, panfish, crappie, catfish and the occasional walleye. Wylie Lake is deeper than most in the area with a max depth of 82 feet and a mean depth of 23 feet.
Lake Wylie (NC, SC)
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3. Uwharrie Mountains Region
The Uwharrie Lakes are made up of dams on many converging rivers and creeks. The clarity is low but nothing some bright colors, rattles, and larger spinner blades won’t solve. Truth is, there’s big bass in these lakes and they’re not going to catch themselves.
High Rock Lake
High Rock is a 15,000 surface acre lake in the center of North Carolina, Northeast of Charlotte. The Reservoir was built in the mid 1920s by damming the Yadkin River in a small gorge within the Uwharrie Mountains. High Rock Lake is made up of multiple creek arms including Abbotts, Swearing, Buddle, Panther, Dutch Second, and Crane Creek. The Lake is a top destination for bass anglers in North Carolina due to its large amount of both quality and quantity largemouth bass. South of High Rock Lake on the Yadkin River you will find Tuckertown and then Badin Reservoirs. The average depth of High Rock Lake is 16 feet with a max depth of 52 feet depending on pool level. Bass can be found near shore during cooler months but move to deeper depths during the heat of the summer. While largemouth is a local favorite among anglers, High Rock also has catfish, crappie and hybrid whitebass. Be sure to visit Lexington, NC for some famous Lexington BBQ after you’re done fishing. You can thank us later.
High Rock Lake (NC)
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Tuckertown is a narrow, 2,560 acre lake formed by the Tuckertown dam on the Yadkin River. Tuckertown is a major waterbody immediately to the south of the much larger High Rock Lake. Tuckertown Lake has changed over the years as an increase in grass has forced anglers to shift from crankbaits to jigs with trailers near shore in cooler months and shakey head jigs just offshore as fish move deeper. Dragging the river channel with big plastic worms in a Carolina rig will help anglers avoid large mats of plants and algae during peak growing season. Species include catfish, largemouth bass, striped bass, perch, crappie, and white bass and largemouth are always a target due to their size.
Badin is a 5,500-acre lake in Davidson County in Central North Carolina. Like Tuckertown and High Rock Lake, Badin was formed by damming the Yadkin River in the Uwharrie Mountains. Badin is a top fishing destination for anglers and receives a lot of pressure due to its close proximity to the Charlotte metropolitan area. Badin is a relatively deep lake for the area allowing the depths to remain cooler during the heat of the summer in the American south. The shoreline of Badin offers plenty of fishing opportunities for bank anglers without a boat or kayak. As fish move to deeper spots during the warm summer months, Badin Lake offers numerous types of structure including reefs, ledges, points and humps.
Badin Lake (NC)
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Lake Tillery is a 5,200 acre lake created with a dam on the Pee Dee River, which is created by the confluence of the Uwharrie and Yadkin Rivers. Lake Tillery sits just south of the line of reservoirs mentioned above on the Yadkin. Tillery Lake has 118 miles of shoreline, an average depth of 32 feet, and maximum depth of 72 feet. Not only are the largemouth big, the number and frequency of striped bass surveyed in the last 15 years has been steadily increasing while the age has gotten younger meaning the lake populations are rebounding from previous declines in this same period.
Blewett Falls Lake
Blewett Falls Lake is a relatively shallow, 2,500 surface acre lake in central North Carolina. The lake sits just south of Tillery Lake. Species present include largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, catfish, crappie, walleye, striped bass, and white bass. Bass. Largemouth get huge but crappie and catfish are also top targets by anglers.
4. The Raleigh/Durham Area Lakes
The Raleigh Durham area took our top spot because of both the quality and quantity of great largemouth fisheries. Falls Lake, Jordan Lake, and Shearon Harris are only a couple of great waterbodies that produce great size and quantity
Falls Lake is a 12,400 acre reservoir that was created as an impoundment of the Neuse River. The water in Falls Lake is typically stained throughout the year but produces great size in catfish, largemouth, white bass, largemouth, stripers and perch. Anglers typically target the back covers where underwater structure like brush and tree stumps can hold fish. Anglers can use their electronics to locate the structure or use spinnerbaits, search baits, and crankbaits to cover a lot of water. During the summer and winter, when bass have moved out from the shores they can be found on natural humps and ledges in creek channels. Lots of places to explore in this big lake and many chances to catch a big largemouth!
Falls Lake (NC)
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B Everett Jordan Lake
Jordan Lake is a nearly 14,000 acre lake just west of the city limits of Raleigh. Jordan is a relatively shallow lake compared to some of North Carolina's mountain lakes in the east with a max depth of 38 feet and average of 14. Jordan does support a lot of vegetation as a result of its depth which does help produce big largemouth bass. The largest bass caught in Jordan Lake was over 14 pounds while lots of 6 pounders are pulled out by avid anglers. Additional species include channel cats, crappie, striped bass and perch. The opportunity at size helped rank this lake and region.
B Everett Jordan Lake (NC)
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Shearon Harris Reservoir
Shearon Harris Reservoir is a 4,100 acre lake southwest of Raleigh, North Carolina. Shearon Harris Lake, commonly called Harris Lake, is a cooling source for the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant. This power plant keeps the lake at a warmer temperature throughout the year, making it a great option for fishing in colder weather and offers a nearly year-round bass growing environment. This lake is known for big Largemouth Bass as fish over 8 pounds have made this fishery popular among anglers, especially with the protective slot limit. After a string of tournaments in 2017 that resulted in well over 30 pounds for 5 fish, Harris Lake received a lot of pressure as anglers tried to replicate the winning patterns. Harris Lake is also home to healthy populations of crappie, bluegill, and catfish and white bass. Bass patterns can be different than other North Carolina lakes since the warm water can cause an early spawn and reactions to warmer winter water. Look for submerged vegetation (there’s a lot of it) and run weedlines with crankbaits and other search bait techniques. As the plants top out, bass can be caught with topwater baits or heavy punching jigs. Just make sure to use heavy gear!
Shearon Harris Reservoir (NC)
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5. East Side Natural Lakes Region
Both Waccamaw and Sutton Lakes are natural basins that fish much differently than a lot of large reservoirs in the Southeast United States.
Compared to other reservoirs in the State of North Carolina, Lake Waccamaw has an unusual, almost Florida-like, round shape. The Lake is large at nearly 9,000 surface acres, but it’s relatively shallow with max depth of 11-12 feet and above average clarity. Fish species include largemouth bass, striped bass, perch, catfish, crappie, and a wide variety of panfish. Waccamaw is known for its excellent perch fishing but can produce fat largemouth bass. Bass anglers focus on running crankbaits along weed edges and flipping docks during the cooler months with jig and a pig and shaky head combinations. If topwater baits aren’t working, wacky rigged worms and other finesse techniques can do the trick. It’s not uncommon for a 20-lb bag to be needed to win a 5-fish tournament on Waccamaw while the occasional 6 pounder is possible and fish over 10 pounds have been caught.
Lake Waccamaw (NC)
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Sutton Lake is a small waterbody in North Carolina at just over 1,100 acres. Fish species in Sutton include largemouth, bluegill, crappie, catfish and a variety of panfish. Anglers looking to catch big bass (and this Lake grows em’) commonly target the largemouth in Lake Sutton the winter months. Like Shearon Harris, the nearby powerplant keeps the water warm all year long for a nearly 12-month largemouth growing season. The warmer winter weather will encourage an earlier spawn so techniques that work while fish are on the beds can be employed earlier in the year than the rest of the State. Anglers fish creature baits rigged weedless on a large 4/0 hook with no weight can be deadly all year long.
6. Northern North Carolina Roanoak River
As a final entry in our ranking of the top lakes and regions for fishing in North Carolina, we must look to the massive amount of water on the Virgina border.
John H. Kerr Reservoir, commonly called Kerr Lake, is exactly what many fisherman want. It boasts over 50,000 surface acres of water on the border of Virginia and North Carolina, with a variety of species including Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Striped Bass, Black Crappie, Bluegill, and White Perch. There are many resorts and marinas that surround Kerr Lake making it a popular place for vacationers. As such a large water body, there is no shortage of water for recreation and fishing and there’s a real opportunity to get away from the crowds. Kerr is most notably known for the bass and crappie fishing. Finding good cover on the shorelines will often produce all species during the spring and fall months. On the contrary, many fish school up on deeper humps and riverbeds during the summer and winter periods. Finding these schooling fish can be a challenge, but fishing will be fast and furious when the school is located. Recent surveys on largemouth bass indicate high rates of reproduction and growth and dense populations of fish in the 2-4-pound range. Some of the best fishing occurs on north end of the lake and the lower end creek arms. Most anglers report that finding structure is very important, and water levels can affect how much structure is available.
John H. Kerr Reservoir (NC, VA)
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If Kerr is a little too big for you, Lake Gaston about half its size at just over 20,000 acres of water north of Littleton, North Carolina. Gaston, a 34 miles long reservoir, starts at the Kerr Dam and sit directly down river on the Roanoke River System. The Gaston Dam was completed in 1963 and forms the upstream boundary for Roanoke Rapids Lake to its southeast. Lake Gaston contains largemouth bass, striped bass, crappie, bluegill, walleye, and catfish. In addition to having respectable populations of largemouth bass and walleye, this lake is one of the best lakes in North Carolina for catfish. There are multiple state record catfish that have been caught in Gaston. Gaston Lake is well stocked and closely managed by State officials. As a relatively deep lake in this system, walleyes can be found in the cooler, deeper water during warm months. So that’s an added bonus!
Lake Gaston (NC, VA)
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Roanoke Rapids Lake
Roanoke Rapids Lake is a 4,500-surface acre reservoir on the Roanoke River, located immediately downstream of Lake Gaston and the Gaston Dam. Roanoke Rapids Lake has approximately 50 miles of shoreline with some residential development and communities. Anglers and other recreation enthusiasts flock to the Lake to enjoy a weekend or catch a big bass. Species include largemouth bass, striped bass, crappie, catfish, walleye and a number of panfish. Anglers target shoreline woody debris and vegetation, docks, and riprap in the cooler months and head out deeper with finesse techniques when it gets warm. Roanoke Rapids Lake has seen the introduction of invasive vegetation like Hydrilla and Eurasion water milfoil which can dominate the water column. Punching jigs and heavy braid can be required when plants top out. In addition to fishing, the entire family can enjoy time on the water with opportunities for swimming, skiing, white water rafting below the dam, and sailing. A 2013 angler interview survey showed that Striped Bass receive 28.0% of the total annual fishing effort, followed closely by Largemouth Bass at 25.3%.
Finding a great place to fish in North Carolina isn’t difficult. The diversity of ecosystems and landscape can provide a lifetime of exploration while targeting big bass. The summers get hot and finding fish can become difficult but for most of the year, the right strategy and gear will lead to success across this great state.