Maine is getting a reputation for offering good bass fishing, but it’s not well-known across the nation.
That could soon change.
More than 270 bass tournaments were scheduled through Nov. 10, as of Thursday, and three lakes made Bassmaster Magazine’s nationwide list this year for the 100 Best Bass Lakes. They are Cobbosseecontee Lake between Winthrop and Manchester, Sebago Lake and Kezar Lake in Lovell.
All three made the debut list last year, with Kezar coming in at No. 18.
This year’s list, which appears in the May issue of Bassmaster Magazine, ranks Cobbosseecontee as Maine’s top bass-fishing lake, at No. 30. It was No. 74 last year.
Sebago Lake jumped from 99th last year to 63rd, but Kezar fell to 54th.
“Cobbosseecontee is ranked 30th, because of its impressive largemouth population,” said James Hall, editor of Bassmaster Magazine.
The lake also has good smallmouth bass numbers and high catch rates for bass. That also helped net Sebago a higher spot on the list, Hall said.
“It’s very important for the average guy to go out and catch these fish,” he said of the ranking criteria. “At Sebago, you could catch 70 smallmouths in a day and have an average day. Sebago has a lot of willing fish and a lot of nice-sized bass.”
Hall said Kezar Lake has a tremendous bass fishery, but he thinks it may have succumbed to intense fishing pressure.
“Kezar’s drop had to do with weekend anglers’ responses we got that say it’s not quite as hot this year,” he said. “It wasn’t in the top 25, because it was not as impressive this year.”
Another factor is the inclusion this year of many more lakes that weren’t on last year’s list. Hall said the list is subjective.
“We try to make it as scientific as possible,” he said. “Moving up or down 15 spaces doesn’t mean the fishery isn’t good. We have a lot of new lakes that are really hot this year.”
Criteria for rankings include catch rate and data from state wildlife agencies; a survey of BASS Nation conservation directors and presidents based on tournaments held across the country; and a survey of 3,500 BASS members across the country to detail non-tournament lakes.
To finalize the rankings, Bassmaster enlists a panel of outdoor writers, Elite Series pros and fishing industry insiders, Hall said.
Michigan’s Lake St. Clair took the No. 1 spot this year, while Falcon Lake in Texas, which was last year’s No.1, fell to 7th.
Without a list for anglers, “it’s hard to know if there’s good bass fishing in Maine or if there’s good bass fishing in Idaho,” Hall said.
He said bass anglers across the nation “will certainly travel to these lakes” while on vacation and/or to participate in tournaments.
Asked how well-known Maine is across the nation for its bass fishing, Hall said, “Not at all.”
He said that in talking to many people, “they think the only thing that swims up there is lobster in the ocean.”
Others think it’s too cold for bass, but they couldn’t be further from the truth, he said.
“You have a tremendous bass fishery there,” Hall said.
However, he said Maine and other New England lakes lack trophy bass. He attributed that to the short fish-growing season.
“But what it lacks in trophy fish, it more than makes up for it in bass populations and healthy fisheries,” Hall said.
Francis Brautigam, a Maine fisheries biologist in Gray, agreed.
“We’ll never compete on the largemouth bass side with southern states, but on the smallmouth bass side, I think Maine holds its own with other states,” Brautigam said Thursday. “I think our smallmouth bass fisheries are comparable to some of the best around.”
As for trophy fish, Brautigam said that unlike many lakes in the South that can grow fish all year, Maine has a much shorter growing season.
“We’re at the northern end of the range for bass; so overall, our growth potential is going to be less,” he said.
Additionally, Maine doesn’t raise bass in its hatcheries or stock bass, or promote its bass fisheries, as a whole, Brautigam said.
He believes Maine’s bass fishing opportunities are better-known in the Northeast.
As for the three Maine lakes on the list, he said Cobbosseecontee has always been considered a very good largemouth bass fishery. But Kezar Lake is not as readily fished as Cobbosseecontee and Sebago, which are destination lakes, he said.
He said he wasn’t surprised Sebago Lake was chosen, but he believes it’s more difficult to catch bass there if anglers don’t know the lake and don’t hire guides.
It’s deep and huge; however, “it produces nice smallmouths,” Brautigam said. “But they’re not easy to find.”
He said he was surprised to learn Sebago jumped 36 spots to No. 63 this year.
“It’s a tough lake to learn,” he said.
Brautigam said Maine has many other waters that have good bass fisheries that aren’t listed.
But, he said, “It’s nice to know we’ve got some waters in Maine that are ranked nationally.”