The September announcement of the 2023 Bass Pro Tour schedule revealed a diverse list of fisheries and tournament dates that will provide maximum intrigue when the season commences. Starting with the mid-February season opener in Florida and continuing through stops in North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, New York and Michigan, the 2023 calendar features a stout mix of some of the best largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass fisheries in the country.
In addition to prime scheduling on some well-known fisheries like Lake Murray and Lake Guntersville, the 2023 season will put the 80-angler Bass Pro Tour field on new water (Saginaw Bay, Saginaw River) and on some world-class fisheries at intriguingly new dates.
Here’s a quick rundown of how the 2023 Bass Pro Tour schedule shakes out.
The Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in central Florida will be the playing field when the 2023 Bass Pro Tour season gets underway with Stage One, Feb. 13-18. Kissimmee is a popular stop early in the year because of the great February weather and the chance at massive bass. The Bass Pro Tour has visited twice, kicking off the inaugural 2019 season and again in 2020 for Heavy Hitters.
“I’m no Florida fishing wizard, but understand that the lakes are always changing from year to year, and you have to be willing to adapt and fish the conditions,” Lee said.
The first thing Lee says is essential on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes is picking the best lake in the system.
“Some years, the best bite is on Toho and others, it’s in Kissimmee,” Lee said. “Cypress can also be good, any of them or the others in the chain could be the winning area. It varies based on the vegetation and to be successful, you need to narrow it down to the right one in two days of practice.”
Lee believes the timing of this event in mid-February is ideal for both the fishing and weather.
“This time of year in Florida is all about the cold fronts and that will be the biggest deciding factor in how good the fishing is,” he said. “You’ll always catch big fish in Florida, but a nice warming trend will push more fish shallow because they want to spawn.”
Traditional Florida fishing tactics should play in this event, according to Lee. He listed flipping, pitching, vibrating jigs, and prop baits as likely producers.
“There will also be some sight fishing going on,” Lee said. “The biggest key here is being in the right area with the best-looking grass. That’s true everywhere in the country, but even more important in Florida, where the fish tend to be more sensitive to having the cleanest water.”
The fourth edition of REDCREST will be held on North Carolina’s Lake Norman March 8-12, and timing couldn’t be better for REDCREST IV. According to local pro and a popular pre-tournament favorite Bryan Thrift, the middle of March is the ideal time for big bass on this massive impoundment of the Catawba River.
“That mid-March time is the best time of the year for bigger bass,” Thrift confirmed. “We’ll see some 5-, 6-, and maybe even a 7-pounder caught.”
Most of the fishing tactics in play at REDCREST IV will be based on the weather leading up to the event, but Thrift believes that prespawn patterns will dominate, with several different techniques producing for the 40-angler field. He added that Lake Norman is fishing well in recent years, and kicking out solid bags of fish in local events.
“I doubt the fish will be bedding yet and it should be a total prespawn bite,” Thrift said. “Guys will catch them throwing jerkbaits, jigs, shaky heads, and stuff like that. The lake has been fishing pretty good – maybe not as good as it was five years ago – but it routinely takes at least 18 pounds to win a five-fish local event.”
Stage Two of the 2023 Bass Pro Tour season will be held in East Tennessee on two different bodies of water: Cherokee and Douglas lakes (March 18-23). The Qualifying Round will be on Cherokee, Douglas will host the Knockout Round, and the Championship Round anglers will return to Cherokee to decide the winner.
One of several Tennesseans in the field, Ott DeFoe, is an early favorite to win this event due to past successes in these fisheries. He fishes both often and says they are similar, but unique in their own ways.
“For two lakes to be so close, look alike, and have similar topography, they fish vastly different,” DeFoe said. “Cherokee has more largemouth than ever, but it’s mainly a smallmouth fishery. Douglas has some smallmouth in it, but largemouth are dominant.”
Another difference is the current cycle of the two lakes, with Cherokee fishing exceptionally well and Douglas being more challenging than it has traditionally been.
“The numbers are very good on Douglas, but the size is down compared to how it was in years past,” he said. “Cherokee has been great the past several years and is full of solid 3-pounders.”
The late March setting of this date is about perfect, according to DeFoe.
“It’s about a week earlier than what I would say is the best time of the year to fish in Tennessee, but the fishing should be excellent,” he said. “The fish will be in a prespawn pattern, and we’ll see guys catch them with jerkbaits, crankbaits, swimbaits, and vibrating jigs. There should still be a good deep bite, and the ‘Damiki Rig’ will also catch some fish.”
South Carolina’s Lake Murray has hosted prior MLF Cups and numerous events with Major League Fishing over the years. But the Bass Pro Tour’s arrival to Murray for Stage Three in 2023 (April 2-7) marks the tour’s first trip to the famed lake.
Lake Murray’s most recent professional event was a 2021 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit stop. That event was also in April and was won by Bass Pro Tour rookie Matt Becker with a four-day total of 76 pounds, 5 ounces. Second place in that event was Anthony Gagliardi, who also won the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup on his home waters.
Gagliardi says that historically, the first week of April is dead center in the bass spawn.
“There will be fish spawning, but still plenty of fish that are in the prespawn mode and feeding heavily,” Gagliardi said. “It should be a fun event and there will be various ways to catch fish. The lake is in good shape and full of 3- to 5-pound fish.”
While the lake is known for the blueback herring and the nomadic bass that chase them in open water, Gagliardi believes the event’s timing will make them less of a factor.
“It’s awful early for them to be on the bluebacks,” Gagliardi said. “Anything could happen if we get a milder winter and warmer spring, but I believe most of the bass will be on the bank. You should be able to target the prespawn fish or also try to catch spawners.”
The 2022 season kicked off on a trio of relatively unknown lakes outside of Monroe-West Monroe, Louisiana: Lake D’Arbonne, Caney Creek, and Bussey Brake Lake. They were a pleasant surprise for both competitors and fans watching as anglers placed several massive bass on SCORETRACKER®. The big fish parade was headlined by Randy Howell’s Bass Pro Tour record, a 12-pound, 14-ounce behemoth from Bussey Brake during the Championship Round.
Caney Creek and Bussey Brake will host the fourth annual General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event in 2023 (April 24-29). Caney Creek will be the site of the first five days of fishing before the event shifts to Bussey Brake for the Championship Round.
Howell leads the pack of Heavy Hitters qualifiers and is thrilled to be returning to Louisiana for this event.
“I was excited to see it when the schedule was announced, and I pray that I can make it to the final day,” he said of a chance to beat his record. “We were there in February, and it was freezing. I could imagine how good it will be with warmer weather, throwing topwaters around those bushes.”
While Bussey Brake pumped out some monsters, Caney Creek produced a 10-11 for Howell during the Knockout Round.
“Caney is a great lake and the grass was just starting to grow the last time we were there,” he said. “Later in the year, it should be much healthier, and the fish should be done spawning and feeding up. I can see big topwaters, swimbaits, and a bladed jig catching some big bass.”
Alabama’s Lake Guntersville is one of the most legendary lakes in the United States and while it’s gone through its ups and downs, the fishing is excellent right now on this impoundment of the Tennessee River. Randy Howell lives in Guntersville and it’s also the site of his 2014 Bassmaster Classic win. He believes that the lake is as good as it’s been in a decade and is ready to prove it for Bass Pro Tour Stage Four (May 16-21).
“There were some down years between 2016-19, but it’s been getting better every year,” Howell said. “The grass is healthy and there have been some really good spawns. The lake is full of 2- to 4-pound fish right now. It’s as good as it’s been in 10 years or longer.”
With the lake fishing well and the event held during an excellent time of year, Howell expects big things from his adopted home lake.
“Boy, the fish are going to be biting,” Howell said. “What’s good about this time of year is you will be able to catch them however you want to, there will be some fish shallow and some out deeper already. It will be an event where everything seems to be working.”
Stage Five of the 2023 Bass Pro Tour season will bring the 80-angler field back to New York’s Cayuga Lake, site of Bally Bet Stage Six Presented by Minn Kota in 2022. The early timing of the 2023 event is unique for northern events and will fall under New York’s catch-and-release angling season.
The Bass Pro Tour format of catch, weigh and immediate release is the only way to hold a tournament during the season. Because of the format, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has approved the event.
In June of 2022, angler Thomas Russell Jr. caught an 8-6 smallmouth on Cayuga to set the New York state record. Dustin Connell, who won the 2022 Bass Pro Tour stop on the lake, believes the record is in danger during their event. Also, Dakota Ebare landed a 7-10 smallmouth during the August event.
“There are so many 5- to 7-pound smallmouth in there and some that are much bigger,” Connell said. “Sight fishing should be a big factor, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone catches a new record. It will be fun – the lake is full of big bass, and most of them will be up shallow.”
Traditionally, largemouth have been the way to win, but Connell changed that mindset with his victory with smallmouth. This time, he expects a split and says both can produce a winning total.
“It will be a battle between the species and nobody knows how it’s going to turn out,” Connell said. “Fishing for big smallmouth may be a good option, but you can also go down a stretch and catch a bunch of largemouth. The grass should just be starting to grow, and the fishing should be incredible no matter which species you decide on.”
The Bass Pro Tour visited Lake St. Clair to wrap up the 2021 season. Michael Neal took the win there in the September event. This time around for Stage Six of the 2023 Bass Pro Tour (June 24-29), a much earlier date on the calendar will make for a completely different affair, according to Michigan pro Jonathon VanDam.
“It will depend on the spring we have, but there is the potential for some spawning fish in some places in the system, but the majority of the fish will be postspawn,” VanDam said. “There should also be a mayfly hatch, which could make for great topwater fishing. Overall, the fish will be much shallower than usually seen in most pro tournaments on St. Clair.”
This event’s timing will come at a busy time, as it’s the opening day for Michigan and Canadian bass anglers. Before the third weekend in June, only catch and release fishing is allowed on the Michigan side of the lake and the Canadian side is closed to bass fishing.
“We’ll see a lot of local traffic and there will likely be some other tournaments that weekend,” VanDam said. “But, having the Canadian side open will open up a lot of water and guys can spread out. There is also great fishing over there, which should improve the overall weights.”
Saginaw Bay is a massive 1,143 square-mile body of water within Lake Huron. While it’s well known for excellent walleye fishing, the outstanding bass fishing has flown under the radar at the national level. Michigan pro Jonathon VanDam knows just how good it is and believes that Stage Seven of the 2023 Bass Pro Tour (Aug. 1-6) will open the eyes of fishing fans everywhere.
“No joke, Saginaw Bay is the best fishery in Michigan right now,” VanDam said. “Having the Bass Pro Tour there will expose just how good it is and what makes it so great is that you have options. Most people automatically associate the Great Lakes with smallmouth, but someone could easily win this event with largemouth or smallmouth.”
Both species are plentiful in the bay as well as the Saginaw River and VanDam believes anglers will have their pick of cover, techniques, and species to target as the 2023 season wraps up.
“You’ll see the typical smallmouth drop-shot stuff, but you can also catch them shallower with vibrating jigs, jerkbaits, and spinnerbaits,” VanDam said. “Largemouth up shallow will be a froggin’ and swim jig deal. It’s hard to predict which strategy will be the way to go because they all could lead to a win.”