9 Best Bass Fishing Lakes & Rivers Near Jacksonville

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Many of Florida’s most famous bass lakes are in the state’s southern half. But Northern Florida, particularly the Jacksonville area, is not to be ignored. There are some truly excellent bass lakes near Jacksonville. 

The waters listed below offer some of your best shots at catching big largemouth bass in the Jacksonville area. Excellent fishing is available year-round in this part of the state.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Jacksonville area doesn’t have as many recognizable big-name bass lakes as some other parts of the state. What it does have is a lot of unnamed and often-overlooked ponds and small lakes that grow whopper bass.

The Big Catch Florida program recognizes trophy fish from all over the state, and most of the biggest bass in the Jacksonville area come from bodies of water known only as “Golf Course Pond,” “Homeowners Association Pond,” or “Unnamed Canal.” 

The point is, if you’re driving through Jacksonville and see a fishy-looking pond, it doesn’t hurt to find out who owns it and ask whether they mind if you take a few casts. Of course, the worst they can do is say no, in which case one of the lakes listed below will do just fine.

Where to Catch Bass Near Jacksonville

Rodman Reservoir

Offering some of the most reliably great bass fishing in Northern Florida, Rodman Reservoir is a large artificial lake along the Ocklawaha River, about 90 minutes south of Jacksonville. The lake produces more 8- to 10-pound bass yearly than just about any other lake in the region. 

Rodman Reservoir also has the potential to produce much bigger fish. A bass weighing 17 pounds, 2 ounces, was caught here in 2000, coming within a fraction of an ounce of the state record.

Sometimes referred to as Lake Ocklawaha, Rodman Reservoir’s surplus of shallow flats offers a wealth of bass cover. Abundant beds of eelgrass, hydrilla, lily pads, and water hyacinth form thick mats on the surface and dense underwater forests below.

Vegetation is most abundant in the large lower body of the lake from Orange Springs to Kirkpatrick Dam. Farther up, the lake is narrower and dominated by stumps and timber, which also offer excellent bass cover, but require extreme caution from boaters.

There’s a great topwater bite on Rodman Reservoir, especially in the morning and evening in areas with thick vegetation. Fishing a live shiner beneath a float is also a great tactic around weed beds and woody cover.

Rodman Reservoir also has a distinct river channel that drops to depths up to 30 feet, and fishing right along the edge of the channel is often the ticket to locating big bass. Try Carolina rigged worms and diving crankbaits.

Rodman Reservoir is drawn down about 7 feet during the winter months every three or four years to help control vegetation. When this happens, it can provide outstanding fishing opportunities as bass are restricted to the deep river channel. 

Launch sites include the Orange Springs Boat Ramp and Kenwood Recreation Area. There is also excellent bank fishing access at Rodman Recreation Area, which overlooks the Kirkpatrick Dam.

Rodman Reservoir also is within a two-hour drive north of the Orlando area and also is among the best bass fishing lakes across Florida.

St. Johns River

Flowing 310 miles through 12 counties, the St. Johns River is the longest river in Florida. It’s almost certainly the best place in the state to catch trophy bass in moving water. 

The St. Johns River empties into the Atlantic Ocean in Jacksonville, and the river offers a unique mix of salt and fresh water. Largemouth bass are abundant throughout the river, especially in the middle and upper basins. 

The river is slow and plodding, so much so that the current can sometimes be difficult to detect, though its influence is impossible to ignore. Bass commonly relate to the lush grass beds that grow throughout the river, as well as woody cover like fallen timber and brush. 

The best advice here, especially if you’re after trophy bass, is to have patience. Big bass in the St. Johns River have a lot of forage to choose from. They’re well-fed and looking for an easy meal. 

Live gold shiners are the go-to bait for catching big bass. Let your shiner drift freely past likely-looking cover, and don’t give up after a single pass. This river is a place where it’s worthwhile to spend up to 15 minutes on a promising-looking spot before you move on. 

The dry season—roughly mid-fall through early spring—is the best time to fish for bass in the St. Johns River.

There’s great fishing in the wet season too, but when the river gets higher, bass tend to leave the main basins and head toward backwaters and marshy areas along the river. They are harder to find when more spread out.

Ample access is available on every section of the river. Hatbill Park on the upper basin, Ed Stone Park in the middle basin, and Riverdale Park on the lower basin are just a few of the many spots that offer boat launch facilities and bank fishing.

The St. Johns River is equal parts rewarding and challenging, and going out with a guide is a great way to learn how to fish the river if it’s your first time.

The river also flows through or connects to several lakes that provide additional bass options, including Lake George and Crescent Lake, which you also will read about in this article.

More: Complete Guide to Fishing the St. Johns River

Kingsley Lake

Several features make Clay County’s Kingsley Lake unique, not the least of which is this 1,600-acre natural lake is almost perfectly circular.

Scientists consider Kingsley Lake one of Florida’s oldest lakes, most likely created by the flooding of a massive sinkhole near present-day Starke.

It’s also one of Northern Florida’s most reliable big bass producers. Dozens of 10-pound-plus largemouths have been caught here over the last decade, and a true monster topping 15 pounds really put this often-overlooked lake on the map in 2015.

Experts at the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC) suspect that the lake’s great depth (up to 90 feet) offers bass the chance to stay cool during the hot summer months, allowing them to grow larger while burning fewer calories.

It’s no coincidence that most of the big bass in Kingsley Lake spend their days at 15 to 20 feet depths during summer, where the water temperature may be 25 degrees cooler than the 90-degree waters at the surface.

Finesse worms on drop-shot rigs can connect with bass in deeper water during these hot months.

If you prefer to fish the shallows, the best time is winter and early spring, when bass gorge themselves as they prepare to spawn.

Kingsley Lake has a sandy bottom with modest amounts of shallow vegetation. There are also hundreds of boat docks along the northern and western shorelines that often harbor big bass. 

Bluegill, sunfish, and small crappies provide the primary forage for bass in Kingsley Lake. Some of the most effective lures are crankbaits and spinnerbaits that mimic the color patterns of these species, but plastic worms, lizards, and creature baits also produce bass here.

At the time of publication, there is no public boat ramp on Kingsley Lake. Visitors may launch for a small fee at Camp Blanding, about 45 minutes southwest of Jacksonville. It’s a similar distance driving northeast from Gainesville.

Orange Lake

Spanning nearly 13,000 acres, Orange Lake is a bass fishing powerhouse in North-Central Florida and one of the best places to try in the Gainesville area.

Cross Creek connects Orange Lake to its immediate neighbor, Lochloosa Lake. (Lochloosa is another great bass lake, so check out the next entry in this article.)

Orange Lake supports a tremendous amount of aquatic vegetation, dominated by spatterdock (yellow water lily) and hydrilla. Anglers catch many of the biggest bass in this lake, including some over 10 pounds, from nearshore vegetation and cypress trees. 

The maximum depth of Orange Lake is just 12 feet, and the average depth is less than 6 feet. When the water is low, as it often is, the lake is even shallower. Bass don’t have the option of seeking deep water here. 

The area right around the mouth of Cross Creek on the east side of Orange Lake is exceptionally productive, with vast stretches of vegetation not far from the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park boat ramp. 

Bass tend to bury themselves deep in the weeds in Orange Lake, which can make things difficult for anglers. However, weedless hooks can help work soft plastic through dense vegetation, and a floating frog is a great bait choice among the lily pads. 

The best bait for big bass is a live shiner. Local guides commonly lip-hook live shiners on a circle hook and let the baitfish drift on an unweighted line along the edges of weed beds. 

Another good area to explore is the McIntosh area in the southwest corner of Orange Lake, where you’ll find some of the lake’s deepest water.

This area also offers boat ramps and a fishing pier at Heagy-Burry Park, one of the best spots for bank fishing.

Lochloosa Lake

A little less than half the size of neighboring Orange Lake, Lochloosa Lake offers 5,700 acres of shallow, fertile water that supports a large population of largemouth bass.

Catching a 10-pound bass is not outside the realm of possibility, and fish in the 4- to 6-pound range are common. 

Lochloosa Lake is a lot like its Gainesville-area neighbor in many ways, though it’s a little bit deeper and not as thoroughly dominated by emergent vegetation. Knotgrass and spatterdock grow prolifically near the shore, but the lake isn’t completely overgrown. 

Fishing among the pads and along the edges of grass beds with live shiners can be very productive, and besides bass you’re also likely to find out why Orange Lake also is among Florida’s best crappie (speckled perch) fishing lakes.

Lochloosa Lake is a Fish Management Area, and most of its shoreline is wild and undeveloped, with old-growth cypress trees extending out into the lake.

The area on the lake’s west shore that drains into Cross Creek is usually referred to as Little Lochloosa Lake and is one of the best places to target trophy bass. Vegetation is thicker here than anywhere else on the lake. 

The north end of the lake is an excellent place to fish early in the year, as the waters warm up more quickly, prompting bass to spawn.

Bass make beds among the cypress trees in very early spring. 

Lochloosa Creek and a handful of other small tributaries feed Lake Lochloosa. These streams barely flow throughout much of the year, but any time enough rain falls to get the water moving, the current almost always attracts bass and schools of baitfish.

Like Orange Lake, the wild, marsh-like nature of Lochloosa’s shoreline limits bank fishing to a few spots.

Lochloosa Lake Park provides a boat ramp and fishing pier. 

Honorable Mentions

While the waters mentioned above are some of the most reliable big bass lakes in the Jacksonville area, there are other options. Some days, the following honorable mentions can be just as good. 

Lake Santa Fe

Just over an hour southwest of Jacksonville, Lake Santa Fe is a quality bass fishery for both numbers and size. The lake produces its fair share of 8-pound largemouths and harbors an abundance of 1- to 3-pound bass. 

The lake consists of two basins, which anglers often call Big Santa Fe Lake and Little Santa Fe Lake. A narrow area known as the Pass connects the two basins, which total 5,850 acres. Some of the best fishing is right around the Pass, where bass often follow schools of shad.

Although much of the shoreline has become developed, the lake still offers healthy maidencane grass beds and plenty of cypress trees that bass use for cover.

The bottom drops faster than in a typical Florida lake, and anglers catch many bass outside weed lines at 6 to 10 feet. 

The best fishing is generally from November to April, but Santa Fe Lake offers solid year-round opportunities.

Santa Fe Lake Park offers launch facilities.

Santa Fe Lake forms the headwaters of the Santa Fe River, a 75-mile tributary of the Suwannee River, which offers some excellent bass fishing in its own right.

Fly anglers target largemouths and the rare Suwannee bass in the river using weighted streamers and topwater poppers.

Lake George

Spanning an area of about 46,000 acres, Lake George is the largest lake along the St. Johns River, and the second-largest lake in Florida after Lake Okeechobee.

It’s a very good bass lake that produces abundant 5-pound largemouths and a few approaching 10 pounds. 

Broad, shallow flats about 9 feet deep dominate Lake George, and a deep shipping channel runs from the St. Johns River inlet on the south shore to the outlet on the north shore.

The lake is quite salty and supports a large population of blue crabs. 

Fishing along the edge of the channel is a great tactic, as any minor variation in the bottom structure can attract fish.

Lake George used to have an abundance of vegetation, but Hurricane Irma severely impacted plant life in 2017. As a result, vegetation has been slow to recover. 

Since then, the best way to find bass is by targeting artificial structures. There are a lot of docks, piers, pilings, jetties, and cribs in the lake, which are great places to fish with jigs, plastic worms, and crankbaits. 

Spring creeks that feed the lake on its western shore are also good areas to try.

Several boat ramps are available, including Shell Harbor Park, which also offers a floating dock. There is also a fishing pier on the east side of the lake.

We probably could have included Lake George on our rundown of the best bass fishing spots near Orlando, but check out that article for more great fishing just a bit farther south.

More: Complete Guide to Lake George Fishing

Crescent Lake

The 15,960-acre Crescent Lake is another large lake that is part of the St. Johns River system, located just a few miles from Lake George.

Crescent Lake is broad, fertile, and mostly shallow. It connects to the St. Johns River via Dunns Creek. 

Crescent Lake is best known as one of Northern Florida’s best panfish lakes. Crappie fishing is excellent throughout the winter, and bluegill and shellcracker spawn in tremendous numbers in spring and summer.

Bass are often overlooked. 

But this lake offers incredible numbers of 3- to 5-pound largemouths, with occasional bass pushing 10 pounds.

A distinctive drop-off follows almost the entire shoreline. Anglers fishing this drop catch many bass here.

Crescent Lake is also a reasonably easy lake to fish because it offers a wide variety of cover and habitat.

With shallow grass and pad fields, sharp drop-offs and deep channels, shell beds and boat docks, cypress trees and submerged timber, anglers have no shortage of places to try.

Margary Neal Nelson Sunrise Park in Crescent City provides boat ramps and fishing docks on the west side of the lake. Shell Bluff Park offers additional launch facilities and fishing access on the east side. 

Lake Sampson

A little less than an hour southwest of Jacksonville, Lake Sampson often flies under the radar, in part because, at about 2,000 acres, it’s quite a bit smaller than most of the big bass lakes in Northern Florida. 

But it would be a shame to overlook this gem, which produces some of the most consistent catches of 8-pound-plus bass in the area.

Lake Sampson has very clear water, and many anglers sight fish for shallow bass during the spawn in March and April. 

Lake Sampson has a lot of healthy vegetation. Reeds, lily pads, and emergent beds of maidencane usually hold fish in shallow water, as do the deeper forests of submerged hydrilla.

Keep an eye on open water too. Bass often corral schools of shad and feed on them at the surface. Circling gulls and surface disturbances are the telltale signs, and you can have great success with a soft jerkbait or shad-imitating topwater when a feeding frenzy occurs.

The primary access to Lake Sampson is the Sampson & Rowell Lakes Boat Ramp on the creek that connects Lake Sampson to neighboring Rowell Lake. The latter lake also offers excellent bass fishing.

Catch More Bass

Ready to raise your bass fishing IQ? We’ve assembled some of the best techniques, tips, and lure suggestions in our easy-to-follow bass fishing guide. Check it out.