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Biggest Freshwater Fish In North America


A Childhood On the Water: Fishing, Boating & Having Fun

When I was two years old, my parents bought a small lake house on Santee Cooper Lake in South Carolina (part of Lake Marion). While I have no recollection of them purchasing the house, I do have countless childhood memories of the lake.

During the summer, my brother and I would spend almost all day on the water swimming and fishing with our friends, riding jet skis or cruising around in the family pontoon boat.

beautiful sunset over the lake

Photo: Backyard sunset over Lake Santee Cooper from our family’s lakehouse. Not a bad place to spend a childhood! 

One of my favorite lake memories was landing a 12 pound catfish while “trolling” from my inflatable raft when I was ten years old. The catfish pulled me around the channel in front of our dock for about 15 minutes before it finally exhausted itself enough for me to swim it back to shore. As far as I know, this was the first and only cat fish-powered tubing event on Lake Marion.

The only thing that would bring my brother and our friends off the water was food, exhaustion or the occasional summer thunderstorm. We’d spend most nights on the dock with friends telling tall tales about the huge fish we’d recently caught or nearby alligator and water moccasin sightings—all the while keeping a close eye on the tips of our rods as we waited for the first signs of a fish bite.

On many nights, it wasn’t unusual to come away with a bucket full of bluegills and a 10+ pound catfish. When you’re a kid, landing a catfish that size makes you feel like you just single-handedly took down the Great White Shark from the Jaws movies. By day, we’d reel in more fish: large mouth bass, blue gills and perch. If we cleaned ’em, our mom would reward us with a fish fry for dinner with a vine-ripened watermelon or figs straight from the tree for dessert. It was heaven.

My folks still have their home on Santee Cooper Lake, which is now regarded as one of the best fishing lakes in America for a wide range of prized fish, like large mouth bass, striped bass and catfish. Many state records have come from within a few miles of the dock where I spent much of my childhood. In fact, there’s even a standing US record 135 pound Flathead Catfish from Santee Cooper Lake that was caught by Tommy Fredricks.

America: Home of the Fish, Landed By the Brave

We should never take the health of our lakes, rivers, oceans and other natural resources for granted. They’re a shared national treasure.

As lucky as I was to grow up on Santee Cooper Lake, we’re all equally lucky to have access to some of the best fishing waters in the entire world regardless of what state we live in. The continued health of these waterways requires an ongoing conservation effort by the general public as well as state and federal agencies (like the Department of Natural Resources).

Thankfully, we’re continuing to do a good job conserving these resources. Hopefully, my kids (when the time comes) will be able to enjoy fishing, boating and having fun on the same waters that I did as a kid.

Who knows, maybe they’ll even land a state or national fishing record (or at least feel like they did when they catch a catfish off of their rafts)!

US National Fish Records: The Biggest Freshwater Fish In America

So, where do the biggest freshwater fish in North America come from?

There are dozens of species and subspecies of freshwater fish out there, so we (the folks at Boat Covers Direct) aren’t going to cover the national records for all of them. Instead, we just wanted to provide some details about the top-5 biggest catfish and largemouth bass ever caught in the United States, since those are two of the most popular freshwater fish (at least in our area of the country).

Top-5 Largest Catfish Ever Caught In the US

#1 – 143 pounds

Where: Virginia – Buggs Island Lake (Kerr Reservoir)
Who: Richard “Nick” Anderson
When: 6/18/2011

#2 – 130 pounds
Where: Missouri – Missouri River
Who: Greg Bernal
When: 7/20/2010

#3 – 124 pounds
Where: Mississippi – Mississippi River
Who: Tim Pruitt
When: 5/21/2005

#4 – 121 pounds
Where: Texas – Lake Texoma
Who: Cody Mullenix
When: 1/16/2004

#5 – 120 pounds
Where: Alabama – Holt Reservoir
Who: John Paul
When: 3/9/2012

As you can see from the map below, the southeast US looks like the place to go if you want to catch the biggest catfish: 

map of the US showing where the 5 biggest catfish were caught

Top-5 Biggest Largemouth Bass Ever Caught In the US

#1 – 22.25 pounds
Where: Georgia – Montgomery Lake
Who: George Perry
When: 6/2/1932

#2 – 22.063 pounds
Where: California – Castaic Lake
Who: Robert Crupi
When: 3/12/1991

#3 – 21.75 pounds
Where: California – Castaic Lake
Who: Michael Arujo
When: 4/21/1975

#4 – 21.688 pounds
Where: California – Lake Dixon
Who: Jed Dickerson
When: 5/31/2003

#5 – 21.2 pounds
Where: California – Lake Casitas
Who: Raymond Easley
When: 3/4/1980

As you can on the map below, it looks like California is the place to be if you want to catch the biggest largemouth bass in the country: 

map of the US showing where the 5 biggest largemouth bass were caught

What Do You Think Is the Best Fishing Spot In the United States?

It’s a subjective question and nobody has fished in every possible lake, river or stream in the United States. Even so, what’s your favorite piece of water to fish in? What do you think is the best place to fish in the country? Let us know in the comments below!

Also, if you need a new boat cover, bimini top or other accessory for your boat, mention this blog post when you call in your order and save 10%!

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