Lake El Salto, hailed by many as the best bass lake in the world, was at its highest level ever recently when reigning BASS Masters Classic champion Kevin VanDam visited it for the first time.
The residue of two tropical storms, one hurricane and the typical summer rainy season had swollen the 25,000-acre impoundment beyond recognition. It was the kind of adverse condition that would cripple bass waters located north of the border.
Yet after two days of sampling Lake El Salto's plentiful and hard-charging jalapeno bass, VanDam went away nothing short of impressed.
"Well, it's certainly the greatest lake I've ever been to," the Michigan pro says. "We were there supposedly at the small fish time of year and the water was real high, yet it was pretty amazing. I was really blown away by just how good it was.
"We were there to film a television show, and we had to use one lure all day long to film that show. If we could have thrown other baits like any other angler would that came there, there's no telling how many we would have caught and how many more big ones we would have caught. It amazes me that so many quality fish can live in one lake. It would scare you to go around that lake and electroshock it."
An astonishing 71 percent of El Salto anglers caught bass of 7 pounds or better during 2001, including this 10-pounder.
VanDam visited the Sierra Madre Mountains reservoir to film a segment of One More Cast With Shaw Grigsby. "It was some of the most phenomenal fishing I've ever seen. We were bloodied, bruised and battered," said Grigsby, an accomplished pro from Florida. "The first day, Kevin caught a 7-, 8-, 9- and 10-pounder and I caught an 8- and 11-pounder. We caught 60 to 80 fish in the 3-pound-plus range."
It takes a great deal to impress these two well-traveled anglers. But El Salto has been producing the kind of quantity and quality bass action that is unrivaled anywhere. No lake surrenders as many 7- to 14-pound bass as this West Coast Mexican fishery.
Just For The Record
Anglers Inn, the only lodge to operate on El Salto during its entire existence, keeps immaculate statistics on the successes of its customers. Guides from the lakeside lodge weigh their bigger fish on quality scales, providing information that their customers use to complete a detailed report at the end of each trip. Collectively and individually, last season's information paints a trophy-bass portrait that is so incredible that it reads like fiction:
Seventy-one percent of Anglers Inn fishermen caught a 7-pound-plus bass. El Salto surrendered a 12-pound-plus largemouth to a whopping 38 percent of its visitors. Ninety percent caught at least a 6-pounder.
On the average day last season, the lake yielded 80 bass per boat. California tournament pro Mike Folkestad enjoyed the best trophy action of his illustrious career with five bass that weighed 53 pounds, 5 ounces. His 10 best bass broke the 100-pound mark. During a three-day trip, father and son Jay and Paul Lemon of Tulsa scored a 14-, 13-, two 12-, and three 10-pound bass.
That's just a few examples. The impressive statistics go on and on.
BASSMASTER Magazine senior writer Robert Montgomery and friend Dave Burkhardt spent five days on the lake and went away believing they had visited the absolute best trophy bass lake in the world after catching 13 fish that broke the 10-pound mark (including a 13 1/2- and 12.3-pounder).
"I truly believe that it is the best bass fishery in the world, and maybe the best ever," Montgomery says. "In addition to those big fish, we caught lots of 6- and 7-pound fish, which suggests that this fishery isn't going to burn out for a while."
After his short October visit, VanDam plans to return at least once this spring when the big bass dominate the late-season action.
"One thing I like about El Salto is that it's not a lake that you need to fish a lot of different lures or you have to fish a lot of techniques to catch good fish," he says. "And it's got a little bit of everything there to make anybody happy. If you want to throw topwater, you can catch them on topwater. If you want to throw spinnerbaits, you can catch them on spinnerbaits. If you want to crankbait, you're really going to kill them. If you're a worm fisherman, you can catch them like crazy on worms.
"It's by far the best lake I've ever fished."
For more information on Lake El Salto, contact Anglers Inn at 800-GOTA-FISH. www.anglersinn.com
More Incredible Action
Catching fish like this all day long, on so many different types of lures makes bassin' in Mexico the trip of a lifetime.
While Lake El Salto is considered the king of Mexican bass waters, there are several other fine lakes that routinely provide outstanding action during the season (October-June). Here's a sampling:
Lake Milpa, Mexico's youngest and hottest bass fishery, just might be the best numbers bass lake in the world. Located on Mexico's largest river, the Rio Santiago, Milpa is a wishbone-shaped impoundment that stretches for approximately 70 miles through mountains up to 6,000-feet in altitude. In addition to its numerous waterfalls, visiting anglers are likely to see a variety of subtropical birds and other exotic creatures that roam the lake's shorelines. It was built about 40 miles northeast of Tepic in the Mexican state of Nayarit.
Milpa's bass population has exploded since the lake was opened in 1997. Despite its youth, Milpa has established itself as Mexico's "action lake," a place where fishermen routinely average 100 bass a day weighing 3 to 7 pounds.
Lake Milpa was built solely as a source for hydroelectric power, not as a water supply for irrigation. As a result, Milpa's water level isn't impacted by the water fluctuation that historically has impacted fishing on other Mexican lakes like Huites. For information on Milpa, contact Anglers Inn.
Located in the same region as El Salto, Lake Comedero is a terrific trophy bass lake, one of the best in Mexico. This lake has a reputation for surrendering fewer fish than the other Mexican lakes, but most are quality-sized bass. Ten-pounders have been commonplace in recent years.
Lake Huites, a 24,000-acre impoundment of the Chinipas and Fuertes rivers near Los Mochias in the West Coast state of Sinaloa, is a 6-year-old lake located high in the mountains (at an elevation of 6,800 feet) that fluctuates as much as 1,000 feet each year. Its fairly clear, deep waters harbor a huge population of bass that was first stocked in the river system in the 1970s.
Upon its opening, Huites became famous for 100-bass days and quality (5- to 8-pound) bass. And it still produces some amazing days highlighted by big numbers of quality-sized largemouths. The problem with Lake Huites is that its water level can plummet overnight, rendering a prime fishing area high and dry the next day. That is because Huites was built as a water-storage reservoir for the two other lakes (Hildago and Dominques) below it. Once the farmers' needs for irrigation begin in late November or December, Huites' water level can drop 20 feet in a single day. For information on Comedero and Huites, contact Ron Speed Adventures at 903-489-1656.
Return On Investment
The cost of a Mexican bass excursion differs with the various outfitters and lakes, as well as length of trip. Expect to spend at least $1,500-$2,000 for a three-day trip. With an outfitter like Anglers Inn, the trip price covers everything once you arrive in Mazatlan and there are no hidden costs. Beware of hidden costs with some outfitters, however.
Anglers Inn is renowned for its lodging and service. Its air-conditioned lakeside lodge is modern; its kitchen serves an outstanding array of American and Mexican dishes. Purified water is provided in the rooms and used for all cooking, so gastric problems are not a concern here. The staff is friendly and their attention to detail is amazing. Two small examples: the morning wake-up knock is accompanied by a tray of coffee and juice; when fishermen return from the lake at mid-day or evening, they are greeted by a host with cold margaritas, beer and soft drinks. The fishing takes place in comfortable 16-foot boats with 48-horsepower outboards, piloted by guides who speak at least some English. Make no mistake about it, this is pampered fishing at its best.