I live in the Canadian province of Manitoba, a land blessed with hundreds of thousands of lakes. However, in the whole province, there is only one lake with a reasonably catchable population of largemouth bass. It’s certainly not a huge population and – judging by my catches – it’s a selective one. I actually think the bass in that lake are not far removed from steelhead or musky – fish of a thousand casts each. Being only forty minutes from my house, I paid the lake six visits last summer and caught a total of two bass.
Enter Lake El Salto, a bass factory (Dare I say a big bass factory?) just outside of Mazatlan, Mexico. High numbers of bass and higher daily temperatures lured myself and my partner Deb there over the Christmas holidays.
Below is a brief look at the trip…
THE LAKE. El Salto is a reservoir about 2 hours from Mazatlan in the Sierra Madre Mountains. It was created in the 80’s and stocked with Florida strain largemouth. Hordes of tilapia help keep the bass fat and happy. With scattered mats of floating hyacinth against a backdrop of forested peaks, El Salto is also a gem to look at. Adding to its visual appeal are an amazing number of herons, egrets, and coots.
THE LODGING. We stayed at the Angler’s Inn, right on the lakeshore. A lodge van picked us up at the Mazatlan airport and dropped us off at a Mazatlan resort three days later. The room was very comfortable and the food was outstanding. To make sure we made it through to supper, as soon as we got in from evening fishing, an appetizer and a drink were pressed into our hands. All drinks and food were included. Filet mignon and barbecued ribs are examples of items on the dinner menu.
THE FISHING. The fishing day was split. The boat left shortly before sunrise at 6 AM and returned to the lodge for lunch around 11 AM. A hearty meal and the accompanying margaritas induced a short siesta, then it was back on the water from 2 PM until dusk at 6 PM.
Dawn and dusk saw me working poppers around very bassy-looking cover. When the sun was higher, I threw a Gummy Minnow to the same types of spots. Weedguards were helpful in retrieving less than perfect casts. Occasionally, I used a fast-sinking line to probe deeper water.
THE BOAT AND GUIDE. The boat was a fast and stable Bass Tracker with fore and aft seats for fishing. The lodge supplied a stripping tub; with the forward seat removed and the stripping tub in its place, the bow casting deck became very fly fisher friendly. There were two comfortable seats amidships for high speed runs between spots.
Juan, our guide, had been working at the lake for twelve years. El Salto has many arms, coves, and islands; he ranged all over the lake and showed us a lot of good-looking water. Jaun was also an expert at using the electric trolling motor to keep the boat in perfect casting position.
Although Jaun generally guided folks with conventional gear, he was certainly comfortable with a long rod on board. He was adept at recommending flies, lines, and leaders. And he also understood the need for backcast room.
THE WEATHER. Keep in mind this was the end of December…. At dawn, the temperature would be in the 50’s or 60’s, which made for some chilly boat rides even while wearing a fleece and a shell. During the day, it would climb into the 70’s or 80’s and even a lightweight shirt felt downright hot. Nevertheless, having just escaped a Canadian winter, it was a good kind of heat. At dusk, as the fishing day ended, the temperature would get comfortably cool once more. There was never even a hint of rain.
THE CATCH. I fished three morning sessions and two afternoon sessions and caught about 15 bass. They ranged in size from 1/2 pound to 2 pounds. I used fly tackle exclusively and also caught a portly tilapia on a popper. Deb fished only two afternoons and used spinning tackle; her numbers were about the same as mine but her fish were larger, boating a couple of three or four pounders.
Overall, the fishing was spotty at best but good enough to keep us anticipating the next cast. Most other boats at the lodge had similar results, although a couple parties had sessions where they caught tons of fish, including a 6 and 7 pounder. I think the weather was actually too good and the clear blue skies put the bass in a negative mood. As well, high lake levels gave them more water to melt into.
MISCELLANEOUS. The rainy season is from July to October and Lake El Salto fills up. During the remainder of the year, the lake is drawn down. The boats can often be docked a half mile from the lodge when the lake is low. Juan said that low lake levels concentrate the fish and improve fishing. He considered May and June to be his favorite months and said the bass spawned in March.
Optimistically, I took a lot of BIG flies and brought along a 9 weight rod. Given the size of the fish caught and flies used, anything from a 6 to an 8 would not be out of place. I used a Sage Largemouth for top water work and it excelled at this.
OTHER ACTIVITIES. Although Lake El Salto is just about the fishing, nearby Mazatlan has great resorts, a picturesque old town, and all kinds of non-angling activities.
WOULD I GO BACK? Yes!!! I definitely think it deserves another shot. Or perhaps Lake Picachos – a nearby lake that Angler’s Inn recently built a lodge on.