LA VIDA BASS AT EL SALTO
Ken Schultz' wonderful story about chasing bass
in a Mexican lake is no fish tale.
The rising sun was a welcome sight for Katie Watson and me, who
were sitting on our cold and nearly numb hands as guide Tony Balboa
slowed his boat and shut off the motor. We had already been fishing
for largemouth bass for an hour on this unusually cool December
morning and I was about to dip my fingers into El Salto Lake to
warm them up. The water on this Mexican impoundment near Sinaloa
was warmer than the air, and the thick mist rising off the surface
was beginning to thin here in a back channel.
A frequent visitor to this mountain-fringed lake, Katie recognized
the site and said there was a cemetery up ahead, inundated when
the lake was flooded. Shortly we pulled within casting range of
a tombstone and Tony motioned to cast our surface plugs toward it.
The upper 10 inches of a lone tombstone were above the surface and
I must have looked a little wide-eyed at it, because the English-speaking
Mexican guide laughed and said, "Try to catch a live one."
Katie cast a silver-and-black popper to the right side of the stone,
let it lay still for a moment, then softly twitched it. Both the
calm water and the morning quiet were shattered when a big bass
attacked it, leaving a bathtub-size swirl where her popper had been.
The Tulsa angler let out a yell, but had no chance to set the hook;
the bass bolted forward and expelled the hard-plastic lure. Perhaps
it was a coincidence that the sun crested the treetops at that moment
and the mist disappeared, but we were both instantly warmed up.
The presence of big "live ones" in this western Mexican lake currently
has the blood and the adrenaline of many anglers flowing. Katie's
fish could well have been akin to the 11-pound bass that a Dallas
fisherman caught on the same lure at dusk the previous evening.
And that topped off a day in which he had also caught and released
a 10-pounder and his wife an 8-pounder.
This is down-and-dirty bass fishing, however, and catching largemouths
of such enviable sizes is commendable since the lake is full of
flooded timber and the bass - as fast and broad-shouldered as NFL
linebackers - are virtually guaranteed to streak into a submerged
cactus or mesquite tree as soon as they're hooked. Many anglers
have lost the biggest bass of their lives at El Salto when their
line proved no match for jalapeno-hot fish and wooden underwater
But it isn't just big bass that is drawing anglers from the U.S.,
Canada, Europe, and Japan. Nestled in the Sierra Madre mountains
about an hour-and-a half drive from Mazatlan, this 24,000-acre lake
is being fished by one of the top outfitters in the adventure fishing
travel business, Billy Chapman, Jr. A former New Jerseyan whose
customers have followed him to the best waters of several countries,
Chapman is putting roots down here; he has already constructed the
deluxe Angler's Inn fishing lodge and is starting a small retirement
community, a coastal roosterfish and snook angling fishing business,
a dove hunting operation, and, perhaps most importantly, expanding
a humanitarian program for the people who live in the mountain villages
that were displaced by the creation of the lake.
That program, Clothes for Bass, is just three years old, but last
year it dispensed 16,000 pounds of clothing to more than 300 nearby
people. Formerly farmers, the residents are now commercial fishermen,
netting El Salto for tilapia, a food fish transplanted to Mexico
from its native Africa many decades ago. Tilapia repopulate quickly
and need to be harvested at El Salto, but the temptation exists
to also take the bass, which fetch a good price on the underground
market. Netting and selling bass is illegal, but continues at other
lakes, adversely affecting bass populations.
Chapman's program will help sustain the bass, which attract dozens
of anglers weekly; all of the bass they catch are released alive.
It also gives something tangible back to the local people. "One
10-pound bass will bring $3 dollars," says Chapman, "but a full
complement of clothes for a family are worth $1,500. So if they
sign an agreement with me not to take the bass, and stick to the
tilapia, we'll give them plenty of clothes, plus medical supplies,
toys, and other things they can't afford." The average commercial
tilapia fisherman earns $6,000 annually. Chapman has mostly relied
on a large client list to donate the clothes and supplies. Last
year nearly 400 people contributed clothes. He put their names in
a drawing and picked one for a free four-day bass fishing trip to
The fact that bass are present at all in El Salto is because the
lake was stocked with 200,000 Florida-strain bass in 1985 when it
was filling. These fish, which have formed the cornerstone of much-heralded
trophy bass stocking programs in California and Texas, are noted
for growing fast and achieving huge (10- to 20-pound) sizes.
In December of 1998, El Salto produced a lake-record 14-pound 3-ounce
bass to one of Chapman's customers, and 20-pounders may be possible.
If so, that would put El Salto on a short list of the world's best
big-bass lakes. Helping to fuel this is the fact that in 1994, a
16-pound 3-ounce bass was found dead in El Salto; it had choked
to death with a tilapia wedged in its throat.
© 2000 Ken Schultz and kenschultz.com. All Rights Reserved.
Ken Schultz has been called "Mr. Fishing USA"
by ESPN. The Wall Street Journal said his Fishing Encyclopedia was
"a treasure" and USA TODAY said it was "exhaustive."
And the Outdoor Life Network called him the "best fisherman on the
planet." Ken Schultz's articles have appeared for more than two
decades in the pages of Field & Stream and the sports pages
of The New York Times. He has 11 books and one encyclopedia
to his credit. His exhaustive information on angling is available
The site features everything there is to know about equipment, species,
destinations, and basic how-to information on all aspects of sport
fishing. His practical fishing tips and Gear Guide segments are
currently televised on the Outdoor Life Network, and he has
appeared on various shows on TNN, ESPN, ESPN2,
and even on CNBC.
His 1,916-page encyclopedia, Ken Schultz's Fishing
Encyclopedia & Worldwide Angling Guide, was published recently
to rave reviews around the world. Containing 1936 pages, 422 illustrations,
470 photos, 718 line drawings, and more than 2000 entries from abeam
to Zambia, the tome weighs in at nearly ten pounds. It is
currently on the outdoor bestseller list and is being translated
into several foreign languages.