MEXICO’S LAKE EL Salto technically isn’t eligible to be on Bassmaster’s list of the 100 Best Bass Lakes, but if it were 500 miles north, there’s likely no U.S. lake that could hold a candle to it, at least over the long haul. It might even get tiresome to see it atop the rankings each year. Since Billy Chapman Sr. and Billy Chapman Jr. first imported pure Florida-strain bass to the Mexican state of Sinaloa in the mid- 1980s, El Salto has continued to pump out monster bass with next to zero down- turns. Certainly other trophy factories have arisen south of the border during that time period, but they’ve all cycled up and down, getting hot for a while and then cooling off or running out of water. El Salto has remained hot to the touch that entire time, pumping out huge numbers of double-digit fish and more 4- to 8-pound brutes per acre than any public waterway around.
No less an authority than Kevin VanDam gave it his seal of approval when he told B.A.S.S. Times that El Salto should be at the absolute pinnacle of every large- mouth addict’s bucket list. He has good reason for that endorsement: Despite having fished just about every public trophy fishery around, plus many of the best private lakes in the world, KVD got his best five-fish stringer, a limit that totaled over 50 pounds, while filming a television show at El Salto with Shaw Grigsby. Not surprisingly, VanDam did his damage with a big-bladed spinnerbait.
KVD may have hit the magic double-digit average, but he didn’t come close to the lake record, an 18-pound, 8-ounce sow that inhaled a 10-inch black and blue Power Worm like it was a single nacho. There are many more of those teen-class fish swimming in the lake, which is over 20,000 acres at full pool, and while the 18-pound mark hasn’t been officially eclipsed again, hundreds of double-digit fish are caught each season.
“I’d estimate that during our 45-week season, we catch over 400 10-pound bass,” said Chapman Jr., owner of the lake’s luxurious Anglers Inn lodge. “And as a rough estimate, I’d bet there are another 3,000 over 8 pounds.”El Salto is located 22 miles from the coastline on the Sea of Cortez and was created by the damming of the Rio Elota to irrigate crops such as tomatoes and strawberries. No timber or structure was altered prior to the impoundment, and it appears as if the pages of “Bass Fishing 101” were transferred to real life, with beautiful ditches, humps, natural rockpiles, bluff walls and tapering points as far as the eye can see. The only thing missing from the textbook is aquatic vegetation, and even that can be found in the fall when lines of floating hyacinths create shade that’s perfectly tailored to punching and frogging. Not surprisingly, that’s the bite that Dean Rojas pursued when he showed up in October 2015, and his first flip to a bush enmeshed in hyacinths with a creature bait and a big tungsten weight produced a 9-pounder.
All of that structure and cover wouldn’t mean a thing if the big bass didn’t have anything to eat, and that’s where El Salto has consistently outshined the other lakes in its area. “It has such an incredible forage base,” said industry veteran Ron Giudice, who’s been there nearly 40 times since 1998. That includes shad, a native fish called “mojarra” and, most importantly, wads of tilapia — so many that at times it looks like it’s raining. “The tilapia program is what makes it so good. The locals have a cooperative, and they’re incentivized to keep the population strong.” That keeps them in business, and it keeps them invested in the lake’s health.
Most of Anglers Inn’s guides are from the surrounding villages, or even the villages that were flooded when the lake was created, so they know every ridge intimately, and even today they watch the predictable cycle of water fluctuations and dial in its mysteries. Each spring, the lake drops to irrigate the crops, reaching low water levels by June and allow- ing all sorts of underbrush to grow up around the lake. Then, in July and August the rains come, refilling the lake with a huge boost of nutrients. By September and October, when things level out, the fish are on the heavy feed, chomping on Whopper Ploppers, flipping baits and 10XDs alike.
Giudice also said that in his vast travels to many of the waterways on this year’s list and elsewhere, he’s never seen such intense recruitment. “There’s always a good balance of fish from 6 inches to over 10 pounds, and everything in between. The ratio is con- stant.” With the fish growing up to 2 pounds a year, that means there’s always a new crop of uneducated bass ready to eat, but woe be to the angler who underestimates the strength of an El Salto 4-pounder! Tied tail to tail, they’ll outpull a 6-pound small- mouth or an 8-pound largemouth from just about anywhere else. There are no guaran- tees of 10s, but you’ll catch 4- to 8-pound fish until you might be inclined to scream, “No mas!”
A Bucket List Benefit For B.A.S.S. Members
Anglers Inn International has long been a popular destination for B.A.S.S. anglers. In recognition of that, and for the first time, Anglers Inn is offering B.A.S.S. members the opportunity to check an item off their bucket lists at a substantially reduced price. From September 17 through October 29 of this year, B.A.S.S. members can have the run of this 36-angler-capacity lodge at a substantial discount.
A 3 1/2-day, four-night adventure, commencing on Wednesdays, will be available for $1,565, $400 off the normal rate. Trips of 2 1/2 days and three nights will commence on Saturdays and will cost $1,315, which is $250 off the normal price. That includes lodging, guided fishing, transportation to and from the Mazatlan airport, daily laundry service and all food and drink. Airfare to Mazatlan International Airport and discretionary gratuities are not included.
While tackle is not included, Anglers Inn can put together custom tackle packages for a substantially discounted price thanks to sponsors. Additionally, the lodge recently signed a sponsorship deal with St. Croix, so rods will be available to guests at no cost on a first-come, first-served basis, meaning you no longer need to travel with heavy luggage or a big rod tube.
Once there, anglers will feel like they have bassin’ paradise all to them- selves, but the beauty of this is that it’s a bucket list trip that’s easy to attain. It requires no float planes, horseback treks or off-roading to get there. Various airlines offer direct flights to Mazatlan from cities including Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, and then it’s only a two-hour trip on major highways to the lodge. While it’s not inside the continental United States, you can get to El Salto more quickly from many places than you can to some of the other top lakes, all without sacrificing any comfort.
For more information on this exclusive offer for B.A.S.S. members or to book your trip, go to anglersinn.com or call 1-800-GOTA-FISH.