Posted Tuesday, October 13, 2009
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Every day, anglers wrote their names and catches on the bragging board hanging outside Anglers Inn at Lake El Salto in the rugged Sierra Madre Mountains near Mazatlan, Mexico.
In four days, two anglers landed bass topping 12 pounds with one hitting 12.4 pounds. At least 11 10- to 11.99-pounders hit the scales. This does not include when Tony Encinas, head guide for Anglers Inn, caught two 11-pounders, a 10- and a 9-pounder from the same spot with the same swim bait in 20 minutes.
A man and his bride took a break during their honeymoon to fish one morning. Without ever touching a fishing rod before, the groom caught a 10.5-pound bass.
"Is this a good bass?" he asked as he returned to the inn for a scrumptious lunch. "That's not bad for your first fish, but maybe you'll catch a big one next time," several of us veteran bass fanatics responded in unison between dips into the chips and salsa while trying to conceal our envy.
"In May 2001, an angler landed and released an 18.5-pounder," said Billy Chapman, Jr., owner and founder of Anglers Inn International and a 2009 inductee into the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. "We've had a few 16-pounders and a load of 14- and 15-pounders. One day, we found a dead 16-pounder with a tilapia stuck in its mouth. We can't even keep track of the number of 5- to 9-pound bass we catch."
Located about 70 miles northeast of Mazatlan in western Mexico, Lake El Salto covers about 24,000 acres at pool stage. A dam on the Elota River created the irrigation lake, inundating part of a wilderness paradise where jaguars still roam. In places, the water drops to more than 225 feet deep.
In 1985, Chapman stocked pure Florida-strain largemouths and protein-rich tilapia into the new lake. With deep water, abundant forage, consistent water coming down from the 8,000-foot mountains ringing the lake and a long growing season, fish grow rapidly. Now, Lake El Salto ranks as one of the premier trophy bass lakes in the world and could easily produce the next world record largemouth. "The lake has 100 percent Florida bass," Chapman said. "Most other Mexican lakes have a mixture of Floridas and native bass. Native bass do not get as big as Floridas, but Floridas are a bit more tricky to catch."
Opened in 1989, Anglers Inn can accommodate guests in air-conditioned comfort. Hotel-style rooms complete with private baths await visitors. Chefs prepare three full meals a day and offer refreshments all day. The inn provides laundry service with items picked up and delivered to guest rooms. I've stayed in many outstanding resorts and lodges during my travels over the years, but I've never seen better service than at Anglers Inn. Upon arrival, inn staff interview people about their tastes and preferences. For one thing, they ask how each guest likes his or her coffee. When they woke me up to go fishing each morning, a staffer handed me a steaming cup of coffee just the way I liked it. I didn't even need to get out of bed to enjoy my first sip.
With my personal record stalled at 6.25 pounds, I longed to join the Double-Digit Bass Club. After catching a few fish in the 2- to 4-pound range, I connected with a 7-pounder. Proud of my new personal best, we headed back to the inn for lunch and a siesta. That afternoon, I caught an 8-pounder. The next morning, I caught an 8.5-pounder, then a 9-pounder. Each time I entered a boat, I broke my own record and lost some monsters. In three days, I landed more than 100 bass between 4 and 9.75 pounds, but couldn't crack into double digits.
Regrettably, the time to fly home arrived. That morning, I only had time to squeeze in two hours of fishing before leaving. John McKay and I fished several spots without luck before he landed a big bass. With our fishing time dwindling to minutes, I lost a good bass at the boat. Making one final cast before heading home, I landed a 10.32-pounder that gulped a 6-inch golden Storm WildEye Shad swim bait, finally landing me in the Double Digit Bass Club!
Besides running Anglers Inn at Lake El Salto and a saltwater operation out of Mazatlan, Chapman runs another bass operation at Lake Mateo, a wing shooting operation and an Amazon peacock bass operation. For booking trips, call 800-GOTA-FISH, (468-2347).
John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer and photographer with more than 1,300 articles in more than 100 magazines to his credit. He's also the National Fishing Writer for Examiner.com (www.examiner.com/x-16491-Fishing-Examiner) and public relations director for Anglers Inn International (www.anglersinn.com). Contact him through his website at www.JohnNFelsher.com.
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