Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 June 2013 04:44
June 18, 2013
Now that I’ve been back for over two weeks I really should end this series of El Salto memories, but every time I’m ready to move on and write about something else I’m reminded of another anecdote or nugget of information that bears repeating. So, what the hell, I’ll keep on going.
My friend Duncan Maccubbin, who I’ve fished with since 1998, has a strange braid fetish. Except for the occasional fluorocarbon leader, he’s braid-only-braid-all-the-time, the Power Pro poster boy. He’s just lucky that it doesn’t need to be changed out regularly like mono or fluoro, or else he’d be broke and living in a refrigerator box.
While we caught our fish on a variety of lures – most prominently deep-diving crankbaits, jigs, Senkos, spinnerbaits and chatterbaits – we also experienced a flipping bite on deep hardwood trees abutting the old river channel. These trees typically stood in 10 to 15 feet of water, and if you could weave a ¾ or 1 ounce tungsten weight, a big creature bait and a heavy-gauge straight-shank flipping hook down through the branches, there was a decent chance that eventually you’d get your arm broken. The strikes weren’t fast and furious, but they occurred often enough to keep it interesting and to require us to keep the Ibuprofen on tap. Duncan took that as a challenge, and when he wrestled a 10-pounder out of a tree on our second or third day in Mexico he committed to that bite as much as possible. Again, he didn’t get many bites, but when he got one it was typically at least 6 pounds.
Duncan knows what he’s doing with a flipping stick, but nevertheless he required some assistance on occasion. I already wrote last week about our guide Chi Chi Rodriguez going in after a fish – well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give equal space to his brother Juan, who didn’t get wet but worked every bit as hard to get fish in the boat. You see, those same branches that tend to catch a bait on its downward path are a bear when you’re trying to thread a 7-, 8- or 10-pound fish all the way up to the surface. Duncan lost a few, but Juan’s exceptional boat maneuvering, extreme patience and fine net work resulted in numerous bass like this one, which otherwise would have been just a fish story.
Last Updated on Monday, 17 June 2013 08:30
June 17, 2013
As I’ve noted previously in this space, I’m a t-shirt junkie, with well over 50 fishing-related t-shirts in my otherwise unexceptional wardrobe. Not surprisingly, there are a bunch from Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits in my dresser, including the super-cool long-sleeve Kanji model, although most are short-sleeved. Prior to the El Salto trip, I had ‘em in royal blue, navy blue, green ash gray and sand (extra credit if you can tell me which GYCB pro favors the sand version).
In honor of this momentous trip, I decided it made sense to outfit our crew in matching apparel as a gesture of goodwill and so we’d look like the members of one of those 8th grade bus trips where your best friend threw up in a plastic bag. My navy blue model was barely being held together by a few threads so that was an obvious candidate for replacement. Additionally, since the “cardinal” version was the only GYCB tee I didn’t own, that filled the second slot. You may have noticed in a lot of my pics that our crew is wearing the shirts. It’s not by accident – if you subsequently dreamt about Senkos and Fat Ikas, you have me to thank. If those dreams led you to make a Tackle Warehouse order of those plastics, the company has me to thank.
The shirts are pretty sweet and I can testify that the fish slime comes right off in the wash. Get one or two for yourself. At about fifteen bucks, it’s an investment in your image. Fat bass not included.
Last Updated on Thursday, 13 June 2013 08:46
June 13, 2013
I am not a heavy drinker by any means, and now that my addiction to Diet Coke has been tamed most of the liquids I consume are probably good for you. It was probably all of the chemicals and toxins that held me together for these 43 years, so if I drop dead in the coming months you can blame the detox efforts.
Those admissions notwithstanding, it was virtually impossible not to partake of the good stuff at Anglers Inn.
It’s not just an “open bar” policy at Billy Chapman’s resort – instead it’s a “rolling bar” policy. Every time you step out of a van, off of a boat or open the door to your room someone hands you a glass of something liquid. They knock on your door at 4:45, and when you open it there’s coffee and juice waiting outside. Your boat’s cooler is filled with whatever you request, although owing to the high temps we generally erred on the side of caution and asked for lots of water.
The real prize, though, is the constant stream of margaritas, served in spherical glasses large enough to house a decent-sized school of goldfish. When you go to sit at the bar, before your cheeks can even graze the seat, there’s one in front of you, served to your exact specifications. In my case, that meant no salt around the rim. In the case of one member of our group who shall not be named, that meant an extra shot of tequila. When you finish one, they ask you if you want another “Kool Aid” and it’s hard to say no. If you don’t have time to make it to the bar because you’re working on tackle or otherwise occupied, one of the hard-working staff members like my man Sammy (pictured above) will deliver one to you. It’s the greatest form of room service ever.
We might’ve had a beer or three, too, although those little seven-ounce pony bottles don’t pack quite the punch of a 10-gallon margarita brain freeze.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 June 2013 07:39
June 12, 2013
I didn’t think we’d ever find guides as good as the ones in Brazil – our friends Marzo, Shakin, Bashim, Cobra and Wilson worked harder than we had any right to expect in order to put us on fish and get them in the boat. They’d chop through dense stands of trees with a machete for the better part of an hour to get us into secluded backwaters. They’d climb trees to retrieve snagged lures (not naming any names here). Perhaps most impressively, when we had fish hang up on underwater obstacles, they wouldn’t hesitate to strip down to their shorts and go in after them, with a high percentage of success.
The guides at Anglers Inn El Salto are every bit as good. While the ultra-low lake level didn’t necessitate any bushwhacking, and certain anglers have improved their casting, item number three on the “dedicated guide test” came into play.
On our second day on the water, Terry Conroy had a seven-plus pound fish annihilate a spinnerbait and make off with it through a thick stand of trees, bushes and other potential pitfalls. I don’t know what brand of line Terry was using, but I’d like to know, because eventually the fish became stuck in a serious tangle of limbs and despite all sorts of pulling, yanking and struggling to get it free the line held. The only problem was that while we could see that the fish was still attached, its mouth was too far under the water for us to free it.
Our guide Chi Chi didn’t hesitate to strip down to his skivvies and go in after it. Notably, after shedding his blue jeans he took off his officially-issued Anglers Inn t-shirt, which read in big letters: “Service is Our Focus.” That fact was so self-evident that the words were redundant. Into the water he dropped, took a deep breath, went under and came back with green gold. I’m glad it wasn’t 10 or 20 feet under because poor Chi Chi might’ve needed an oxygen tank. I’m also glad that unlike Brazil, there are no caimans in Mexico.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 June 2013 07:36
June 11, 2013
I’m sure that many people reading the blog this week just want to see pictures of big El Salto donkeys, one after another after another. I can’t blame them – the fish are the main draw. At the same time, while the lake is other-worldly and the guides worked their butts off, the Anglers Inn experience is about much more than the pursuit of big green fish.
For one thing, there’s the food.
Fortunately our group had no picky eaters, but even if we did you’d have to have no taste buds or no will to live to lose weight at Billy Chapman’s lodge. Before and after slinging big crankbaits and wrestling mules out of deep hardwoods, we gorged ourselves on high-calorie food, and lots of it. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, repeat. Some of the guys in the lodge even took bags of sandwiches in the boat in case they got hungry after a bacon/egg/pancake/cereal/fruit breakfast and before the fajitas and “American tacos” (hamburgers) Anglers served for lunch. I may be a glutton, but I would’ve been embarrassed at that point.
I’d been avoiding carbs for about six weeks before the trip, but I completely fell off the wagon while south of the border, as you might discern from the fried oreos pictured above. A moment after this picture was snapped they were gone. I won’t say whether I ate one of them, most of them or all of them, but if I’d asked I’m sure I could’ve had another batch.
The dinners seem to be on a rotating four- or five-day schedule, and our group timed it exactly right because we got the bacon-wrapped filet and the “tower of ribs” twice each. Carnivorous Kevin made no secret of the fact that he was pleased by our timing.
Last Updated on Monday, 10 June 2013 07:10
June 10, 2013
Up until last week, my wife had resisted the siren call of the Senko. This is odd for three reasons: First, it’s a lure that every beginning angler seems to love. Second, I’ve repeatedly encouraged her to try them out, since they catch fish everywhere, from six inches of water down to far deeper than we’ll ever fish. Third, as a result of my eight year affiliation with Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, I have about five hundred pounds of the suckers in the garage and in the boat. The other day I even found a pack (five-inch, green pumpkin) in the center console of my Suburban. Not sure how they got there, but it’s good to know that if there’s ever a wacky rigging emergency I’m prepared.
Her frustration just about boiled over last year while prefishing for a little club derby on Buggs Island. We’d found fish to be relating reliably to buck brush and were trying to figure out which creeks and coves had the most fish and the best quality. They’d bite a Senko better than anything else – every so often I’d pitch into a bush and my bait would come swimming back out until I could shake the fish off. She never got the knack of it and just got more and more frustrated as the day progressed.
Fortunately for her (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), it went from 80 degrees, sunny and calm on practice day, to somewhere south of 50 with heavy winds and driving rain when it counted. We ended up catching most of our fish on a spinnerbait and she was able to punt the issue for a little bit longer.
At El Salto, though, she couldn’t deny the power of this stubby piece of plastic any more. She resisted for a couple of days, but the guides were insistent. One day, after fishing with someone else, she came back to the lodge for a siesta and informed me that “it’s a pretty good bait” and “it catches a lot of big fish.” The rest of the week she continued to rely upon the Senko as a supplement to a deep-diving crankbait and a chatterbait, catching fish up to eight pounds with it. I couldn’t convince her myself, but the fish finally did. I guess I’m going to have to replenish the stash.
Last Updated on Friday, 07 June 2013 06:51
June 7, 2013
I’m told that the average bass at El Salto reaches two pounds by the end of its first year. Part of the reason for the speedy growth rate is strong Florida-strain genetics and a favorable climate, but from what I saw the main reason is the abundant forage, in particular tilapia.
The tilapia, natives of Africa, breed and grow quickly. If not removed regularly, they’d dominate the lake. Fortunately, the brains behind Anglers Inn worked to organize a tilapia cooperative amongst local farmers. For most of the year they put their nets in for ten days and then remove them for five. [At the time we visited, the nets were out for the summer, freeing up more fishing area.] It’s a win-win-win. The locals make a solid living, have no temptation to kill and sell the bass, and the fishery is regulated.
Despite these efforts, the tilapia remain incredibly abundant. When we’d get into sections of deep hardwood trees near the river channel, every top would have a cloud of thousands of two- to four-inch fish suspended in its branches. In one area far up the river, the forage base was so thick that it consistently looked like it was raining. When you’d pull a spinnerbait or chatterbait or swimbait through the water, you’d feel the small baitfish bouncing off of it – until a six- or seven- or eight-pound bass decided to jump on your offering.
At times it was maddening. You’d see fish blowing up on these balls of bait, occasionally coming completely out of the water, yet when you’d throw back to the boil the fish would be gone (or its belly would be full). It hurt for a little while, until a mean-ass green fish knocked you out of your self-pity party.
While the tilapia are most often the “eaten” rather than the “eater,” occasionally they get their revenge. Check out the picture above. We found this seven-pounder floating, the victim of its own gluttony. That same morning, one of the other boats came upon a virtually identical scene, except in their case both fish were still alive, and were separated to bite and fight again.
Last Updated on Thursday, 06 June 2013 07:44
June 6, 2013
I’m not saying that wearing the Pete Weighs In patch will allow you to (a) catch 10 pounders; (b) win the Forrest Wood Cup; or (c) qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series on your first try – but it can’t hurt.
Kevin Hawk and I caught an early morning swimbait double last Friday morning and it seemed like a good excuse for some south of the border patch piracy. Unfortunately, the patch fell out when he opened his mouth to ask if I was done snapping pictures so he could release these two subpar specimens and get back to chasing the kind of fish that dominate El Salto.
Minutes later he boated an 8-pounder. We have no conclusive proof that his contact with the PWI patch allowed him to upgrade, but don’t sleep on the patch.
June 5, 2013
I’ve written this blog since 2008, and over the course of five years and hundreds of thousands of words it has provided me with a lot of benefits. While I’ve occasionally offended a few readers and some industry folks, for the most part the response has been positive and my blogging has led to many other writing opportunities. It has exposed my work and my opinions to some major league influence peddlers, and as a result I’ve gotten some pretty cool opportunities to fish, travel and hobnob. It has also enabled me to hoard a lot of tackle, some of which would not be available at any price if I didn’t have this forum.
It has also allowed me to meet and speak with a great many people who aren’t fishing industry insiders, but who are pretty cool nonetheless. I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read my stuff and comment on it. One such person is Massachusetts angler Terry Conroy. I don’t remember when we first started corresponding, but I do know that our communications resulted from something I wrote in Pete Weighs In.
Terry had considered joining us in Brazil last year, but pesky family obligations got in the way. “If you ever go to El Salto again, I’ll definitely go,” he said at the time. Yeah, right. I’ve heard that before. He was a man of his word, though, and when earlier this year I broached the idea of joining us he wrote the check to Anglers Inn and booked a plane ticket without hesitation. The first time we actually met face to face was in the Dallas airport.
Over the course of the four days he fished with us in Mexico it was like we’d all known him forever. He kept up with the smack talk, the eating and drinking, and of course the fishing efforts. Prior to El Salto his biggest largemouth had been in the six-pound class. We fished together on Monday and he caught an 8-0, then a 7-09. The next day, fishing with my wife, he caught an 8-09 and a 9-01. Pretty sure he had more than a few pesky sixes and sevens along the way. If you travel with the Pete Weighs In crew, that kind of success isn’t guaranteed, but let me put it this way – we’re not scheduling any outings to Love Canal, parking lot mud puddles or the Three Rivers of Pittsburgh. We go where the fish grow big and mean.
My only regret is that Terry wasn’t able to stay the whole week with us. Hoping he’ll be able to do so next year.
Any other blog readers going to take the plunge in 2014? Time to put up or shut up.
Last Updated on Monday, 03 June 2013 18:06
June 3, 2013
I just returned from an incredible week at Anglers Inn El Salto with my wife, my longtime friend Duncan Maccubbin, Pete Weighs In reader Terry Conroy and Elite Series pro Kevin Hawk. I’d like to call it the trip of a lifetime, but all five of us are planning a return trip at the same time of year in 2014, and we’re hoping that trip will be even better.
I have been to most of the best tournament waters in the United States – Falcon, the Cal Delta, Guntersville, Erie, the Potomac, Okeechobee and dozens of others – and I can confidently state that nothing compares to El Salto. No other largemouths are so mean. Kevin confirmed that even the big spotted bass in his adopted home state of Alabama do not pull so hard. The numbers of fish that we caught were not outlandish (typically 15 to 30 per person per day), but the average size was exceptional. I’m pretty sure that I’m understating things when I report that collectively we probably had 150 fish over 6 pounds and at least half of the largeheads we landed were over four.
Making it even better was the service at Anglers Inn. I have not stayed with the other outfitters on the lake, and I have no reason to. The AI service is unparalleled, the food is plentiful and your drink glass will never go empty. Once they learned our preferences, we were catered to around the clock, as was every other guest. When they learned that we liked avocados, there were sliced plates of them for us at every meal, even if they weren’t on the menu. I’m sure if they’d found out we preferred Pad Thai or Kung Pao Chicken, that would have been served, too.
There are nuisances to be dealt with, to be sure – like those pesky three- and four-pound bass that don’t give up and prevent you from getting your lure back in the water for a seven or an eight. Also, if you don’t like someone to greet you in the morning with coffee and juice, or you don’t like a fresh margarita or cold Pacifico thrust in front of you the second you get off the boat, you’ll hate this place. I’m guessing that doesn’t apply to most of my readers, though. If you like to fish for bass and have not visited Anglers Inn El Salto, you have done yourself a grave disservice. Start saving your pennies now. Eat ramen noodles every day for the next year. Sell your blood. Have a garage sale. Walk to work. Recycle cans. Do whatever it takes.
I’ll be blogging about our trip for the next couple of weeks. Feel free to comment or email me with questions (
). If, at the end of this little run you don’t want to join us in 2014, you’re probably a PETA member, a bedwetter or brain dead.