March 08, 2013
When Bruce Holt of G. Loomis rods calls to invite you on a trip, the question is not whether you can make it, it's where this next adventure will end up. So when he contacted me late last year about a visit to Lake Amistad on the Rio Grande, I was all in. Our mission was to get after some early-season largemouth bass and do some serious testing of Loomis' new GLX rods. Bruce has held many posts at the company over the years (more than the 25 years I've been at In-Fisherman) and he's an avid multispecies angler. But like me, it's hard for him to to pass up an opportunity to fish for bass. At the 2012 ICAST Show, I'd fondled a few of these sticks, but the truest test of any rod comes when you get to work a variety of lures, and it's doubled up with a big bass on the other end. We brought along a few models from among the 12 new crankbait rods (CBR) in GLX, as well as jig rods from the flippin' category (FPR). With the benefit of Loomis' new proprietary graphite, these rods are calculated to be from 23 to 35 percent stronger than previous GLX models, as well as being lighter and more sensitive.
Our plans came to reality in mid-February, during a week marked by Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday. But this year, neither romantic getaways or church services were in the cards. Bruce had made plans to stay in Del Rio, Texas, and fish with Charlie Hoover and his buddy Tim Ludwig. Tournament veterans and Ranger boat owners will recognize Charlie for his many years as an executive at Ranger Boats and his running of the FLW Tour. Now retired, he spends four or five winter months in Del Rio, before returning home to Arkansas. Tim, likewise is retired from the painting and construction business and spends winters near the lake, heading home to Table Rock Lake in late spring. Before we wet a line, Charlie amazed us with his report that he's run a brand-new Ranger boat every year since 1969. He has the paperwork for the very first one, filled out by Forrest Wood, for a sale price around $1,700! With Tim's Ranger just a bit older, we were riding in style.
For the last 6 or 7 years, Amistad has been near the top of the charts for production of big bass, following the Bassmaster Elite tournament in 2007, won by Derek Remitz with 111 pounds 7 ounces for the 4-day competition. Charlie had informed us that the water level had dropped dramatically since then, and had continued to fall steadily this winter. Upon our arrival, it was about 50 vertical feet below where it had been several years ago.
That drop made for a challenging walk up and down the hill at the Diablo East boat ramp, as the terrain is clifflike. But boaters ferrying trailers stopped to pick up folks trudging up and down the slope. Low water also made for some interesting scenery. Amistad fits the canyon reservoir category, with all the deep gorges, plateaus, and rock pinnacles common in impoundments of type. Indeed, even with the reduced elevation, the main river channel was well over 100 feet deep, and many creeks held over 80 feet of water. But the expansive flats Amistad is known for were mostly out of the water or extremely shallow. Houses built years ago along the river valley had been flooded when the dam was built in 1969. Now they have re-emerged and offered some fine bass cover when water levels over them dropped to 20 feet or so. Entire dwellings, stonewalls, cisterns, and even a picnic table adorned the near shore area, bleached white in the sun.
After a mild morning, our first day was extremely windy, with winds well over 30 mph pounding across the desert-like terrain and funneling into the smallest pockets. We fished through it, and indeed caught at least 25 bass among the three of us, topped by Charlie's 6½-pounder. The wind created huge bows in our lines, even after progressively upsizing football heads from 3/8- to 1/2-, then 3/4-ounce. With a quartering cast into the wind toward a bluffy bank, we missed many more bites as bass spit the jig before we could wind in enough line to get them hooked. I finally resorted to a Carolina rig with a 10-inch Power Worm, which allowed me to tighten up the slack better and catch several more bass. Amistad's bass are a great size range, averaging about 2½ pounds. And it's always exciting to fish where the next cast might produce a double-digit fish.
Tim was able to fish the following day, so I joined him as we explored other areas of the reservoir. Tim and Charlie had a team tournament coming up that weekend, so we were scouting spots as well as looking for lunkers.
As we explored meandering channels near potential spawning flats, we uncovered a steep ledge that had lunkers crawling all over it. Making several passes, we put four big ones in the boat: a pair of 6½-pounders, another 6 and an 8-11. That's the kind of spot you need to win a tournament on that lake.
The next morning, Tim and I headed off to explore a different area, and within minutes I was fast to another giant bass. Onboard, it weighed in at 9-6. A fish like that makes the trip, but the companionship with Tim and Charlie and their lovely wives at Del Rio's finest restaurants and Charlie's home put icing on the cake. In the course of our hard-core fishing, the new GLX rods more than proved their worth, as we were able to feel light bites, set hooks (except for that one windy morning), and battle big bass with no problems. During the trip, I was somewhat taken aback to land three smallmouth bass, though Tim said they're not uncommon there, undoubtedly the farthest south point of the species' distribution, within a few hundred yards of the Mexican border. He said Amistad also offers stripers, though they were not biting when we were there.
I made it back home in time to clean up after another snow storm, but the memories of fishing Amistad with Bruce, Charlie, and Tim warmed my spirits greatly. Now I'm ready for spring!