December 12, 2011
By Steve Quinn
Once late fall sets in, anglers in all but the southernmost states start yearning for the next fishing season. A week doesn't go by that I don't get samples of a neat looking new lure I can't wait to try. It's frustrating to put them in a box until next spring, way too frustrating. So it was that last March, toward the end of one of the longest of Minnesota winters in my 23 years in this state, I decided to take the family on a trip to Mazatlan on the west coast of Mexico.
There's been some reluctance among some American travelers to visit Mexico in the last three years, as stories of drug-related violence have been rampant on the news. But careful checking showed that tourist destinations far south of the border weren't seeing that sort of violence. Indeed, when we landed in Mazatlan, Billy Chapman, Jr., owner of Angler's Inn, met us at the airport and asked rhetorically, "Are you a drug dealer?" His point was that visitors there who pursue normal activities are in no more danger than visitors to Los Angeles or New York City.
Staying at the Pueblo Bonito, Emerald Bay, my wife and 17-year-old daughter chatted with visitors from the U.S., Mexico, Canada, and other countries, all having a fine time in the restaurants, on the beach, at the the pool, or around town. Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay, in fact, has several swimming pools, some with a quieter motif for adults wanting to sun or read a book, others built like a waterpark for kids, and yet others with a swim-up bar for the party crowd. But the truth is, we were there for more than a break from winter and fun in the sun. Fishing beckoned, of course!
My wife Edie, daughter Meagan, and I took advantage of the great fishing opportunities just off Mazatlan's beaches. We fished in one of the Angler's Inn super pangas piloted by "Capitan Gallo" named for his expertise at catching rooster fish. This nearshore habitat also holds grouper and snapper, as well as pompano and jack crevalle. Just off the beach, massive rocky outcrops thrust from the sea, offering great habitat for fish species, as well as drying off spots for the many sea lions that inhabit the area. We enjoyed the sights and caught some nice fish, though roosterfish eluded us. But Billy Chapman regaled us with stories of giants that roam the harbor mouths, and are accessible by kayak for those daring enough to get towed around by theses beautiful and overgrown members of the jack family.
Another evening, we fished from the surf, right by the hotel, using dune buggies equipped with rod racks. We cast into the reddish glow of sunset, working big topwater baits and spoons. The Emerald Bay hotel, a prime location for fishing, also boasts 5-star accommodations and dining, and a large and helpful staff. One evening, the chef prepared fish we'd caught just off the beach.
Bass fans know that just an hour and a half from Mazatlan lies El Salto, likely the most famous of Mexico's bass lakes, thanks to a 20-year history of excellent fishing for big bass, including many 10-pounders. While my wife and daughter chose to enjoy activities like parasailing off the beach, shopping downtown, and horseback riding, I rode up to the lodge and fished for 2 days. As usual, bass action was superb, as guide Antonio, who I've fished with on several occasions, was onto some deep and shallow patterns for big prespawn bass. Last winter was unusually cold, even in central Mexico, and many bass were yet to spawn in mid-March. In some years, in contrast, spawning may start in January, with most fish finished by February. But their massive girth indicated many of the big females were still developing eggs.
Antonio had found several groups of fish spread over deep flats ranging from 15 to 22 feet deep, close to the drop into the main river channel. Making gargantuan casts with Rapala DT 20s and Norman DD 22s, and doing as much kneeling and reeling as my sunburned legs could take, bass ate the big baits as they ticked bottom or bounced off stumps and deep timber. Under calm conditions, however, a slow steady retrieve with Storm WildEye swimbaits was more appealing to the fish. There seemed to be large schools of 5- to 8-pound bass roaming across the flats there.
In the morning and evening, a shallower bite predominated, as it often does at Mexican reservoirs. We cast Texas-rigged 8½-inch Larew Biffle-O Lizards among small bushy trees in water just 5 to 10 feet deep. Here we hooked the biggest bass, including one that Antonio and I both thought was over 10 pounds, but the scale stopped at 9.4, a huge bass at any rate, well above the state record for Minnesota. Chapman had a monster eat his lizard, then tear off through the timber and break the line. Unlike some years, a topwater bite didn't develop, which can be a most exciting bite, indeed. Perhaps the cooler water and postponed spawn kept bass from busting on top.
Back at the Angler's Inn Lodge, it's always fun to catch up the staff and share stories with other visiting anglers. The establishment Chapman has built at El Salto is without peer, with large finely tiled rooms, spacious bathrooms, and dining rooms both indoor and patio-style, for the varying weather conditions anglers encounter between October and July, when the lodge is open. Late summer is the hottest and wettest time, and Mexican lodges typically close. If my wife and daughter had chosen to come up and fish for bass instead of enjoying Mazatlan, they would have enjoyed massages and manicures from the highly trained staff masseuses at the lodge.
When I returned to Emerald Bay, the gals had had a great time and we were set for a couple days of relaxation before returning home, where ice fishing awaited. The combination of family activities, saltwater fishing, and top-notch bassin' make this an ideal vacation destination for a families, as well as fishing buddies and corporate groups. Contact Angler's Inn at www.anglersinn.com, 800/GOTAFISH.