Quest for Big Bass at Lake El Salto

On Monday, November 18th, Okuma’s Sam Brenner and I departed Los Angeles International airport destined for Mazatlán, Mexico. On arrival in Mazatlán we met up with our guests Woody Wood, West Coast sales rep for Okuma Fishing Tackle. He was accompanied by our special guest and former professional bass angler John Bidwell of Fisherman’s Warehouse tackle, located in Northern California. All four of us were greeted at baggage claim by Hono Elizalde, owner/operator of El Salto Adventures to start our trip.

Sam with El Salto topwater bass

Sam Brenner, Okuma Vice President of Sales and Marketing, displays one of many eager topwater bass.

Author John Bretza with El Salto Bass

Okuma Director of Product Development and author John Bretza with healthy El Salto bass.

As we loaded our bags and hit the road on a two hour drive destined for the world famous lake, our quest for big bass grew closer. The anticipation and excitement of all four anglers continued to grow as we exited the highway and pulled down a long dirt road. While getting knocked around on the uneven dirt road, we could see a set of lights come into focus in the distance. On approach it was obvious we were not pulling into the Ritz, rather a rustic old world Mexican charm that made this trip so unique and special. As the sun dropped down over the lake and disappeared behind the mountains it was truly pitch black, without a hint of city lights on the lake or in the sky.

The glow of a fire just behind the lodge’s kitchen drew us to the eating area, where Hono and Chef Susie treated us to barbecued steaks and freshly made chips and salsa. The hospitality was exceptionally welcoming. They go the extra mile to make sure that each individual angler was taken care of. It was a great way to kick off the trip and get in the right mindset prior to rigging our tackle for the early morning fishing.

In preparation for the morning events, each boat was well equipped with new Okuma TCS and Helios rods, as well as the latest Helios Air, Helios and Citrix reels. The tackle boxes were overflowing with Savage Gear lures, especially the Top Prey, Sand Eels, Sand Eel Slug and Vibra Prey which have all been proven performers on the lake. With the equipment prepped and anglers ready to rock and roll, we got a short 5 hours of sleep, meeting for a hot breakfast at 5:30am. The meal prepped us for a long day of fishing. A short 50 yard walk in the dark really surprised us, arriving to find two 18-foot Ranger bass boats rigged with Lowrance electronics and Mercury outboards sitting under the lights and ready to take us fishing. All four of us have fished El Salto previously, but the guides have always fished from basic aluminum boats, so this was quite an unexpected treat.

Okuma Fishing Tackle and Savage Gear lures

Each angler would be prepared with an elite level arsenal of equipment.

Grave Sites

Submerged tombstones remind anglers of the submerged city that lies beneath the surface of El Salto.

As we pulled away from the dock in the dark we heard Omar, the lodge handyman yell out “Buenas Suerte”. It was not long before we were fishing as the spot we started at was literally 100 yards from the dock. The first thing we noticed was the famous tombstones that anglers always mention about El Salto, partially exposed in the lake. Lake El Salto was a former town that was flooded by lake construction and all the structures we were fishing was remnants of the city such as the cemetery, houses and school. Hono yelled out, cast the Top Prey toward the Escuela and the action started. Sam and I were in the boat with Hono and we started by throwing Savage Gear Top Prey lures and using a “walk the dog” technique to draw surface strikes. We had several blow-ups on the baits which got our hearts pumping, but it was a strange feeling to think we were casting at half submerged schools and tombstones. It is this type of history and structure that make El Salto truly unique.

John Bidwell of Fisherman's Warehouse with a hefty carolina rig bass.

John Bidwell of Fisherman’s Warehouse with a hefty carolina rig bass.

Woody Wood with El Salto largemouth bass.

Woody Wood hangs a beautiful El Salto bass for the camera.

Woody and John started the day with a different approach. Rather than hammering the shoreline with topwater baits, they started throwing Vibra Preys, picking off a few fish and then their guide Jerry said, “Carolina rig”. These guys fished in 30-feet of water just in front of the resort and found the honey hole. It was Watermelon Sandeel Slug and prototype Savage Gear lizard that were the hot baits. On the radio we heard them report 5-pound fish right off the bat. Woody and John camped out on two spots in the same general area all day and finished with about 60 fish for day one. On the other boat, Sam and I finished day one with just under 40 fish, but the quality level of bigger fish went to John and Woody. Both boats averaged fish in the 3-lbs range, but big fish of the day went to Woody with a 7-pounder.

On day two the schedule was the same, but after talking with all the guys we realized that fishing was tough compared to El Salto standards that guys were used to when they come in the May and June time frames. Fishing in November is always a little slower, but there are always opportunities for quality bass. In addition, we were fishing on a full moon and battling Tilapia nets on every spot. These obstacles made us have to fish even harder and in the end we did well considering the conditions. Sam and I wanted to target big bass on top water again, knowing the numbers may be smaller, but there was a chance to see some big explosions on the surface. I got my biggest fish of the trip on day two, with a 5-pounder and Sam also nailed his largest fish at 4-1/2 pounds. The Top Prey was working and we missed some other truly big fish that exploded on the baits, but just missed the hooks. Our guide and friend Hono was also fishing with us and his Top Prey flew out of the water with an 8-pound bass connected to it, trumping Sam and I. It was awesome seeing these big fish blow up on topwater baits.

Hono with El Salto largemouth bass

Hono lands a slug on the surface with a Savage Gear Top Prey.

Woody and John had another great day on the water with very similar results on the Carolina rig. It was obvious that in order to get numbers you had to go deep and slowly drag the bottom. Not only were there more fish being caught with this technique, the fish were also bigger. John Bidwell commented that night at dinner that this was the best fishing trip he has ever had for multiple quality-sized fish. After fishing two days John had already recorded 7-pound, 8-pound, 9-pound-plus and 10-pound-plus fish. Quite an accomplishment even for a former tournament bass fisherman with several major wins under his belt. It was a great feeling hearing John say this was the best fishing trip he has had for multiple big fish.

Our third and final day of fishing came and we were all excited to see what would develop, especially since we all figured out what the fish were chewing on. Of course Woody and John stuck to their trusted Carolina rig that was a proven producer on the lake this trip, turning in similar result to days one and two. After a morning shot at topwater, Sam and I told Hono we were changing to a Carolina rig to put some numbers in the boat. As Sam was tying on his rig, I fired out a pearl Sand Eel working a ledge and it was an instant fish. Another cast and then another, all producing fish.

Savage Gear Top Prey

Savage Gear Top Prey in one of the many dozens of aggressive topwater fish.

It appeared we may have found the spot we were looking for. Sam finally got the watermelon lizard in the water and before he even dropped the bait down it got hit resting at the surface. It was obvious these fish wanted to chew and we pulled good numbers out of this hole on lizards, Sandeel Slugs and Sandeels. We had some bigger fish busting around the boat, but they were reluctant to hit anything on the surface.This was a mid-day bite in the extreme heat. As the day was slowly coming to an end, Hono said, “let’s see if we can finish off the trip with a top water bite”.

We headed back to an area where I had a lot of luck fishing the Sandeel Slug with the darter head. This was an area just off a cliff where the fish were holding. Sam and I both broke out Top Prey’s in the bone color and it did not take long. We finished off the trip with about a one hour long topwater bite. No monsters, but it was truly fun getting fish after fish on the topwater. We fished this into the dark until we ran out of light for the run back to the lodge.

Main Lodge

Under the beautiful desert skies, the resort offers an experience far away from any distractions.

El Salto is truly a bucket list trip for any angler.  It is a unique fishery that really gives you a shot at both numbers and quality fish. For a company like Okuma Fishing Tackle and Savage Gear, this destination offers us great testing grounds for our tackle with multiple hookups and big fish. Hono Elizalde, official Okuma product tester on this lake allows us to put our tackle to the test on a daily basis. If you are ever looking for a great experience fishing bass in Mexico, El Salto is a destination you should definitely look into.