Angling Abroad: Mexico's Lake El Salto

Travel instructions for this outdoor adventure are simple enough.

Fly to Mazatlan, Mexico. See the ocean. Then head inland.

OK, indulge yourself first by spending a few days in the port city, renowned as the "Billfishing Capital of the World."

Find a saltwater rod and reel and chase after a variety of big-game fish like magnificent marlin — or sailfish, dorado, tuna or roosterfish — as the sun sets along the Pacific Coast.

Try some other sporting pursuits like parasailing, windsurfing, snorkeling or scuba diving, all popular pastimes in the resort town south of the Tropic of Cancer. Or book time for a few holes of golf at courses designed by Lee Trevino and Robert Trent Jones. But don't lose sight of the fact that this trip is intended as the perfect pursuit of piscatorial pleasure.

After sampling urban and urbane offerings in the city, head inland to rural freshwater angling at Lake El Salto, current holder of the so-called "best bass lake in the world" title. If you're an avid angler, this is paradise with universally acclaimed accolades.

BASSMASTER magazine's editorial staff called Lake El Salto, "the absolute best trophy lake in the world." In-Fisherman magazine headlined their coverage: "Muchos pescados at El Salto." Western Outdoors magazine offered the lake an honorary title of "Mexico's bass mecca."

"There's never been a lake like this in the history of bass fishing," said Greg Hines of Mesa, Ariz.

While many anglers tend to stretch the truth, Hines makes his living as a professional bass tournament fisherman and that requires him to tell it like it is.

"There's one single spot on this lake where over 500 fish in excess of 10 pounds got caught this spring," he said.

Matt Vincent, a former western states bass angler who is now an editor for B.A.S.S. Times, said, "I've chased bass across North America for years hoping to catch one trophy over 10 pounds. My quest ended here with an 11.4-pounder. If you're searching for that strike of a lifetime, this is the place."

El Salto, a 25,000 surface-acre impoundment, was built nearly 20 years ago and opened for sportfishing in 1990 offering anglers, including first-timers, an opportunity to catch one big fish after another.

While the average of all bass caught hovers near 4 pounds, according to outfitter Billy Chapman Jr., "Ninety percent of our clients catch at least one 6- or 7-pounder, and countless bigger bass — pure Florida-strain largemouth — are breaking off 20-pound test line," he said.

Numbers are generally impressive only to the angler who posts them, but these numbers are astounding.

Double-digit bass have become commonplace, and bragging rights change frequently. Pro angler Mike Folkstad of Yorba Linda, Calif., set a five-fish record of 53 pounds (his 10 largest weighed in at 103 pounds).

Before his trophy could even be engraved, a new five-fish record of 57½-pounds (104 pounds for 10 fish in the same day) had been set.

Lady angler Cici Hallberg of California has a loose grip on big-fish honors with a 15-pound 4-ounce monster that struck a 10-inch rubber worm.

"Action here is red hot and non-stop, and you can rack 'um and stack 'um all day long," said Steve Babbidge of Huntington Beach, Calif., who particularly likes to fish in June and July as the season begins to wind down.

"We have a lot of daylight (wake up time is 4:30a.m.), lake levels are dropping and the fish bunch up. This is the time of year where opportunities abound to catch 10 fish of 10 pounds or more, every day," he said.

The lake is at the foothills of the 800-mile-long Sierra Madre [Mother Range] Occidental mountain range — made famous in "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" — that stretches south from the U.S. border.

This is ecologically diverse terrain, and one third of Mexico's land mammals can be found here. Sightings of just about anything are possible, from black bear and puma to wolves, coyotes and whitetail deer.

So, in addition to some of the best bass fishing in the world, the area offers unlimited outdoor activities, from hiking and sightseeing to birdwatching and hunting. It also is noted for traditional small-town Mexican hospitality (the town of El Salto has 10,000 inhabitants) at both Anglers Inn Lodge and the new Casa Blanca Hunting Lodge.

The Inn is built 100 yards from the water's edge on the west shore of the lake, part of a gated waterfront community. In addition to the permanent lodge, kitchen and dining room, it has "movable suites" built on trailer chassis. The suites have the amenities of regular rooms, but can be moved higher or lower on the shoreline depending on fluctuating lake levels.

The two-story Casa Blanca property houses duck and dove hunters and is managed by transplanted Arkansas outdoorsman Herbie Ziegenhorn.

"Red-hot shotguns are the trademarks of south-of-the-border shooters, and limits are easy," he noted. The lake draws migratory waterfowl, as well as whitewing and mourning dove that feed in nearby milo (grain sorghum) fields or gather at sesame fields a short drive away.

The lake and nearby coastal marshes create a birdwatchers' Eden with a variety of ducks from pichiguila (fulvous tree ducks) and redheads to pintails and cinammon teals. Raptors also are seen, including peregrine falcons, Mexican black eagles, osprey, white and great blue heron, Harris hawks and kestrels.

Package trips are available for fishing, hunting or a combination fish-and-fowl excursion. Bass-only trips are available with three full days of fishing and include ground transportation from Mazatlan, double occupancy lodging, all meals, and a 17-foot Bass Tracker boat with guide.

Cast-and-Blast packages involving two or three days of half-day hunting (shotguns provided) and fishing combinations are another popular option. Fishing season runs from October through June. Cast and Blast seasonal availability begins in November and runs through March.

Remember to stock up on heavier test line.

Vamos al lago! Y buena suerte.


  • Hook Sportfishing Charters (Steve Babbidge) (800) 583 8133

  • Angler's Inn, Mazatlan, Sinaloa www.AnglersInn.com

  • Angler's Inn Lodge (Tony Encinas) (800) 468 2347

    Lee Allen is a self-described Arizona desert rat and an outdoor scribe who writes about critters with fins, fangs, fur or feathers.