El Salto: Still the land of giant bass

Why now?

El Salto offers a 10-month fishing season. Lodges like Chapman’s Anglers Inn typically close for the extremely rainy months of August and September when the lake refills, and then reopen for the shallow water bite of October, which persists into spring. Whether that’s your pick, or if you’d rather be there for the drawdown months of May and June, you’ll likely have more of the lake to yourself than ever before.

As horror stories about Mexican drug-fueled violence have proliferated, the result has been a windfall for those fishing El Salto.

While the U.S. State Department has not lifted its travel advisories to much of Mexico, including the region in which El Salto is located, violence has abated significantly since the headline-making shootouts of a few years ago. About 150,000 Americans travel to Mexico every day, and, as one travel writer noted, Mexico is safer for U.S. citizens than some cities in the United States, including Washington, Chicago and Orlando.

“Over the years I’ve had 20,000 anglers and their families here,” Chapman said. “In the past five years, during the drug wars, I’ve had thousands of people come through my place without incident.

“During that time, editors of every major fishing magazine and the hosts of many of the most popular TV shows have been here,” Chapman noted. “If something had happened to any of them, you would have heard about it.” He added that over 75% of his customers are repeat business – an unattainable mark if there’s any danger, regardless of the fishery’s quality.

The drug wars have hurt tourism in Mexico, but they’ve also reduced fishing pressure, which means more opportunities to catch big bass.

When to go

The season starts in October and runs through August. During the year the lake typically fluctuates 40 feet, from a June low to a peak in the winter (if you can call 80 degree temperatures winter). Trophies are always in the mix, but the time of year will determine how you fish.

“I get to fish a lot, so I went with the attitude that I’d sacrifice a few bites to get the biggest bites possible,” Hawk said of his May/June sojourn. “But I would completely understand if someone wanted to go when the numbers are best.”

If it’s numbers you’re after, then October through late January is prime. The water is up, flooding the newly green cover and bringing nutrients and food into the lake. “If you want topwater and easy fishing, and big numbers of fish, fall the time to go,” Chapman said. “The lake comes up 40 feet in about 60 days, starting in August, and everything comes washing down.”

That’s prime time for fly-fishermen to try the lake, and it’s ideal if you’re bringing a less experienced angler who needs constant action to remain excited.

The main spawn occurs in February and March, although Chapman believes that there’s a second spawn in August or September. The springtime ritual keeps the big bass shallow, and this is when they typically weigh the most.

Many El Salto regulars like late spring/early summer, when the lake is at its lowest. That concentrates the bass, and the biggest females tend to concentrate in schools on bluffs and points and in flooded timber.

Oklahoma tournament angler Gary Giudice has fished the lake regularly almost since it opened. According to his notes, most of his biggest bass have come in June.

July ushers in the rainy season, the last segment of the cycle. You might think that midsummer would be unbearable, but the overcast conditions actually make it quite temperate and often produce a nonstop topwater bite. After a midday siesta, you can extend it late into the evening.