Mexican Muscle

Matt Williams, Outdoors Writer
Sunday, May 14, 2006

LAKE BACCARAC, Mexico – I used to think I had already soaked my baits in the world’s best bass fishery. Then, I came to this place and crawled in the boat with Sixto Figeroa.

Figeroa is among the lead guides at Terry Hollan’s Lake Baccarac Lodge ” The Big Bass Lodge “in Sinaloa, Mexico. The plush complex sits on a mountain bluff overlooking 30,000 acres of deep, emerald-green water where the fish have a legendary history of growing fat, sassy and mean.

The 37-year-old Mexican guide took me places and made me do things while I was there that forever changed my definition of paradise. Catching 75 bass on topwater lures in just three hours will do that to a man. Especially with so many heavy hitters in the line up.

Just ask Tim Boatman.

Boatman sells tires for a living. It is a good thing he doesn’t change them. His rod hand is so swollen from wrestling turbo-charged Baccarac bass that he probably couldn’t hold a tire tool.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Boatman, as he pried the black Storm Chug Bug from the jaws of a football-shaped six-pounder. “I had always heard the fishing in Mexico was good. But this place is incredible.” It is a true Pro Bass Adventure!

So remarkable, in fact, that naysayers might question the unthinkable numbers that follow.

In three days fishing during early May, Boatman and I hauled in no fewer than 325 bass weighing up to 10.1 pounds. The fish weren’t choosy when the dinner bell rang, either.

We used assorted lures to run up the lofty score – topwaters, deep-running crankbaits, swim baits, spinnerbaits, wacky Senkos, Rat-L-Traps and Texas rig lizards.

True. I have collected similar numbers at other south-of-the-border lakes. What set the Baccarac experience aside from the rest was overall quality. Gobs of it.

Our boat accounted for only a handful of small fish over the duration of the trip. The average bass reeled in was a 3½-pounder with a squatty body, thick shoulders and a disposition like a cranky pit bulldog pumped on sterioids.

My heaviest bass, a 10-pounder, ate a perch color Rapala DT16 crankbait. The fish was suspended over a rocky mainlake point in about 25 feet of water. Boatman hooked his biggest fish, an eight-pounder, off the same point using a shad pattern Bagley DB-3.

It is hard to believe a fishing story getting any better. But it did, particularly for Louisianian’s Alan and Jason Loris.

In eight days of fishing, the Loris’ caught more trophy class largemouths than most gringo anglers could expect to catch in 10 lifetimes.

Alan’s heaviest bass weighed 14.3, 11.7, 11.54, 10.2, 9.3, 8.6 and 7.3. Jason’s top fish included a 14.14, 14.2, 12.3, 10.14, 8.6 and pair of 8.4s. The anglers documented the fish with digital photos and released each one.

Interestingly, the 14.3 and 10.14 were caught minutes apart, while fishing from the bank during the wee hours of the night, just around the corner from the lodge.

“It got pretty windy out there and we couldn’t hold the boat like we wanted to,” Jason explained. “That’s when we decided to get out on an island and cast from shore. We didn’t catch a bunch of fish. But the bass we did catch were good ones, all on Texas rig lizards.”

Amazingly, the Loris’ 2005 trip turned out even better than this year’s big bass fiasco. Last May they reeled in an army of giants over a two-week period. The list included a 15.7, 15.2, 14.1, 13.7, 13.4, a pair of 13.2’s, two 12.6’s and one 11.

“We lost track of the number of 6-8 pounders we caught,” Alan Loris said. “For numbers of big bass, Baccarac has got to be the best in world right now.”

That is a pretty tall statement when you consider the reputations of other Mexican heavy hitters like El Salto and Comedero. But after three days of getting beat up by hard-hitting bruisers, I have to agree. Baccarac is back!

Constructed in the late 1970s on the Sinaloa River, Baccarac has deep history of cranking out dozens of heavyweight largemouths. The lake produced a 19.10 pounder in 1993 that still ranks as the all-time Central America record, including Cuba.

Sadly, the fishery was dealt a devastating blow by a 1995 fish kill that caused hundreds of behemoth bass to go belly up.

According to Hollan, locals reported finding several fish that would challenge George Perry’s 22-pound, 4-ounce world record during the aftermath of the calamity.

“From the stories I’ve heard, they were finding 22-23 pound bass floating dead on the surface,” said Hollan, founder of REEL Mexico Adventures. “The fish kill didn’t wipe out the bass population, but it hurt it pretty bad.”

The ’95 fish kill was followed by a prolonged drought that eventually caused the lake to dwindle to less than 20 percent of capacity. It stayed that way until the early 2000s, when welcomed rains began flooding thousands of acres of new-growth cactus and brush that sprouted on the basin floor during the low-water period.

Hollan said Baccarac filled to full capacity for only the second time last year, just months after he and Rene Salazar opened the lake’s first-ever waterfront lodge.

“Actually, the lake filled to 110 percent capacity in 2005,” Hollan said. “Water was running over the spillway last spring, which created a new lake effect and resulted in an excellent spawn.”

Salazar is a Mexico native and second generation fishing guide who worked for Hollan for several years at his Lake Huites Lodge near Los Mochis. An energetic personality with a golden eye for opportunity, Salazar approached Hollan three years ago and pitched him the idea of erecting a second lodge at Lake Baccarac.

A few casts into the remote mountain fishery during April 2004 is all it took to sell it to the Amarillo-based outfitter.

“I caught a 14.9 pounder on my fourth cast and it was pretty much fish after fish, rapid fire after that,” Hollan recalled. “I said I would never build another lodge in Mexico. But I did it. I definitely think we’ve got something here.”

Located in the heart of the Sierra Madre mountain range along Mexico’s western coast, Lake Baccarac is a structure fisherman’s paradise.

Scan the bank and you can get a good idea of what the bottom looks like. Points, humps, ridges, chunk rock, boulders, creeks, bluff banks – pick the poison. This lake has got it.

The reservoir is deep, too. Maximum depth at full pool is about 300 feet near the dam. Baccarac is currently about 60 percent full, due to irrigation demands downstream.

Shallow water is most abundant towards the lake’s upper reaches, near the Sinaloa River bottleneck and another area known as Rancho Padre. Here you will find plenty of sloping points, rocky shelves and underwater humps.

Isolated structures that offer shallow water adjacent to deep are always potential hotbeds for huge schools of hungry Baccarac bass like the one Salazar pinned down last Wednesday afternoon. The guide knew there was a blood bath in progress when he saw pods of shad and tilapia dimpling the surface.

Salazar dropped anchor and called the shots. “Quick, throw right there,” he said, pointing the direction of rocky point more than 200 yards in the distance.

Boatman and I lofted our crankbaits into the open water and the wide bills dug deep. Within seconds, I felt the big Rapala bouncing off rocks as it dredged bottom in 14 feet of water.

Wham! The line jumped slack and the rod bowed double. Then, Boatman’s. Then Salazar’s. Roughly 30 minutes later the three of us had boated close to 40 bass, most of them in the 3-to-5 pound range. In one stretch I reeled in 15 bass on 15 consecutive casts.

“What the heck is out there that is holding these fish?” I asked Salazar. “My aquarium,” the 38-year old guide replied with an impish grin.

Actually, the fish were stacked at the confluence of several underwater points and a creek channel. Not surprisingly, the magical spot had produced a pair of 12 pounders for Salazar and two clients just a few days earlier.

“May and June are when these fish really pile up on the structure,” Salazar said. “What you saw here is good example of what happens out there. All those 3-5 pounders could have been 7s and 8s. It happens all the time.”

Outstanding as the structure fishing was at Baccarac, Boatman and I would have traded it all for that magical morning in the boat with Figeroa. If there are indeed bass in heaven, then we got a pretty good sample of what the topwater bite must be like behind the pearly gates.

The surface scratchin’ was so good I am reluctant to tell about it for fear of being called a liar.

But I will assure you I am not.

There was no such thing as a bad cast that morning. If the bait was in the water, it wasn’t long before a brawny, 4-7 pounder found it and delivered a crushing blow. We caught 75 of them.

Like a pack of NFL linebackers swarming an unsuspecting tailback, the Baccarac wrecking crew waged so much war on our tackle that the gear finally began to falter. They bent hooks. Broke hooks. And even stripped them from the 0-rings.

Boatman’s black Chug Bug survived the most brutal strike of all when an overly aggressive five pounder exploded beneath it like a torpedo, knocking the scarred-up bait two feet in the air before it came to rest on the rocky shoreline.

The bass’ forward momentum carried it onto the bank as well. The fish flopped twice and landed on the bristling trebles. Then it hooked itself and flounced back into the water, so Boatman could reel it in.

My friend was stupefied by the turn of events.

“Did you see that?” he asked. “I’m not believing this. Nobody is going to believe this happened to us.”

But it did. Just ask Sixto. He saw the whole thing.