Legendary Mexico fishery still banging out career bass, lots of 'em

By MATT WILLIAMS
The Daily Sentinel
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

LAKE BACCARAC, MEXICO - I don't mean to brag, but this place has been awfully good to me lately. In three days fishing I have reeled in more lunker largemouths than most anglers will hook in a lifetime. It is not a wonder that Lake Baccarac is heralded by many as the best trophy bass lake in the world.

Perhaps Gil Wright summarized it best as we drifted across an underwater point as the sun began to set over the rugged Sierra Madre mountain range last Sunday afternoon. Tim Boatman of Nacogdoches and I had just caught and released a pair of beauties that weighed 11.8 and 12.1 pounds, respectfully. Wright, a well-heeled home builder from Oklahoma City, Okla., was in the mood to celebrate.

Lake Baccarac LodgePhoto by Matt Williams

Our crew prepares to board the Westwind charter flight out of El Paso. The plane lands in Bacubirito, roughly 15 minutes from Lake Baccarac Lodge.

Lake Baccarac LodgePhoto by Matt Williams

Tim Boatman of Nacogdoches displays an 11.8 pound largemouth that gobbled up his YUM Money Minnow on recent trip to Lake Baccarac in Sinaloa, Mexico.

Lake Baccarac LodgePhoto by Matt Williams

Terry Hollan's Lake Baccarac Lodge sits on a mountaintop overlooking what some are convinced is the best big bass lake in the world.

Lake Baccarac LodgePhoto by Matt Williams

White Zoom Super Flukes rigged on a 1/4 ounce weighted hook produced several solid fish up to 12.1 pounds. Pearl color swim baits also were effective.

"That's what it is all about," Wright said. "You never know what will happen on this lake. One minute you might be catching nothing and the next you can hook the fish of a lifetime. That is the neat thing about Lake Baccarac. That next 10 pounder is always just a cast away. It is a pretty special place."

Wright should know. He has visited Terry Hollan's Lake Baccarac Lodge (lakebaccaraclodge.com) multiple times since 2005 and he has landed more than his share of heavyweights.

To date, Wright has cracked the double digits 30 times. His personal best stands at 13 1/2 pounds, but he feels certain he has hooked larger fish and lost them for one reason or another.

"I just keep waiting for somebody to crack 20 pounds," Wright said. "They are out there — I know they are."

Knowing what I know about the 30,000-acre impoundment located in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, I tend to agree.

BUILT FOR BIG BASS

Baccarac is a legendary reservoir steeped in big bass tradition dating all the way back to the 1980s. In 1993, the lake produced a 19.10 pounder that still ranks as the all-time Central America record, including Cuba.

The big-time high was cut short beginning in 1995, when a decade-long drought combined with irrigation demands drained the lake to 20 percent of its capacity and decimated the bass fishing potential. But the lake has since bounced back and is once again cranking out results that at times sound as if they are pulled straight out of a fairy tale book.

Baccarac has all the ingredients needed to grow bass of giant proportions. Scads of them.

To wit:

Like most south-of-the-border mountain impoundments, Baccarac is a riverine lake that is super deep (300 feet at the deepest point), very clear and ultra fertile.

Flanked by steep banks and sheer canyon walls, the lake is chock full of Florida strain bass that flourish amid a jungle of brushy habitat that took hold when the lake was low. The fish also enjoy a year-round growing season thanks to the warm, Mexico climate.

Another key ingredient is forage. Think smorgasbord and you can get a good idea of what it is like down there.

In addition to threadfin shad, the lake supports a bountiful population of protein-rich tilapia. Commercial netters are allowed to target the succulent food fish at scheduled intervals, but head hunting largemouths feed on them seemingly at will.

When the latter happens at Lake Baccarac, things are prone to get bloody. Real bloody. Especially when the fish school on or near the surface.

WHEN 10 POUNDERS SCHOOL

The schooling phenomenon occurs when piscatorial predators drive groups of bait fish upward and pin them against the surface so they can feed on them more effectively. Schooling activity is fairly common on bass lakes across the South from late spring through fall. It normally involves roving bands of small bass, 1-2 pounders.

The schooling activity Boatman and I witnessed at Baccarac last week was anything but normal. On several occasions we saw small groups of giant bass weighing upwards of 10 pounds crash the surface within casting distance of the boat.

One of them was the 11.2 pounder that slammed my Optimum Titan swim bait. Moments later, I hooked and lost an even larger fish in the same area using a Rapala DT16 crankbait. Our 42-year-old guide, Manuel Salazar, estimated that bass to weigh upwards of 12 pounds.

Bizarre as it was, the incident quickly shored up what Salazar had explained to us earlier in the day. "Fish no jump, fish no bite," he said.

The key was finding locations where the fish were prone to chase bait and wait them out. Salazar's most reliable spot was a submerged point that fell abruptly from 13 to 70 feet of water. It produced three more fish upwards of seven pounds, including a 9.2.

Boatman and I duplicated the pattern numerous times in different areas over the next two days en route to putting together impressive weights. Together my heaviest five bass on Day 1 weighed 41.9 pounds. On Day 2, the combined weight our heaviest five fish was 49.8 pounds.

Tallies like those might sound tough to top, but not at Baccarac. Just ask Earl Rideau.

Rideau spent five days on the water in early May and he ran up some impressive numbers. All total, the angler caught 26 bass over 10 pounds. The majority of the big bass came off steep, main lake points and underwater islands using watermelon/red or baby bass pattern Zoom Super Flukes rigged on a weighted hook.

Rideau's guide was a Baccarac veteran, Miguel, also known as "Chino." His best day came on May 6, when he landed five bass that weighed slightly more than 61 pounds.

Included in the mix was a 30 1/2-inch monster that measured 23 inches around the girth. The angler said the huge fish tugged his digital scale to slightly more than 15 pounds before it cratered under the immense weight.

Patterns Predictably Unpredictable

Boatman and I first visited Baccarac three years ago and the fishing was so easy that I honestly believe a monkey could have caught one. Together we caught more than 300 bass over 3 1/2 days. Most were in the 3-7 pound range; only one topped 10 pounds. A high percentage of those fish came on topwaters.

While numbers were tougher to come by this year, the quality was better than I have ever seen it. Interestingly, however, the topwater bite was virtually non-existent.

The rest of our group, which included Richard DeWitt, Art Ferguson, Tommy Williamson, Ebb Flynt, Greg Power and Drue Scull, experienced mixed results over the course of the trip.

Some struggled, while others fared pretty well. All but one angler reported landing a 10 pounder. Flynt and Scull caught several bass between 6-10 pounds using swim baits.

"This has been one of the strangest years I have ever seen down here," said Russ Johnson, the camp manager at Lake Baccarac Lodge. "We'll have a couple days when they'll catch them pretty good, then it will slow down and get real tough."

The sporadic bite could have something to do with the vast availability food. Johnson says he has never seen seen so much forage tooling around in a bass lake, and neither have I.

Truck size schools of three-inch tilapia and baby bass huddled around just about every main lake point we came to. With so much bait in water it is logical to assume the bass are more spread out, which naturally makes it more difficult to find concentrations.

STRUCTURE GALORE

What you see is what you get. Take a look around the shoreline and you can paint a good mental picture of what the lake's bottom might look like. If you like to fish structure, you will love Lake Baccarac.

Main lake points are plentiful up and down the lake. Most are cluttered with chunk rock or large boulders. As a rule, the larger fish like to hold right along the edges, where the points drop abruptly into deeper water. This is especially true from about mid-morning on, when the sun's rays are most intense.

Though harder to find, underwater humps and islands located in close proximity to deep water can be even better at times. Boatman's 11.8 and a couple of Rideau's 12 pounders came off a magical hump Chino located in about 10 feet of water.

My guess those three fish represented only a fraction of what was down there at the time. A Lake Baccarac, the big ones run in gangs.

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, mattwilliams@netdot.com.

* Accomodations: Lake Baccarac Lodge is a five-star facility that sits on the edge of a mountain, offering anglers a picturesque view of what may be the best big bass lake in the world. The manicured grounds are very well kept and landscaped using bougainvilleas and other colorful plants to create a tropical atmosphere. Rooms are spacious with two double beds, a large shower and air conditioning. The staff serves three meals each day, including appetizers and drinks. Daily laundry service is provided. There is a well-stocked tackle shop on site.

* Fishing: Anglers are paired two to a boat, along with a fishing guide. Each guide I fished with (Manuel, Chino and Pedro) was very knowledgeable of the lake and always willing to lend a hand. The boats are 18 foot V-bottom aluminum rigs equipped with 60 H.P. outboards, 55-pound thrust Minn Kota trolling motors and depth finders. The guide operates the trolling motor from the rear of the boat using remote control. A daily tip of $20 per angler is customary.

* Making the Trip: Two ways to get there. The cheapest is to fly commercial to Los Mochis and complete the last leg (2 1/2 hours) by van. The most convenient is to hop on a charter flight out of El Paso. The plane is a 10 seater and built to haul a load. The flight takes about 3 1/2 hours including a stop in Chihuahua to clear customs. The plane lands on a 5,200-foot runway in Bacubirito, roughly 15 minutes away from the lake.

* Booking a Trip: Contact Terry Hollan at 888-744-8867 or www.lakebaccaraclodge.com.

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