Lake Huites: Mexico's New Bass Bonanza

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This story originally appeared in the 1999 International Game Fish Association World Record Gamefishes book.

From daybreak to mid-morning, we had been casting shallow running crankbaits, suspending jerkbaits and flashy spinnerbaits to steep banks, targeting every piece of potential fish-holding cover and structure we could identify. Our strategy was to saturate the best looking areas with a variety of baits to trigger strikes from aggressive shallow water oriented largemouth bass.

Big Bass at Lake Huites LodgeAnd the fish were coming at an astonishing rate, literally one in every eight to 10 casts. Long-time Mexican bass fishing guide Manuel Salazar's pattern was working to perfection, as Atlanta homebuilder Jim Kennedy and I had landed an incredible amount of 1-1/2 to 3 pound bass in just a few hours of fishing. "You've caught plenty of little fish," said the personable second-generation fishing guide, "now it's time to move offshore and see if we can get a trophy for Jim."

Jim Kennedy heaved a long cast using one of Salazar's personal favorite big bass baits - a 10-inch dark colored plastic worm - towards an underwater ledge that ran across a gap between two canyon walls in the middle of the lake. After making about 10 casts and probing the deep water ledge with this plastic offering, Kennedy and I began questioning our guide's decision to leave the shallow biting fish.

Any further speculation on our behalf that Manuel Salazar's deep-water worm pattern would produce was answered rather abruptly a moment later, when a fish took Kennedy's bait with such fury that it literally tore the rod from his grasp. There was little doubt that this was a bass of large proportions, as the 62 year old angler's stout casting rod arched as if it was a 4-weight fly rod after he set the hook. His casting reel's drag screamed in protest as the fish made two strong runs for the protective confines of the flooded timber below. After a three-minute duel, angler bested bass that day and the "pescado grande" (Spanish for big fish) was lead to the guide's outstretched net.

Although Kennedy has fished for largemouth bass for the better part of 50 years, he had never actually landed a double-digit bass. Within a half hour of fishing Manuel Salazar's deep-water worm pattern on his first trip to Mexico's Lake Huites, the elated angler was now weighing what he considered his first true trophy largemouth, a 10-1/2 pounder.

"We can leave now and head back for the states," joked an a perspiring and out of breath Kennedy, who still yearned to catch more trophy bass during the remaining two days of fishing on Mexico's Lake Huites, considered by many angling authorities and reputable publications to be the hottest bass lake in the world. "I'm skeptical when I hear claims of 50 fish days and trophy bass as the norm rather than the exception, but in only a half day or so of fishing, you don't have to convince me any longer. I'd be happy if I didn't catch another fish on this trip."

Kennedy's fishing success on Huites is not an isolated incident. Since the lake first opened to American anglers in 1997, most have reported astonishing catches of bass on Huites, a 30,000- acre reservoir (at full pool) located in the foothills of the majestic Sierra Madre mountain range of northwestern Mexico in the state of Sinaloa. Lake Huites was constructed in 1993 for the purpose of providing a means of irrigation to neighboring farmlands and to generate hydroelectric power. But the damming of the Chinipas and Fuertes rivers also created a world-class bass fishery.

Back to the Glory Years

Mexico has had a storied past for yielding high quality largemouth bass fisheries. Unfortunately, due to a variety of circumstances, many of these fabled lakes have become just a shadow of their former selves. Not understanding the concept of fishery conservation, or simply ignoring it, meat-hunting American anglers had once hauled countless coolers full of bass filets back to the states. Fishing publications often revealed what now would be considered sickening images of anglers holding up stringers of 100 trophy bass or more. Several years of severe drought conditions at many of these former bass factories caused problems with water quality and poor oxygen concentrations, resulting in a dramatic decline in both the numbers and size of baitfish species, as well as bass that they once produced.

"In the past three years, a few lakes has emerged that might restore the glamour days of Mexican bass fishing and Lake Huites might just be the very best," says Terry Hollan, a long-time Mexican bass fishing promoter and founder of Lake Huites Lodge, acknowledged by most visitors to Huites as the nicest lodge on the lake. "Although countless tales of virgin bass fisheries abound, few anglers have actually experienced a body of water where aggressive fish have not yet grown wary of artificial lures or flies. These are those rare destinations where active fish literally devour a plug, plastic worm or spinnerbait on just about any well-placed cast. I would say that Huites is the closest thing to the mythical virgin fishery that I have ever encountered.

Terry Hollan of Lake Huites LodgeHollan founded and operates Reel Mexican Adventures, an angling travel company focusing on Lake Huites Lodge and other lakes located South of the Border. Reel Mexican Adventures is under the umbrella of X-TREME ANGLING, an international angling travel company. Hollan is one of the founding partners of X-TREME ANGLING.

Both Reel Mexican Adventures and X-TREME ANGLING take pride in the fact that they have always relied on an honest approach to reporting the fishing activity at Huites, or any other lodge they represent throughout the globe.

"There are a host of promoters and angling travel agencies for the traveling angler to chose from," says Hollan. "Our philosophy at Reel Mexican Adventures and X-TREME ANGLING is that it is more important to be honest with a client about the results they can expect at Huites and keep him as a satisfied client for life than to hype the fishing productivity and have a client leave a fishery disappointed. We have actually cancelled clients at Huites when torrential rains muddied the lake to the point that the catch rate went from 75 fish a day to 5. We would rather turn away the business, in hopes that the client will return at a later date, then make a fast buck on a client under unfavorable fishing conditions and risk losing him forever.

"We will not hype the lake, nor exaggerate the fishing reports to lure clients to our lodge. When a client contacts us for information, I can assure him that what we tell him is accurate and he can base his decision to fish with us or not based on reliable information."

Tons of Bass at Lake Huites LodgeAccording to Hollan, it was in the early 1970's that Lake Vincente Guerrero of northeastern Mexico was a true virgin bass fishery, one that set the standard by which all future Mexican bass fishing lakes would be judged. Hollan believes it was the first bass lake in Mexico that would consistently yield 100 plus fish days, with the average fish exceeding three pounds. He, as well as many other veteran anglers of bass excursions to Mexico, believes that Lake Huites is as good, or better, than any Mexican bass lake they have ever fished, including Guerrero, and Hollan visited them all in the past 15 years. For those that missed out on the glory days of lakes like Guerrero and Hidalgo in their prime, Hollan truly believes that they've been given a second chance to experience a fishery that has not yet reached its peak at Huites.

One of the primary reasons for the success of Huites lies in the fact that it was initially stocked with a reported 80,000 Florida strain largemouth bass fingerlings that have matured at a rapid rate and visiting anglers have been astounded by their success.

According to Hollan, when you combine fast growing, aggressive Florida strain largemouth bass, optimal water quality, relatively light fishing pressure and an abundant supply of shad and tilapia, you have the ingredients to allow those bass to grow faster and larger than they would in the states.

"I have never encountered such a population of healthy largemouth bass in all my years of fishing," offered Karl Malik, founder of America Online's fishing site - MarkSport, following his first trip to Huites, a clear, deep mountain reservoir. "Not only is the average size of the fish I caught quite impressive, but the fish were extremely aggressive as well. I'd often observe two or three fish trying to take a lure or plastic worm from a hooked fish. In some cases you'd catch two fish on the same plug and this is a common occurrence. They basically devoured every lure I through at them."

Fishing Patterns

According to Manuel Salazar, who gleaned years of bass fishing experience from his father Jose (himself a pioneer in hosting American anglers to Mexico and often referred to as the Michael Jordan of Mexican bass angling), there are two distinct patterns that exist on Huites. You can fish for large numbers of two to four pound bass (in excess of 50 a day in many instances) fishing visible targets and structure along the steep banks or hunt for larger fish, ranging from four to 12 pounds, by fishing deeper, less obvious offshore structure.

Big Bass at Lake Huites Lodge"If you really want some fast and furious action, I would fish a crankbait, such as a chrome Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap, shad or chartreuse colored Bill Dance Fat Free Shad crankbaits, plastic worm, soft plastic jerkbait or a spinnerbait at the bank," advises Salazar. "These are nice, stout fish, but not the trophies many have come to Mexico to catch. The banks on Huites are steep and you won't find many flats in this lake. For lots of fish, you need to cast at shallow bushes, trees, points and bluff banks."

Salazar targets trophy bass on Lake Huites, those in excess of four points, on main lake deep structure, in water ranging from 8 to 25 feet deep. He seeks out abundant ledges, islands, humps, points and flooded timber and advises visiting anglers to fish 10-inch long plastic worms and deep diving Bill Dance Fat Free shad crankbaits for best results.

When fishing plastic worms for deep Lake Huites largemouths, it is advisable to use a stout casting or spinning rod, 20-pound monofilament, 3/8 to 1/2-ounce slip sinkers and strong offset shank worm hooks. "These fish have a tendency to head for cover, like trees or stump roots, when hooked, points out Salazar, "so you need some heavy duty equipment to horse these fish out of deep water."

Big Lake Huites BassFor deep diving crankbaits, consider 6-1/2 to seven-foot long rods and 12-14 pound test to insure maximum diving capabilities of the plugs, yet be strong enough to pry fish away from submerged cover..

At times, the fish will be schooling on these structures and it is not unusual to catch numerous trophy bass on consecutive casts. In some instances a 3/4-ounce jigging spoon fished vertically beneath the boat will trigger strikes from these deep oriented fish as well

Big fish can also be taken on topwater baits fished over standing timber, brush, within pockets along the bank and across points. Prime baits include the Rebel Pop-R, Hedden Zara Spook and Gilmore Jumper. A half-ounce buzzbait is also a must lure to bring along for topwater action.

Two anglers are paired with an experienced local guide (all trained by Manuel Salazar's brother Rene) and share a 17-1/2 foot boat, equipped with 65hp outboard and trolling motor.

Preservation of the Fishery

According to Terry Hollan, the original agreements with local Mexican officials called for Huites to be designated as a "sportfish" only catch-and-release fishery. Many of the locals who relied on this lake as a source of food for their families were instrumental in repealing the catch-and-release only policy and now a three fish limit per day is in effect. Another potential problem for lodge owners and American bass fishing promoters was the fact that there were numerous netting operations throughout the lake in search of tilapia, a highly prized fish for table-fare and fertilizer.

"Right now, myself and many of the lodge owners are on the verge of signing an agreement that will call for us to pay the local commercial fishermen an amount that would, at least, equal what they would haveearned netting tilapia," reports Hollan. "Understanding that regulated netting is essential for the proper balance of tilapia, Huites has the strongest chance of any lake in Mexico of actually having a restrictive netting policy strictly enforced by local officials. This would be fantastic for the long-term health of the bass fishery. Understanding that regulated netting is essential for the proper balance of tilapia, netting of these abundant fish will be strictly supervised."

Getting There

Anglers can reach the lodge by flying commercially (via Tucson) to the international airport at Los Mochis, Mexico, or they may elect to fly toDallas or other city not far from the Mexican border and take a twin-engine charter flight to the town of El Fuerte. This is more economical if a group of anglers elects to take the charter flight option. They are then transferred via air conditioned Suburbans and vans some 3-1/2 hours to the Lake Huites Lodge, one of only a handful of lodges that is actually located on the lake. The last hour of this ride is on an unpaved bumpy road, but while this is sometimes a curse to the traveling angler, it helps keep out those that would consider towing a boat to Huites.

Lake Huites Lodge

Boats at Lake Huites LodgeLake Huites Lodge was first opened in October of '98 and can house up to 20 anglers. The lodge construction is angled so that every visitor has a view of the lake from their room and they also have their own covered porch. A palapa is in the center of the lodge where meals are prepared by one of the best chefs in the area. Each room is air-conditioned, offers private bathrooms and has daily maid service. The water is filtered via a reverse osmosis process and is safe to drink out of the tap. For untrusting visitors, however, bottled water is also available.

Anglers are greeted each morning with a pot of hot coffee left at their bungalow door. Three excellent meals are served daily and the coolers that accompany the anglers on the boats are crammed with ice, water, soft drinks and beer.

"I believe that there is no other lake in the world where anglers can catch as many three to eight pound fish," says Terry Hollan. "I believe it can be considered a bass angler's dream lake."