Travel Tuesday – The Ten Commandments of Tough Times – El Salto Edition

By Pete Robbins – Half Past First Cast

Lake El Salto is a remarkably fertile and prolific fishery, but that doesn’t mean you can throw out just any lure at any time and expect to get blasted by your new PB. There are times when it may seem that way, and the Florida-strain bass can be voracious, but they don’t grow big by being dumb. Furthermore, there are times when the bite is tough. Fortunately, that’s not often. In approximately 20 fishing trips South of the Border, we’ve had approximately 10 that were “trips of a lifetime,” maybe seven that were very good to exceptional, and three where we had to work for our bite. Unfortunately, the one we just completed was in that last trio.

While I just characterized the trip as “tough,” that statement deserves a bit of context. One day on this last trip, Hanna and I caught 70 bass, including one almost 8 pounds. Our new friend Sara Smith caught an 8+ PB on her first cast, and then beat it with an 8-15 a short time later. Two other members of our group topped the 9 pound mark. What it came down to was that the bite existed in windows and you had to offer up the right presentation at the proper time in the perfect place to have some success.

I hope that your next trip to Mexico is as good as or better than one of our best ones, but in case it’s not – here’s how to turn unmet expectations into a successful trip.

FIRST, remember that the fish didn’t go anywhere. At some point during each day you will be within a long cast or two of a double digit, possibly a teener. You can sulk over the fact that the bite is tougher than usual, or you can put that energy into positive thoughts and focus.

SECOND, pay MORE attention than usual. On our June 2013 trip to El Salto we stopped taking pictures of fish under 6 or 7 pounds after a few days because they were taking time away from keeping our baits wet. On those types of trips, you can take a few chances with your gear. On a trip like this one, however, where every five-plus is a reason to high-five, it’s easy to get distracted and fail to retie or change lures or set the hook properly. That inattention will bite you in the ass, because just when you least expect it, that’s when gigantor will strike.

THIRD, trust your guide. Some of them may be quiet and non-demonstrative, but they want you to catch fish. Their livelihood literally depends upon it. They all know the lake well after years of guiding it. Some of them even walked the lake’s floor before it was impounded. You may think they’re fishing too fast, too slow, too deep or too shallow, and indeed it might not be your preferred pace or strategy, but their methods are time-tested. More often than not they’re doing it right.

FOURTH, start early and stay late. On this most recent trip, 80 percent of our fish came on soft plastics fished slowly. Each morning and evening, though, there was a brief window when a few big’uns would absolutely crush a Rio Rico or in some cases a smartly-presented jerkbait. Those who dicked around too long at breakfast or came in early for happy hour often ended up missing those chances – and those time periods often produced the biggest fish of the day or the trip.

FIFTH, if you’re gonna upsize, you’ve gotta mean it. If you’ve got balls the size of grapefruits, one strategy for combatting a tough bite is to go exclusively to really big baits – giant swimbaits and the like – in search of one or two mega-bites. It sounds good on paper, but it’s a commitment physically and mentally. Are you prepared to go back to dinner, or back home after the trip, and tell everyone that you blanked? Or had one blowup that clobbered it and got off? If so, go for it. If not, steer clear.

SIXTH, remember that finesse has variations. We caught lots of fish this week on smallish baits like 5-inch Senkos and even shakey heads, but that doesn’t mean you could throw little plastics at every bank and expect to get consistent bites. Hanna did better on the shakey head than on the Senko, while I found the opposite to be true. Our friends Sara and Stuart Smith switched from green pumpkin and watermelon Senkos to blue ones, and suddenly their catch rate increased. Others found that they had to use some tungsten to get the desired fall rate, but anything more than an 1/8 ounce was less effective. Don’t go crazy, but don’t get stagnant, either.

SEVENTH, remember that finesse has limitations. We were throwing our shakey heads on 17-pound test line. I’ve never gone lower than 14 there. I suppose that you could, but the size and strength of the fish, combined with their razor-sharp (by bass standards) teeth and the abundance of heavy cover, would make me nervous to go any lower. I’m sure that there are times you could massage a giant or two through the trees, but I feel like it’s more apt to end in heartbreak.

EIGHTH, don’t suck the energy out of the camp with your negativity. Yes, I know that your friend just caught his PB. The group before you averaged over a hundred a day. You didn’t expect it to be this tough. If you’re a Negative Nancy, though, it’s going to screw things up for everyone. Not only does it make you less likely to succeed (for the reasons explained in Number Two, above), but it detracts from everyone else’s enjoyment. You’re on site, you’ve planned for this event, now make the most of what’s in front of you. To be totally honest, I need to follow my own advice on this one. I don’t get pissy or angry when the bite is tough, but I tend to get inside myself and stew quietly. I’ve been lucky to go to one of the greatest bass fisheries on earth a ridiculous number of times and if I never catch another bass I’ll still be equally fortunate.

NINTH, an actual fishing tip: Give your lure a little stop n go. I have caught dozens of El Salto fish on a Carolina Rig as I reeled it back to the boat, usually when I made a quick pause. At other times I’ve lost them on that semi-unexpected strike when I failed to pause. Even when I’m fishing the Rico fast, I’ll integrate some stoppages. The best jerkbait bite this past week came on long pauses. I’m not sure what it is about these fish, but many of them are late to commit and you can use that to your advantage.

TENTH, just because it was tough at this particular time, under these particular conditions, don’t avoid rebooking at the same time. This is a weird lake, in a good way. There’s not necessarily a magic formula – strong wind, no wind, high water, low water, etc. – that causes excellence or struggles. There’s a reason it’s booked year after year and most of the clients are return customers.

Remember, most of the time El Salto is like pizza and sex – even when it’s “bad” it’s good. If you’d like to book a trip and see for yourself, email us today and we’ll get you there.