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Mexico's Lake Mateos: Where Strong Tackle Goes to Die
By: Pete Robbins - BestWestUsa
NYS Fish and Wildlife Biologist II
2009 NYS Bass Federation Northeastern Divisional Champion
When the opportunity came up last fall to purchase a fishing trip to Mexico and fish at Aztec Lodge on Lake Mateos, I jumped at the chance. I had been hoping to make a trip in a few years to a lake in Mexico to fish for that elusive 10 pound largemouth bass, but didn’t think I would have the chance this soon. Sometimes things just work out better than you could hope for.
I scheduled the trip for early February, a week or so before the full moon, hoping the big bass would be moving up preparing to spawn.
Packing proved to be an interesting exercise, what to bring? I was looking for big fish, not numbers per say, so I went with a lot of bigger baits. Swimbaits, spooks, large soft plastics, large jigs and spinnerbaits, lots of heavy duty hooks and weights. I spooled up my reels with 14-20 pond fluorocarbon, with 17 pound mono on one reel for topwater. No finesse tackle for this trip. If you ever have a chance to fish Lake Mateos, bring lots of hooks, weights, lures, extra line, etc. There are a lot of trees (and rocks) in this lake and you’ll be fishing in, around, and through them. Expect to lose some tackle, and I was trimming frayed line continuously. Had to respool a couple reels.
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One travel tip. When scheduling your flights, and specifically your connecting flight to the Mexican airline of your choice, leave lots of lag time. Don’t schedule this with a short time to make your connection. Better to sit and wait for a couple hours than miss your flight because they close the ticket counter an hour before the flight and your connecting flight was delayed.
I was met at the Culiacan airport by the affable Bennie, lodge manager. After an interesting drive to the lodge (Bennie must be a long lost cousin of Mario Andreti), I met my roommate and fishing partner for the week, and picked out rods for the next days fishing. Aztec Lodge provides poles for guests to use which makes travel much easier with not having to deal with rod carriers. There was a wide selection of new and used poles to meet my needs, and I picked out 4 that suited my preferences. Then a quick bite to eat and off to sleep.
I was awoken by a knock on the door before first light, and breakfast was ready. After a good meal, we loaded up on the bus to get to the lake. At the lake we met our guide for the day Tallil and loaded up the boat. Off we went across the lake to our first stop, much the same anticipation as before a big tournament takeoff.
We started the day in a creek arm throwing topwater. An hour or 2 into the day the first good fish slammed my spook. After a battle the 7.5 pounder hit the net. The first morning and I had already beaten my personal best largemouth. The rest of the first day and much of days 2 and 3 were much the same. Very good fishing, but not spectacular. Fish were caught in bunches but not the huge numbers one might expect. Mateos is known for a tremendous topwater bite, but the topwater bite was off the week I was there. We caught most of our fish on soft plastics dragged slow along the bottom, or swimming them slowly back. We did manage a couple other fish in the 7 pound range but still nothing really big.
The morning of day 4 was much the same as the previous days, but we were beginning to see a change, and see a developing pattern. Fish were starting to move out of deeper water, off main lake points, and move towards the spawning flats. That afternoon we hit them hard, several fish in the 6-8 pound range, consistently into fish, several doubles. The fish were starting to be more active, looking for moving baits now. Secondary points and gradual slopes leading to spawning flats were choked with fish. We fished right to dark and left eager to get back on the water the next day.
We noticed that the bigger the fish, the softer the hit. The bigger fish just seemed to swim up and inhale the bait and keep swimming. If you felt any pressure, set the hook. Often it was a tree and I lost a lot of tackle this way, but I also hooked a lot of good fish that I might otherwise have missed.
Day 5 was just one of those days you dream about. We had the pattern figured out and the fish were active, crushing my swim bait on almost every cast. For a couple hours the action was incredible with fish up to 7.5 pounds brought to the boat one after the other.
As we headed back to lunch, our guide stopped at one last spot. He pulled up to a sheer vertical bluff, and the water depth was 92 feet. We’ve been wacking fish like crazy on banks and points leading to spawning flats and we go to 92 feet of water? I almost told the guide to keep going towards a spawning flat, but figured what the heck, only a few minutes until lunch. So I heave a 6 inch soft swim bait out parallel to the cliff, let it sink a few seconds and start to wind it slowly back. Then I felt a light pressure on the line. Not a hit, not real weight, just pressure - and I set the hook. For a few seconds I felt weight but it didn’t feel particularly big. I gently worked the fish in and as it neared the boat it came up and tried to jump. I say try because the best it could manage was a head shake a few inches out of the water. But that was enough to see a mouth the size of a soccer ball, this fish was big! Then the fish dove and the real fight was on. After several more runs, she was netted. A post spawn female weighing 11 pounds. You could see her lower tail was worn off from spawning. Imagine how big she was before she laid her eggs!
That made the trip, by far my personal best and the 10+ pounder I hoped for. The rest of the day was just gravy, and we continued to wack fish up to 8 pounds on swim baits and spinner baits. What a day of fishing, the stuff of dreams!
Lake Mateos is nestled in high mountain desert, with shrub scrub and trees, and with cactus scattered throughout. Rugged peaks are visible around the lake and in the distance. Very visually striking country, and after the winter snow of New York the weather was just tremendous.
One thing I wasn’t expecting about the trip was the incredible amounts of bird activity around the lake. Many species of water-dependent birds were seen, and many other species utilizing the desert scrub. From the hundreds of white pelicans on one island, to the striking plumage of the vermillion flycatcher and the magpie jays, from the hundreds of herons and egrets to the many raptors floating over the lake and mountains on thermals, it was a bird watchers paradise. On the way back from the lake for lunch one day, we had a roadrunner run across the road in front of the bus and stop on the shoulder to stare at us. Even a lone wood stork was seen hunting along the shore one day.
Lastly, the food and hospitality of the staff were outstanding. The food was just tremendous, lots of local and American fare, and all exceptionally good. The staff was great too, eager to help make your stay comfortable.
A Fishing Trip Of A Lifetime
Head South of the Border for Red Hot Big Bass Action and So Much More
By: Colby Simms with Ray Simms
Nearly surrounded by vertical walls of solid rock, we cast into the shadows, as early morning steam rises from the clear lake waters. Although it’s early February, and still around 60 degrees that will climb to about 80 before the day is done, with plenty of warm sunshine that’s not very common back home at this time of year. Scrub brush and cactus adorn the top of the tall hills behind us, where wild cattle and mules roam far and wide. Mexican fish eagles and hawks patrol the high peaks, peering down into the deep blue abyss, where their tasty breakfast hides and our sporting quarry hunts. On the other side of the massive body of water, the sun is just starting to make its way toward the mountaintops, streaming magnificent light from the Sierra Madres, like strands of angel hair flowing from the heavens. It’s a perfect morning in a perfect place. A long cast places the spinnerbait right along the boulder strewn shoreline. A steady turn of the reel handle causes the blades to flash just under the surface as the lure makes its way back toward the boat. Then, all of a sudden, a flash from below, and the trophy fish shoots like a bolt of lightning toward the helpless looking lure. The fish hammers the offering with a bone jarring strike, engulfing the lure into its massive jaws. The hit is like taking a solid right from a heavy weight champ, and the fight is on.
*Hard Fighting Fish
The great fish immediately burns line from the reel spool, digging for the dark depths, like a grouper hooked on the edge of a drop off in the vast sea. Line is gained when the fish slows down, only to have it torn back off the spool again, when the big angry creature tires of not getting its way. The battle rages on. This fish is finally drawn near the surface, closer to the boat, but it’s not done yet. It leaps into the air, twisting and turning in a beautiful acrobatic display of strength and will. The beast demonstrates just what it means to be a wild thing, unaltered by the hand of man, beautiful, savage and awe inspiring. The fish tail walks across the top shaking its big head, desperately trying to throw the spinnerbait lodged firmly in the corner of its mouth. As the fish tires, it comes to the boat. Before it can be netted, it thrashes one more time, a true testament to the strength and heart of this warrior.
It finally comes aboard, accompanied by shouts of excitement and high fives. The fish glistens as the sun creeps over the mountains to light it up. Green, white and silver scales reflect the morning light like thousands of tiny mirrors. This is a thick muscular animal, yet sleek and streamlined with a wide tail for speed and brute pulling force. This is the great largemouth bass, America’s favorite and most pursued sport fish. But, we’re not in America anymore. Photos are taken and the creature goes right back into its natural environment without harm. It’s a perfect start to another perfect day of this unique adventure.
*The Great Trip
We have traveled south of the border into the beautiful country of Mexico to experience some of the very best bass fishing on Earth with our gracious host J.C. Galloway. Few things in this world compare to enjoying nature with family. My father Ray and I have had many wonderful experiences together, fishing, camping and hunting in God’s great outdoors, both before and after we turned the sport of fishing into our job. I’ve been bass fishing here in Mexico before, but this trip was Ray’s first, and it was also my best, as I got to spend the week chasing these big bass with my Dad, who has always been and will always be my favorite fishing partner. We traveled to Mexico with our great friends Harry and Cathy Canterbury, on what truly turned out to be a trip of a lifetime.
*Giant Bass & Red Hot Action
The beautiful Lake Mateos Bass Lodge is situated on a tall hill overlooking the majestic Humaya River, the largest tributary of Mateos, one of Mexico’s largest reservoirs. Lake Mateos in unquestionably one of the very best bass fishing waters anywhere on the planet, producing truly world class fishing. It might very well be the best bass lake in Mexico now. 100 fish days are very common and many anglers experience catches of more than 200 bass per boat in a single day! Now that is red-hot fishing action. In addition to the mind-blowing numbers of fish caught here, the size of the fish is just as impressive. The average size largemouth bass here weighs around 4 pounds. There are literally tremendous numbers of 5 to 8 pound bass taken here regularly, as well as good numbers of fish available in the 9 to 12 pound class too. Tangling with enormous bass in the teens is possible, and the lake record is over 16 pounds! Still, the fishing on Mateos is better now that it has ever been before and it just keeps getting better and better. As of this writing in February, the largest bass caught here this year, weighed over 14 pounds. Undocumented reports of an 18 pounder have been buzzing around, and incredibly, the lake record is sure to fall again. There may be no better place in the world for an angler looking for the fish of a lifetime, and the possibility of the lake producing a world record bass is certainly there.
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*Heart Pounding Fishing
Mateos is a clear mountain lake reaching hundreds of feet in depth. While most of these types of waters require finesse fishing tactics, because of its very limited fishing pressure, this lake fishes very shallow. Even inexperienced anglers can catch lots of big bass here, and this is a great place to get someone new to the sport hooked on fishing for life. Bass are usually not fussy, but rather active and aggressive, very aggressive. In fact, we’ve seen bass race from more than 20 feet away in the shallows to smash a lure the second that it hit the water, and we’ve witnessed bass rush strait up from underneath to waylay an offering on top. Bass hit hard and fast here and they fight like champions. Power fishing techniques reign supreme on this gorgeous lake. Jerkbaits, swimbaits, spoons, bladebaits, crankbaits and lipless cranks can all take lots of big fish here. If you like to fish slowly with jigs and soft plastics, you can certainly do that, and you’ll catch plenty of good fish too, but you don’t have to. There’s nothing like seeing the strike of a predator like a bass, especially in clear water. And, when a giant bass comes to the top to hammer a lure right before your very eyes, you just can’t beat it. Spinnerbaits and topwaters are the two best lures to use on Mateos and these exciting fishing tools take incredible numbers of huge bass.
*The Lodge & Accommodations
All trips to the wonderful Lake Mateos Bass Lodge are all inclusive, yet these packages are surprisingly affordable. Anglers are picked up at the airport by the friendly English speaking staff, for a short trip to the lodge. Once there, we were treated like family. The lodge’s first-rate chef prepares not only the most incredible Mexican food you’ll ever taste, but also wonderful American cuisine as well. We enjoyed perfectly prepared steaks, chicken and fresh fish, along with gourmet dishes and mouth watering deserts that made us think we were in the world’s finest restaurant, except with a much better view of course.
The tastiest icy margaritas were welcomed after each day of wrestling with many giant bass. The lodge is gorgeous and the view is absolutely breath taking. We enjoyed our drinks, meals and stories of the day’s catch with friends under the covered, open air pavilion overlooking the Humaya River.
The thatch roofs, the palm and banana trees, and the many flowers adorning the gardens throughout the resort give this modern and comfortable lodge a tranquil feeling that soothes the very soul and brings peace. The local village has its own special charm, and even though we were less than an hour’s drive from the city, this mountain lodge and undeveloped lake looks and feels completely remote. The lodge, the food and the staff here are as phenomenal as the fishing. This is an experience to treasure deep within the heart for a lifetime.
*Get Down There
All serious anglers owe it to themselves to make a trip to Lake Mateos Bass Lodge at least once in their lifetime, but it’s not just for the serious angler. The scenery, bird watching and wildlife photography is remarkable. This is a great couple’s destination for a romantic getaway, a fantastic place for a family vacation where kids can get addicted to fishing forever, the perfect place for a business trip or a fishing excursion with an old buddy. Lake Mateos Bass Lodge is all this as well as fuel for the fire raging within the most serious of anglers. From novices to seasoned professionals, everyone will be amazed at this wonderful place, its spectacular fishing and everything else that it has to offer. Life passes us all by much too quickly. Don’t let life pass you by, make the most of it now, like I did with my Dad and my friends at Lake Mateos.
Watch Adventure Sports Outdoors Magazine for our second article in this two-part series on our trip to Mateos, and tune in to ASO Television to see the TV shows that we filmed there as well.