The third day of my El Salto adventure has just ended. My son Zach is asleep in the bed next to me, worn out from a long day of hard fishing. Even though I'm on vacation, I know I have to write. Too much happens each day for me to remember, so I keep a journal. It helps me keep the facts straight.
Even before the sun was up this morning, Zach was ready to get on the water. Luis greeted us with a smile when we arrived at the boat, and 10 minutes later, we were casting topwater plugs. Zach decided he would try the Super Spook this morning, and a good choice that was. On his first cast, as he danced the lure across the surface, a nice bass — close to 6 pounds — took a swipe at the lure and made a big boil in the water. Zach stopped his retrieve, then started it again and boom! Ol' Bucketmouth sucked the Spook down this time and Zach nailed him. The sun wasn't even up yet when I shot a photo of my son with his first bass of the day, and a nice one at that.
It started good, but today's fishing turned out to be tough. Tough is a relative thing, however. My worst day on El Salto was better than 90 percent of the bass trips I've had in the U.S., and this was far from my worst day. Bites were fewer and farther between, and we didn't catch any monster bass before lunch. But we caught enough 2- to 5-pounders to keep our interest until mid-morning.
A friend of mine, Hal Schramm, once wrote an article about a 12-pound, 10-ounce bass his friend Ben Davis caught on 6,700-acre Bay Springs Lake in northeast Mississippi. Hal, one of the country's most noted bassing writers and a biologist by training, wondered what the odds were of catching a bass of that magnitude. So he did some research and found out.
To do this, Hal looked at big-bass awards in FLW tournaments during the 5-year period from 2002 to 2006. He excluded events in northern waters like Champlain, Erie and the upper Mississippi River — waters that are primarily smallmouth fisheries and aren't going to produce a double-digit largemouths. FLW Tour pros and co-anglers logged 20,500 angler days. The biggest bass was 10-4. FLW Stren Series anglers did better. They caught thirteen 10-pound bass, five 11s, three 12s and two 14s in 44,044 angler days.
So how hard is it to catch a bass over 12 pounds?
"The best anglers fishing the best bass waters at the best times caught five bass over 12 pounds in 64,544 angler days," Hal wrote. "That's an average of almost 13,000 days for a fish over 12. Relating that to an avid angler who fishes 50 days a year, it will take about four lifetimes to catch a 12-plus."
I'm not much of a mathematician myself, but I would like to see what figures Hal would come up with if he examined several years of Anglers Inn fishing records for El Salto. I am certain they would boggle the mind.
Consider the fishing trip Les Melton of West Virginia enjoyed back in May 2005, for example. Melton is an accomplished angler to be sure, but even so, the size and number of largemouths he caught during his week-long visit was incredible.
• Total bass caught: 607
• Bass 10 pounds or more: 27
• Bass 8 pounds or more: 60
• Total weight of 10 largest bass for seven days: 134.1 pounds
• Total weight of five largest bass for seven days: 71.5 pounds
• Total weight of 10 largest bass for one day: 118 pounds
• Total weight of five largest bass for one day: 66.8 pounds
Some bassing enthusiasts (Mr. Catfish, for example) have fished for decades without catching a largemouth weighing 10 pounds or more, but Mr. Melton caught 27 bucketmouths that size during his seven-day El Salto trip. The carefully recorded weights (in pounds) of each of those fish were: 15; 15; 14.07; 14; 13.08; 13.04; 12.12; 12.12; 11.14; 11.08; 11.08; 11.02; 11; 10.10; 10.08; 10.08; 10.08; 10.08; 10.06; 10.06; 10.05; 10.04; 10.02; 10.02; 10; 10 and 10.
"I couldn't believe it was happening," Melton said. "I must have felt like players do when they win the Super Bowl. It was the epitome of what bass fishermen hope to do."
Zach and I were hoping for a day like that, but we knew it was hardly possible considering our level of experience. We had a huge advantage, however. Joe Bullock, who previously held a five-fish, 67-pound record at El Salto, was at the lake the same time as us. And yesterday, he very generously spent two hours of his time not only showing us the techniques for using some of the best big-bass lures here, but rigging and giving me several of these lures to try.
On our afternoon outing, Zach and I started out casting some of Joe's swimbait rigs. And wham! I caught a 9-pounder, one of my biggest bass ever. Zach had several hawgs on as well, but the biggest ones gave us the slip—breaking line, tangling us in trees and throwing hooks.
We saw them, though. And tomorrow we plan to give 'em hell.
To contact Keith Sutton, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "Out There Fishing," is available at www.catfishsutton.com. For additional information on bass fishing at Lake El Salto, phone 800-GOTA-FISH or visit www.anglersinn.com.