Out There: Lake of falcons, lake of bass

The peregrine falcon proved a meaningful signpost for the author. 

The sun warms me to the bone. It feels good, and it has ruined me for fishing. I put down my rod and lay back in the boat to bask like a turtle on a log.

Rising several hundred feet above me is a golden cliff. I see two peregrine falcons, a mustachioed male and a much larger female, perched 100 feet up. Above them sits another raptor, a prairie falcon. Higher still, soaring on the updrafts, I see a caracara, another member of the falcon family.

I imagine there are few places where one might look up and see three species of falcons at once. But seeing these birds here, in the beautiful backcountry of Sinoloa, Mexico, does not seem extraordinary.

The peregrine has come to symbolize wild places, such as the lake we are fishing, Lake Huites. The appearance of this pair, and three other pairs during the course of the day, is, for me, a confirmation; I have reached a place worth reaching. I am "out there."

If the peregrines are symbolic of the area's character, the prairie falcon and caracara affirm its identity.

My south-of-the-border amigos know the former as halcón de la pradera. But to scientists, it is Falco mexicanus, a reference to the country in which it was first described, the country in which I now bask and watch birds.

The caracara, or "Mexican eagle," is Mexico's national bird, proudly depicted on its flag and coins. It is said to be an omen of good luck. On this day, it is.

As I watch the falcons, Mark Davis continues casting first one lure, then another. We have come to Lake Huites to sample what some say is the most incredible trophy largemouth bass lake in the western hemisphere. For two days though, the fishing has been tough.

"You know, Sutton," Davis says, "if you were any more laid back, you'd be dead. You should be fishing instead of bird watching."

"Right now, the bird watching is more fun than the fishing," I reply.

"That's your problem," he says. "You give up too quick. I never give up."

True to form, Davis does not give up. He casts again and again, hundreds of casts, thousands, as he tries to figure out a pattern that will yield a trophy largemouth. And, later that day, while I enjoy my siesta back at the camp, he figures it out.

He awakens me, then we motor to a remote corner of Lake Huites. A ribbon of water slices through a canyon. On both sides are high walls blanketed with cacti. Davis points to a ledge 50 feet above us.

"I want you to take your camera up there," he says. "What I'm about to show you is unbelievable, and that's the only place you can get good pictures."

I look at him incredulously. "You want me to climb up there?"

"Yes," he says. "Now hurry."

Imagine a garden slug climbing the side of a skyscraper, slowly making its way to the penthouse. In a race to the canyon ledge, the slug would have beaten me.

I finally reach the rock precipice, however, and have a clear view of Davis on the water below.

"Now get ready," he shouts. "And when I say 'shoot,' start shooting."

Davis casts a deep-diving crankbait, then starts a fast retrieve. "Shoot!" he exclaims.

At that instant, a 5-pound largemouth jumps from the water. And while I shoot photos, it jumps again and again. Davis lifts it into the boat, then casts again.

"Get ready," he says. "I'm going to catch another one." And true to his word, he does.

Having three species of falcons in my field of view that morning seemed to me an unsurpassable surprise.

But what I witnessed Mark Davis do that afternoon surpassed it by a great margin. I counted his casts — 125. And, on every cast, he caught a bass. Not every other cast or every fifth cast or every 10th cast. Every cast. 125 casts. 125 bass.

Had I not gotten dizzy in my falcon's aerie, I might have watched Davis catch many more bass. But dizzy I was, and my rump was full of cactus spines. So down I came, and back to camp we went. That night, Mark basked in glory, not sunshine, as we told the story of his amazing catch again and again.

I visited the canyon again this spring, four years after that first visit. Two peregrines were perched on a ledge far higher than the one on which I once sat. I pointed them out to my fishing companion, Mark Menendez.

"I bet we've seen more than a dozen falcons so far," he said. "That tells you something about a place — when it has as many falcons as that."

"I wonder if they've seen my film," I said.

"Film?" Mark queried.

"Yeah. Remember me telling you about shooting the photos of Mark Davis catching all those bass? I was up there somewhere, on the side of that canyon wall. I shot five rolls of film, and, when I climbed down, I left every roll on that ledge."

They're still up there I suppose. I didn't even know I'd left them until I got back to the United States. And, so, I have no photos to show you of Mark Davis catching bass after bass after bass that warm Mexican afternoon. You'll have to trust me — or not — on that one.

Those weren't the last photos I shot on that trip, however, and those weren't the last fish Mark Davis brought to the boat. After he figured out the pattern, Davis started landing the big guys. I photographed him with several 10-pound largemouths, and he caught scores of 6- to 9-pounders.

On our return trip this past May, Davis once again showed his skill as a bass angler, landing several more Lake Huites giants. And the lake itself once again lived up to its reputation as one of the finest trophy bass lakes in the world. Several people in our party, all ardent bass fishermen, caught their biggest bass ever — all fish in the 10-pound-plus class.

I have fished many fine bass lakes. In terms of trophy potential, few — very few — can equal this
23,000-acre reservoir high in the Sierra Madres of western Mexico. The great bass fishing is not the whole of Lake Huites, however.

I have also come to love this lake for its beauty and wildness, which are without compare. You will never hear the sounds of traffic here or see a Jet Ski or smell pollution. There is only peace and charm.

You should visit Lake Huites for the bassing fishing, but you will return for reasons that have as much to do with aesthetics as trophies.

In May, I sat with some young Huites guides, watching as an incredible sunset saturated the clouds with violet and tangerine. One of them spoke: "Es quizás el lugar más hermoso en el mundo."

"What did he say?" I asked his friend.

"He said this is perhaps the most beautiful place in the world."

I speak little Spanish, but found a reply in the few words I know.

"Para mí, es el paraíso." For me, it is paradise

The guides smiled and shook their heads. Then one pointed to a speck moving across the painted sky. "Halcón! " he said.

A falcon.

I was reminded once again how fortunate I was to be in this beautiful place. I had reached a place worth reaching. I was out there. And that was good.

To contact Keith Sutton, email him at catfishdude@sbcglobal.net.