A Secret Bass Fishing Lake in Mexico (Part 3)
I apologize again for the delay but a death in the family and a lot of unexpected travel made me late again. Maybe now I can get back to writing this blog every week. If you missed Parts 1 and 2, click here to start at the beginning of this series.
The Short Life of Palmito
At the end of the last blog Jose, my partner on Lake Guerrero, and I returned to Ciudad Victoria and began to get everything set up for opening up Lake Palmito. Our first two groups did exceptionally well and then came the summer rains, which brought the lake level up 40 feet and the lake turned muddy.
I had booked the camp totally full for 6 months with no beds left. Then the bass quit biting with the high and muddy water. I had to cancel all of those groups and return all the deposits. That left us short on money but that’s the only way I know to operate: Honest and Truthful. When the fishing gets bad you have to cancel even if the clients get upset. This all happened in July so we waited until November to see if the bass would bite when the level stabilized.
The bass would bite a little in the winter but they were in 40 feet of water and hard to catch for fishermen not accustomed to fishing deep. I tried to open up in March but the high winds would muddy the lake and the fish stopped biting.
Finally in May we had good shallow water fishing and we were off and running again with a ton of clients booked. At this point, I will describe some things that happened over the next 2 years until we finally closed our operation on Palmito.
An Army of One
I had hired Jim Ruth from Corsicana, Texas to help manage the camp. Jim had lots of hair on his head and it was snow white. When Rio airways chartered our clients in the pilots would stay at the camp. One of the pilots was Herb Cunningham and he liked to bass fish. One morning I sent a guide with Herb and the other pilot up to the mouth of the North river where we had been catching lots of good size bass. Herb and that boat were trolling the bank close to the river when Herb felt a small thump on his ear lobe. He felt his ear and it was bleeding a small amount of blood. At the same time, they all heard a distinct PING of a 22 rifle from on top of a high nearby hill and at the same time a splash in the water beside the boat. The guide started up the motor and began to take off. Herb and his friend were down in the bottom of the boat trying to bite their lines in two with their teeth.
They made it to the camp and rode the burros up to the top. They ran up to me and told me what had happened. At that very same moment, Jim Ruth, my manager, staggered over the wall next to the switchback. Jim’s snow-white hair was solid red with blood and he was holding his head in his hands. His solid white shirt was also red with blood. Can you imagine what went through my mind at that very moment? It occurred to me that we were at war with someone but we had no guns. I immediately sent Paco our bookkeeper to the nearest phone to call the Governor of Durango State and report what had happened. Within a few hours, we had maybe 50 soldiers in the camp. We sent all our boats and guides out with them to the North river where they caught this guy that had been shooting at Herb’s boat with a 22 rifle.
Now listen to this: Jim Ruth had not been shot in the head after all. He was riding one of the burros up the switchback and fell off, hitting his head on a rock. It was just a minor scratch that bled a lot. The shooter turned out to be a mental patient who had escaped from a nearby hospital. He was from a nearby village so he just went home and got his 22 and went to the mountains to hide out. He thought our boats were from the hospital coming to get him.
The Almost Well-Dressed Pilot
One of the Rio Pilots, a captain, was Richard Green and he took his job very serious. He always wore his neatly tailored uniform and his tie perfectly straight and his spit-shined black shoes were like a mirror. Richard flew the Beech 99 strictly by the book almost to a fault. The other Rio Pilots used to say they were afraid to fly with Richard because of his unwillingness to risk the weight of extra fuel in case the got into bad weather and couldn’t alternate to another airport out of the bad weather.
My dad and brother Jere were at the camp and dad was coming out with Richard for a break. Dad told a joke at Christmas that year that Jere was running down the runway as the plane was taking off hollering, “Dad come back! Don’t leave me here in this God-forsaken place!” Not true but it got a big laugh from the family. The funny part of this story is that my dad had taken Richard’s shoes and put them in his carryon luggage. Richard was in his well-pressed uniform and barefooted. He had to fly the plane back to Dallas without any shoes but the most embarrassing time was when he stopped in Laredo, Texas to clear US customs. There was Richard, dressed fit to kill but totally barefooted
Fish On(?) The Coals
I had invited Virgil Ward down to make a couple TV shows. Later Virgil told me that the Palmito show was his very best in 30 years of doing TV shows. He got plenty of fish shots then started on scenery and extras. He loved the switchback and filmed all our clients riding the burros. I told him about how the locals would paddle out on the lake and fish all day with their tin can reels to catch enough fish for the family to eat. How they would build a fire and then lay the bass on the coals with the scale side on the coals. In other words they would open up the fish belly, take all the intestines, stomach etc. out then wash the body cavity clean then butterfly the fish with head still on, lay the fish on the coals until it was done, then take it off with a stick, salt it good and it was chow time. Oh my, Virgil had to get that on film so our guide built a fire and cooked our bass and then the camera guy started filming Virgil taking his first bite. All was going great until Virgil put the first bite in his mouth. All hell broke loose with Virgil spitting out the fish and hollering and running around like a chicken with his head cut off. I could not imagine what in the devil was going on. Well it turns out that Virgil had put a red-hot coal in his mouth that had stuck to the fish. Oh my, I wanted to laugh so bad, but of course I didn’t or at least I didn’t where Virgil could see me.
I could tell you many more stories about Palmito but I think it’s time to close this blog on Palmito and next week go on to more exciting stories.
Good luck with your fishing and remember to wear that lifejacket.