Bass Fishing Mexico: When Getting There Was Half The Adventure
[Editor: this article first appeared on www.ronsfishingblog and may only be used by permission of Ron Speed]
MEXICO TRAVEL SAFETY
Almost every day I am asked about all the violence in Mexico and how safe is travel to Mexico. It’s amazing how many Americans feel the whole country of Mexico is unsafe to travel. The truth is there are several places in Mexico that are unsafe to travel. Let me list a few….
I would not advise any travel to any of the border cities along the Texas, New Mexico, or Arizona borders. This is where about 90% of all the violence is taking place. I have said it before that we have had absolutely no problems in our area of El Salto or Comedero.
The area is just as safe as it has been for the past 25 years and there is nothing going on. If it were dangerous, this old CHICKEN LITTLE would not be going and would not be sending clients. Truth is, Ron Jr and I have not slowed down one bit in our travel to the camps.
Thank goodness a lot of our clients are realizing that it is safe to go fishing and our reservations are returning to normal. Currently, we have double the reservations we had last year and are looking at a very good season.
CHARTER FLIGHTS (WHY IT REALLY WAS DANGEROUS TO TRAVEL AT ONE TIME!)
During the 1970’s and 1980’s we went through some very dangerous times in fishing Mexico. In fact, I feel very lucky to have survived this 20-year period of my life. I have already shared my story about going down in a DC 3 in the mountains of Mexico with the Austin Woods & Waters club in 1973. Today I would like to share some other charter flights that provided life-threatening experiences.
During the 1970’s and 1980’s there were virtually no commercial airlines flying to the smaller cities in Mexico and the only way to reach some of these bass lakes was by charter planes. Even here in the US we didn’t have the smaller feeder airlines operating out of small cities like we have today. A lot of our great music performers & bands got killed using the same type of charter planes we were using for our fishing trips to Mexico. Just to mention a few who got killed in these old planes were Ricky Nelson, Jim Croce, Buddy Holley, Richey Valens, Patsy Cline and many more.
Today I will pass on several stories about how dangerous some of these flights were back in those days. After I went down in the DC 3 in 1973 the FAA threatened me about using any airplanes that were not on a 135 air taxi permit. Of course these commercial air taxi companies were much more expensive.
In 1974 Dr. Jim Wilkinson of Dallas called me about setting up a trip to Lake Dominguez and he wanted me to set up a charter flight for x number of dollars. I explained to Dr. Wilkinson I could not do those type of charters any more. I gave him the phone number of Jim Skinner of Dallas who was involved in the sale of older airplanes and arranging leases under a 91 permit. Dr Jim and Skinner worked out a deal where Dr Jim would lease the DC3 and serve as a pilot and Skinner would be the other pilot. They had a group of about 20 fishermen who wanted to fish Lake Dominguez in Sinaloa across the Sierra Madre mountains.
While crossing the mountains they flew into an ice storm and the wing warmers did not work and the wings began to ice up and they lost altitude. They also lost a lot of their instruments so they turned around and tried to get out of the ice but they admitted they were lost in this blinding storm. One of the passengers in the back was a captain for American Airlines and he sensed they were in trouble. He went into the cockpit and asked if he could help. The 2 pilots were extremely glad for his help and turned the plane over to the professional. The pilot got then out of the storm and saved more than 20 lives.
In the early 1970’s I had a prominent family from Ft. Worth charter a twin beech airplane to fly down to fish with me at Lake Dominguez. I fished 3 days with their pilot as he was the odd fisherman. The pilot had told me when he dropped them off in Ft. Worth he had to go to Shreveport that night and pick up a band and fly them out that night after they were through performing.
About a week later, when I returned home in the USA I learned that the pilot I fished with was killed along with his group on takeoff from the Shreveport airport. The musical group was the Jim Croce band.
In 1974, I was waiting for a client at the El Fuerte airstrip close to Lake Dominguez. My client was a doctor and his friend from Arizona. The pilot flew over the strip then circled to come in and land. Everything went just fine except he forgot to put down his landing gear. No one was hurt but it sure did mess up a pretty single engine airplane.
In 1975, the charter company we were using at Love Field (Kitty Hawk airways) informed me that they could no longer use the plane they were using for my groups at the same price. They wanted more than double what I had been paying. I had already sold out almost the whole season at a certain price and I wouldn’t go back and ask clients for more money.
I didn’t know what I was going to do when Kitty Hawk told me they would fly to California and buy a Twin Beech airplane for my trips if I would put up a $6,000 deposit as a guarantee that I’d use the plane. The plane would be put on their 135 air charter permit. I made them promise to bring back a safe modern airplane.
Our first group of fishermen met at Cooper aeromotive at Love Field in Dallas. I had not seen the airplane before this group was to leave. Kitty Hawk said they couldn’t carry everyone in the Twin Beech so they were sending a 2nd plane to carry part of the group.
My good friend Albert Davis who lived in Dallas would see off all my groups and supply a big tray of snacks from the famous Cheese House. Then Albert would call me in my office in Forney, Texas and let me know about the group. When I asked Albert about the group and the airplanes he said “Ron, you really don’t want to know.” I asked why and he said while the group was waiting for the planes to show up they looked out the picture window at Cooper aeromotive as two old planes were taxiing out. The group laughed and wanted to know where the antique airplane show was today. Yes, you guessed it… that was the 2 Kitty Hawk airplanes. Man, was I embarrassed as we had always used modern airplanes. I called Larry at Kitty Hawk and asked what in the devil were they doing to me and would the flight be safe? He assured me everything would be fine. As it turned out everything was NOT fine as the Twin Beech got into Mexico and some of the instruments shorted out and they also had some engine trouble. No crash and everyone got home safe… but I wouldn’t ever use the old planes again.
I was forced to buy a new Navajo Chieftain to use for our charters. I put the plane with Aviation Charter in Houston. They would put it out on Charter when I was not using it. The first charter was to Central America with the rock band Alice Cooper. When they called me about the charter I okay’d it but I said no snakes on my plane. Upon returning to the USA the customs guys took out all the seats and really messed up my new plane. About one month later I took my whole family to Lake Guerrero and dropped them off and picked up my partner & his wife and we flew to the Yucatan to checkout the Usamacinta River for snook & tarpon. We stayed in a very small village that had no airport so we landed in a cow pasture close by.
We were met by the owner of a small hotel in the village who wanted our business for the fishing operations. After 3 days and no luck fishing we decided to fly over to Palenque to visit the Mayan Indian ruins. Our pilot was Tom Rum, who learned to fly up north on grass strips. Tom told me that we would have to leave very early before the temps got too hot and the cross winds were too great.
The owner of the hotel & his wife were going with us, which made us with 3 women. You guessed it… the 3 women were very slow getting ready and we got out to the cow pasture about 9 am. It was hot and the cross wind was blowing like hell.
Tom asked me to sit in the co-pilot seat and help him. He explained the tactic he was going to use. The strip was very marginal in length with tall trees at the far end. Tom planned to sit with his brakes locked facing opposite the direction we were going during takeoff. He wanted the engines super hot and he was going to do a horseshoe to gain a little more ground speed. He wanted me to help him hold down the throttle in case we hit a deep cow rut to keep the throttle from jumping back. Tom said he had learned this up north and it would work here in this wet grass. Well, we started off really good but we didn’t get as much ground speed as Tom thought as the wet grass was slowing us down. Tom planned to pull up the airplane early and he said the airplane would come up a few feet but would stall and come back to the ground and bounce and when it came up again it would fly us out.
Well, when he pulled the stick back the plane did come up and the cross wind blew up to the right and the wing almost hit the ground. We hit pretty hard but it came back up and flew but ever so slowly. All I could see was the tall trees in front of us. I shouted at Tom we were not going to make it as it looked like we would hit almost halfway up on the trees. Tom said nothing as he was just pulling back on the yoke. At the very last second the airplane seemed to just jump up but we still hit the tops of the trees and the bottom of the plane just plowed through the trees.
We flew on to the Ruins but the hotel couple decided to take a taxi back to their hotel and I was very glad we survived a really bad situation.
I could keep on telling you more stories that would take hours to finish but I think you all get the idea about how dangerous it was fishing Mexico in that 20-year period. For me it’s a piece of cake today fishing Mexico and using commercial flights. Today’s worries about safety in fishing Mexico don’t come close to the dangers we faced in those early years.
GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR FISHING & WEAR THAT LIFEJACKET!