Charter Flights to Mexico for Black Bass
Today we are going to talk about Mexico bass fishing back in the 1970’s and getting our clients to the lakes. Nowadays our clients fishing Lake El Salto and Lake Comedero are blessed with the ability to get to the lakes on commercial airliners. This was not the case back in the 1970’s as I had to charter small planes and pilots to get our clients to Lake Dominguez, Lake Hidalgo, Lake Don Martin, Lake Palmito, and Lake Guerrero.
I have already told you about the forced landing of the DC 3 in the mountains of Mexico but there are more stories about the charters of the 1970’s. One story involves flying clients from Dallas Love Field to Lake Palmito in the 70’s. I was using a charter service in Dallas named Kitty Hawk Airlines. They had a very nice Cessna that would hold 6 passengers and it worked out great for us. However, about half way through the fishing season Kitty Hawk informed me that they could no longer send the Cessna for the price we had agreed upon in the beginning. I refused to go back to my clients and ask for more money, so we were stuck.
On a Tuesday before our next group was to leave on Thursday, Kitty Hawk called and said they had located two older planes they could use for the remainder of the season. I asked if they were safe and modern-looking airplanes. I was assured they were safe and there would be no problems at all, so I said to go ahead and use them on Thursday.
On all of my charters out of Love Field I had Albert Davis of Dallas bring out drinks and a big platter of snacks from the Cheese House for our clients. After Albert got the planes off he would call and tell me about how things went and what time they got airborne. I was very anxious about this Thursday’s charter so when Albert called me I asked him how it went and what did the planes look like. Albert said everyone was standing in the lobby of Cooper Aviation with its big glass windows when they all started laughing and pointing to two old planes passing by in front. Someone said, “I wonder where the antique air show is today” . . . not knowing those were their planes for the trip. Man, was I embarrassed and called Kitty Hawk immediately and gave them a piece of my mind.
Kitty Hawk said they were sorry and they had located a twin Beechcraft in California and it was a modern plane and very safe and could hold 8 passengers. They asked if I would put up $6,000 deposit to insure that I would use it on my Mexico trips. I agreed in desperation as I didn’t want to use the two antiques again. I drove to Dallas and delivered the check and they took off from Love for California. They flew the plane back the next day in time for out next group on Thursday.
On Thursday our group took off from Love bound for Lake Palmito. They landed in Del Rio to clear US customs but didn’t refuel as they wanted a light airplane when they took off from the short gravel strip in Palmito. After takeoff from Del Rio they ran into some bad weather and all electronics went out as they had a short in the electrical system. So the pilot had to turn back for Del Rio. He assured the fishermen that everything was alright but after his speech the left engine started missing and went dead. Now they were in a storm with no instruments and a dead engine. BAD DEAL!!!
They made it back to Del Rio safely and Kitty Hawk sent the Cessna to pick up the clients and take them to Lake Palmito. It’s a wonder that those old planes didn’t kill some somebody. After this I quit using the plane and I quit Kitty Hawk, losing my $6,000.
I called Aviation Charter to see if they could handle our groups. They gave me a much higher price but I didn’t care as I was just trying to get through the season. They used a Piper Navajo Chieftan which is a very fine airplane. I told them that if they helped me out of the season I would maybe buy a new Navajo for the next season.
I flew down to Houston to meet the owners and I wanted to take a week’s trip in one of their Navajos to check out the airplane’s performance on all our destinations. They agreed and the next week they sent Jerry McBeth to pick me up near my home. We left for Palmito for our first trip. We landed in Del Rio, then flew to Torreon and took off for Palmito awful late in the evening. Jerry didn’t have a map or any coordinates on the strip as it was just a gravel strip. I told Jerry to just fly the highway from Torreon until we intersected the highway coming from El Paso. We then would fly west for about 20 minutes to Palmito. Well, everything went according to plan except it was getting dark and we were very anxious as the strip at Palmito did not have lights. We finally saw a lake on the horizon and flew straight to it. Upon arrival I recognized the lake as Lake Tortuga, not Palmito. I had fished this lake about a year ago to check it out and found the bass to be full of intestinal worms and decided to operate on Palmito instead.
I told Jerry to fly North following the river and in 10 minutes we would see Palmito. Although it was already dark, we could still make out the river below. I had to explain to Jerry how we had to land at Palmito as he had no idea. I explained that the strip was 3500 feet, running east and west and it had an uphill slope that butted into a very high bluff so once we dropped down to approach the strip we had to be committed to the landing as we could not pickup and try to climb over the bluff as we would crash. To make things more exciting there is an island in the middle of the lake in front of the strip and a barbed wire fence at the end of the west end of the strip. I explained that we had to lower our altitude over the lake and make our approach around the west side of the island, turning left to the east and get our alignment perfect and exactly correct with altitude to barely clear the fence. Jerry made a practice fly-over at altitude to look everything over.
We then descended to our correct altitude out over the open lake and started around the island, trying to get lined up with the strip which we could just barely see. I reminded Jerry that we were on final and we had to put the plane on the ground no matter what. When I turned on the landing lights we could see the fence and the end of the strip but I also saw something that terrified us. FRESH COW DUNG!!!!! We just knew there were going to be cows on the strip and we would crash into the cows. God was looking after us as the entire herd had just moved off the strip and were standing along the side. We got on the brakes and with full flaps we got the Navajo stopped. We kinda laughed and shook hands. I then asked Jerry what would have happened to us if we had hit one of the cows and he said “WE WOULD HAVE HAD HAMBURGERS FOR SUPPER.”
From time to time I’ll tell you more exciting stories about charter flights into Mexico for black bass. WHAT ALL WE WILL DO TO CHASE OUR FAVORITE FISH.
Next time we will have a fishing tip for you as Spring and spawning is upon us again one more time.
Good luck with your fishing and wear that lifejacket.