Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Lake

Airplane lake sighting provides another Baja adventure

On a recent flight from Cabo San Lucas to San Diego, I had my nose pressed to the window taking in the bird’s eye view of Baja, as I usually do. The plane traveled over Las Arenas and then north toward La Paz on a slightly different flight path than usual.
Midway between Las Arenas and La Paz, the sun glinted on what appeared to be water! I couldn’t remember a lake in that area, so I jotted a note to check it out on the Internet when I returned to my office.
There it was as plain as day on Google Earth...a dam at the northern end, making a dog leg shaped lake approximately two miles in length, located less than a mile off of the road leading from La Paz to Las Arenas.
Feeling like some ancient conquistador, I began making plans to find “my lake.” I knew Mark Rayor, owner of Vista Sea Sports, liked to explore Baja as much I do. And being a veteran of the competitive bass wars, Mark’s answer, when asked, was short and quick - “Count me in!”
It was a cool sultry July morning that promised to be a scorcher when I met Mark at his home for our expedition. He headed for his Bodega where his dusty freshwater bass gear was stored and piled bass tackle and bags of bass lures with odd sounding names in the jeep.
The drive was about fifty miles north on Mex 1, through San Bartolo, with its speed killing topes, then through the switch-back curved road into San Antonio. A right turn off Mex 1 onto a partially paved road led us to the Las Arenas and La Paz road, which we took north for 17 miles.
The unmarked turnoff was easy to recognize from the Google Earth image. What the image didn’t show us was the locked gate on the dirt road leading to the lake. We climbed over the gate and walked another fifty yards before “my lake” became clearly visible.
With rods on our shoulders, tackle boxes in hands, we marched down the dirt path looking like Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn…OK, maybe older.

The dam was an impressive structure, towering seventy-five feet above the lake. The construction was surely a major project accounting for the deserted buildings and rusting equipment scattered about.Though surrounded by thick growth, there was evidence that the lake had been fished recently, but we had it to ourselves this day.
Looking for openings in the brush we could see the crystal clear water with small minnows darting everywhere. Using a variety of different style of lures from Mark’s arsenal, we soon had the small minnows following our plastics as we cast working our way around the lake.

Mid-morning the rocks beneath our feet heated up, reflecting the intense July Baja sun. We had seen a weathered rancho perched on a hill overlooking the dam. We trudged up the road and shouted “hello” in Spanish. A voice quickly answered, echoing over the lake, “Bienvenidos! Adelante.”
When we reached the crest of the hill, a young ranchero, Marcial, introduced himself with the inherent friendliness of locals off the beaten path.
Marcial told us that the dam, Presa de Bonita Mujeres, was built twenty-five years ago to provide a reservoir for La Paz and that there were tilapia in the lake that were netted and sold commercially in La Paz fish markets. He didn’t know what additional species of fish were in the lake, but maybe bass!
He volunteered to take us to some cave paintings, roughly a three hour walk, but we declined and asked to return later in the fall when it was cooler.
A patch of water spotted at 20,000 feet, a search on the Internet, an image on Google Earth, meeting a young Mexican man, proud to share the lake in his backyard…welcome to the new millennium in Baja!
Mark and I are making plans to return to “my lake” later this year with kayaks to find that trophy bass with our name on it!