Nearly two years after David and Tiffany Hartley’s fateful encounter with drug smugglers on the Mexican side of Falcon Lake, returning U.S. sport fishermen said there haven’t been any problems in recent months.
Although Hartley’s body was never recovered, the Mexican government reports a dozen Zeta cartel members were killed during a military offensive last fall.
“It seems like they got a lot of those guys out of this area, or at least it seems like that anyway,” said James Bendele, formerly of Castroville and now co-owner of Falcon Lake Tackle Shop.
Malcolm Kitchen, of New Braunfels, who also owns a house in Zapata, said he had no reservations about fishing on Falcon Lake. “I didn’t. My buddies, they did. They were skeptical,” Kitchen said.
His friend, Matt Cannon, from north of Austin, said, “It seems fine. I guess nothing’s happened here recently. Doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen again.”
Craig McMurtry, a former professional baseball player, said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity, based on the assurances of other friends as well. "They come down here a couple of times a month. They’ve never had any problems,” McMurtry said.
Sherman Pierce, from Central Texas, said he and his brother, Wayne, regularly fish on both sides of the lake, “but we don’t go too far into Mexico,” Pierce said. “We stay right on the river.”
Bendele said Texas Parks and Wildlife and U.S. Border Patrol regularly have boats on the American side of the lake. Bendele said Falcon Lake may be down, but Zapata’s tourist-related economy is looking up.
“That’s the draw: Big fish. That’s why people drive a long way to come here,” Bendele said.
He said Falcon Lake was rated No. 1 for bass fishing by Bassmaster magazine.
Although big mouth bass are found elsewhere, Bendele said Falcon Lake’s warm waters and thick brush underwater are ideal conditions for growing “monster bass.”
Wayne Pierce said he caught one that weighed in at 12 pounds. “Around here, it’s not hardly even worth taking a picture of anything unless it’s at least 10 pounds,” Pierce said.
“They’re tough,” Bendele said. “You don’t have them. They’ve got you those first few seconds.” He said big mouth bass are born predators who lie in wait for their prey amid the submerged trees and rocks
Yet even after catching one, Bendele said the prized bass are always released. “Those fish know where every tree is and that’s where they’re headed.”