Can Camargo & Sugar Lake rebuild their shattered tourist industry?

One of the best-kept fishing secrets is located just south of the border from Rio Grande City.

The San Juan River starts in Coahuila, flows through Nuevo Leon and connects to the Rio Grande River in western Rio Grande City.

Mexican authorities built a dam just south of the border town Carmargo in 1936 creating the Marte R. Gomez Reservoir.

Better known by its nickname "Sugar Lake" or "Presa Azucar," the reservoir is one of the best bass fishing lakes around.

The area was popular with Americans for sport fishing, hunting and birdwatching for decades but fell off at the start of the drug war.

Three Blows

Without a doubt, the first major blow to the tourist industry in Camargo and Sugar Lake was the drug war.

The worst violence started in late February 2010 and continued through 2011.

Former allies the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas fought intensely for control of Camargo and other communities that made up the "La Frontera Chica" or "Little Border."

In between daily gun battles, dozens of homes in Camargo were burned and dozens of local businessmen were kidnapped and held for ransom.

The second blow came from Hurricane Alex, which flooded hotels, restaurants and other businesses along the lake in June 2010.

Alex also knocked out a bridge linking Camargo to the town of Comales. The bridge has never been rebuilt.

The third blow to tourism came from the current drought, which has lake levels more than 50 feet below normal.

Rebuilding Tourism

With the Gulf Cartel reportedly firmly in control of Camargo, many residents believe the worst days of the drug war are behind them.

Fish populations in the lake remained strong regardless of politics or the drought.

Over the past two or three years, Camargo Mayor Maria del Carmen Rocha-Hernandez has given her support to fishing tournaments on Sugar Lake.

On Sunday, a tournament drew fishermen from Camargo, Reynosa, Monterrey and even as far away as Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

Arlington resident Ron Murlock said he had been coming to Sugar Lake for years and never has any problems.

Just after winning the tournament, Murlock said he has been fishing on nearby Falcon Lake and in reservoirs around Dallas but the fishing is better at Sugar Lake.

Although Mayor Rocha-Hernandez has finished serving her term in office, fishermen and businessmen hope the tournaments will continue.

Consulate Warning

Although reports of drug cartel violence have gone down, there is still a travel warning in effect for Tamaulipas and other states in Mexico.

The U.S. State Department issued the travel warning for Mexico back in July.

According to the alert, Tamaulipas has the highest rates of kidnappings south of the border.

State Department officials reported that there has also been a 92.5 percent increase in murders since last year.

The warning also noted that Tamaulipas highways are not secure and prone to carjackings and robberies at cartel checkpoints.

Some American citizens have been killed by not complying with the demands of gunmen.

Officials offered general advice asking visitors to Mexico to use airlines as preferred travel and to stay in tourist areas.

According to the alert, those traveling by roads are asked generally to stick to toll roads when available and drive during daylight hours.