Lake Powell report

Information compiled by Wayne Gustaveson,

Attention: Quagga mussels have been detected at Lake Powell. Protect other Utah waters by cleaning and draining the water from your boat before leaving Lake Powell. Your boat must be dried for 18 days before you can launch in another water. If you plan to launch sooner than that, a professional decontamination is required. Learn more about these destructive mussels.

Waterbody Report
Lake Powell

Lake elevation: 3,605 feet

Water temperatures: 65–69°F

Nob Wimmer from Clark Bench, Utah found all species of fish guarding shad schools in shallow coves at the backs of canyons. It was possible to catch stripers, largemouth and smallmouth bass while casting crankbaits in shallow water. Great fishing should last into November or as long as we have warm fall weather.
Photo courtesy of Wayne Gustaveson

The annual striped bass migration is now almost complete. Fish movement begins in the spring when stripers react to warming water by leaving the backs of the canyons and heading toward the main channel to spawn. Then, in summer, they pursue forage in open water wherever they can find it, whether on the surface or at great depths. As temperatures decline in the fall, stripers move toward the backs of canyons, where they will spend the winter with shad schools that descend to 60–90 feet. At those depths, the water temperature is cold but stable. Threadfin shad must be in deep water to survive cold winter temperatures that are near their thermal tolerance level. Rapid warming or cooling can be lethal to these warmwater forage fish once acclimated to cold water that ranges from 45–50°F.

Stripers make one stop before going deep in the winter. At the beginning of October, shad were in open water but have recently moved into shallow coves to escape relentless striper predation. The shad hope they can find shallow water, somewhere a three-inch fish can swim but a three-pound striper cannot without hitting bottom.

This is what we found earlier this week. We searched open water for striper schools and then moved to the backs of canyons to find where the stripers had gone. We looked in Padre Bay canyons and found a few stripers left in front of Gunsight Butte. Large schools were there at the beginning of the month, but on this trip, we only saw one small school.  We caught fish from that school by spooning quickly when the fish were graphed.  We stayed over the school long enough to catch a dozen two- to three-pound stripers before the fish departed.

Next, we looked for other schools seen previously in deep water from Gregory Butte to Gunsight without finding any fish. Then, we went to the backs of canyons to see if shad were trapped in shallow coves. Most canyons were fishless, while others harbored shad. Shallow shad schools were guarded by stripers, largemouth and smallmouth bass.

Once a shallow school was found, it was easy to catch husky fish of all species by casting shallow and mid-depth crankbaits in 12–15 feet of water.    When we pulled out further (to 30 or 40 feet), we found striper schools holding, just waiting for shad to try to escape from the coves. These schools were more than willing to hit spoons.

The successful lakewide pattern is to find shad schools trapped in the back of short U-shaped canyons near the main channel. Long, winding canyons are not usually as productive. Try to stay within casting distance of the shad school but do not scare shad out into open water where they will then flee to another sanctuary cove. Work the cove with shad-imitating crankbaits for the best results. Our best lure was a Lucky Craft Bevy Shad in shad color. Look further out for striper schools that really like spoons right now.

Coves with no trapped shad also had no predators. It is possible to run quickly to the back of many coves before finding the shad school. The school we saw contained thousands of shad and covered perhaps a length of 20 yards of shallow water from the front of the school to the back, with a width of 20 feet. Find shad now in the southern lake, and fishing success will follow. There are more shad schools in the northern lake, so it may be more challenging there. In either case, the best catching action is now in the very back of the canyon from a bottom depth of 40 feet to the shallow end of the cove.

This is the last regular fish report of the year. We head out on the lake for the next three weeks to sample with gill nets to document population size and fish health. I will post updates on throughout the winter.

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