Lake Powell report
Information compiled by Wayne Gustaveson, www.wayneswords.com
Lake elevation: 3,575 feet
Water temperatures: 50–53°F
The weather is warming and trees are budding in the high desert. It's time to start thinking about fishing and what to expect from Lake Powell in 2014.
The lake has dipped to its lowest point since 2005, leaving brushy cover high and dry on the shoreline. Two seasons of low water levels have brought down the total number of fish in the lake. Largemouth bass and crappie have taken the biggest losses. Adults remain, but very few young fish are being added to the populations.
Fortunately, there has been modest precipitation in the Colorado River drainage. When runoff starts the lake should rise from the current level of 3,575 MSL back to 3,600 MSL or perhaps a bit more. The Castle Rock Cut will be deep enough for uplake travel by June 1. Rising water will revive many of the launch ramps that are currently closed, including Antelope Point Public and Bullfrog Main ramp.
Rising water will be good for the fish. A water level higher than the old brush line will provide the cover that the new year class of bass, crappie and shad need for good survival rates. Unfortunately, bass and crappie spawning occurs in late April and May, when the lake will be below the brush line. So, not many of the young fish that use brush for cover will survive. Smallmouth bass, walleye and striped bass will produce, but their population will depend on how many shad are produced.
Smallmouth bass will be the bright spot for shallow shoreline fishing. They rely on rocky structure for protection and crayfish for nutrition. In the current conditions, they have the advantage and will be the fish to pursue from March to June.
Smallmouth bass fishing strategy relies on subtleties. Look for a rocky structure with a slope that drops quickly to deep water or a broken rock pile along a slick rock shore. Perhaps most importantly, find murky water created by wind or wave action. Most canyons have muddy water in the back during spring inflow. Look for the color transitions from clear, to green, to murky then muddy. Most often, you'll find smallmouth bass between the green and murky sections in each canyon. Look at the rock structure in that area, and fish on the shady side of the rock. I warned there were going to be subtleties.
Walleye use the same habitat as smallmouth, but they feed on a different schedule. Walleye will be on the shady side of rocks in the green/murky zone, but they feed best just before first light and after sunset. They must have signed a joint use agreement with bass that prevents both from using the same structure at the same time.
Striped bass were jumping in the boat last year looking for the last anchovy in the bait bucket. A huge population of adult stripers was trapped in deep water looking for anything to eat. Those were good memories, but put that in the scrapbook and look ahead. That huge population of adults has gone on to bluer pastures and been replaced by their offspring.
In 2014, young, vibrant stripers will be able to feed on the surface and chase shad. Boils may happen in summer, but in the spring look in the backs of main canyons in the colored water. Troll shallow, mid-range and deep runners to find fish. When a striper is hooked trolling, drop spoons or cast lures as the fish is played in case the following school comes under the boat. If you find an inactive school while trolling, mark the spot with a floating marker and return with jigging spoons to see if the school will cooperate.
The best trolling lures of the past few years were Lucky Craft Pointers, Glass Shad Raps and Storm Deep Thundersticks. It is good to have an assortment of lures, but the key when trolling is to locate the fish holding zone. Stripers may hold at a spot on the shoreline where a point extends into the lake, or over a submerged hump at 30 feet in 60 feet of water or in a hundred other places. The important point here is to mark the location of each hookup and immediately return to the exact spot. Many times, you can catch stripers at exactly the same spot while the water in the vicinity of the sweet spot seems fishless.
Throughout the season my fish reports will highlight these fishing subtleties and identify hotspots, as reported by anglers, along the length of the lake. If you are lucky enough to find a super fishing spot or a subtle key to catching fish please report it to me, and I will broadcast it in the next fishing report. Then anglers can use your spot and repay with their reports as they leave the lake. Lake Powell is so big it takes a fishing village to understand it.