Lake Powell — Conditions at lake point to summer of great fishing

Published: Thursday, May 4 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Nine-year-old Conner holds a striped bass weighing more than 9 pounds.

Ray Grass, Deseret Morning News

PAGE, ARIZ. — Three years of clear waters, expanding habitat, tasty meals, full bellies and plenty of room to swim about are showing.

Lake Powell may well be the No. 1 fishing spot in the country this summer ... The fishing is expected to be that good.

And, early indications are that the word is getting out: Lake Powell is, indeed, going to be a hot spot this year.

Reports are that fishing is good now and will only get better in the months ahead. Last week, after a bit of a cooldown, which typically lowers the catch rate, a party of four caught 15 striped bass, the smallest about 2 pounds and the largest around 9; a dozen smallmouth, one largemouth and a 3-pound walleye, all within a matter of four hours.

Reports of a dozen or more striped bass, all over 5 pounds, and a bunch of smallmouth, all caught in a morning or afternoon, are common.

Back in early February, a party of three left the lake with 100 striped bass after one day on the lake.

And, said Wayne Gustaveson, lake biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, "I'm hearing stories of high catch rates like that all the time."

The best part, at least in the minds of fishermen, is the fish are big, bigger than they've been in the past couple of decades. Most of the fish being caught are in the 4- to 5-pound range. Smaller fish, in the 1- to 2-pound class, are expected to be more plentiful as water temperatures warm.

"What you're seeing," explained Gustaveson, "are the results of three years of high threadfin shad production and rising lake levels. (Shad are the main forage fish for most of the fish in Lake Powell.)

"As the water went down, old sediment was exposed and when the water levels started to come up nutrients were released that have provided lots of food. Because of it, for the past three years now, we've had high numbers of striped bass and smallmouth, and we're starting to see largemouth and crappie coming back. Also, the walleye numbers have peaked because of the high forage. Not only are there large numbers of fish, but many of these fish are larger than we've seen in the past because of the abundance of food."

It is a situation anglers dream about, which is the likelihood of having too many fish.

"Which is why we're encouraging fishermen to keep all the striped bass and smallmouth they catch. This is an opportunity for fishermen to not only enjoy themselves but also be a service to the lake by helping to thin out the populations," said Gustaveson.

The pattern has shifted a little this year, however. There are not quite as many shad in the southern half of the lake, from Bullfrog and Halls Crossing south, as in the northern half.

Because of the split conditions, fishing techniques vary. In the northern region, a fast roll works well. In the southern areas, plastic is the secret — plastic grubs, tubes and senkos — on a jig head tossed in close to shore and then bounced along the rocks into deeper water. Suspended crankbaits are also working.

"It's like having two different ponds this year," explained Gustaveson of the split.

All of which, he added, should result in some of the best fishing being in the southern half.

"When you have as many fish in the lake as are there now, and they're a little hungry, the end result is great fishing," he said.

Currently, striped bass are located in two particular areas within the lake waters — in the main channel and in the warmer waters in the back of canyons.