PAGE, Ariz. There is a delicate balance that exists between prey and predator. Currently, in Lake Powell, the scales are tipped on the side of the predator.
Which means: There were more striped bass in Lake Powell two years ago, but you wouldn't know it.
Boats are pulling into the marinas after a few hours of fishing with large ice chests brimming with four-pound fish.
There were larger striped bass in Lake Powell last year, but it's hardly noticeable. The four-pound stripers being caught are as long as the five pounders of last year, and come with as much fight, they're just a little thinner.
The overpopulation of striped bass has, as happens, depleted their food supply of shad to the point where good meals are hard to find. So, the striped bass are hungry, quick to take a lure and are providing excellent fishing.
It's the same teeter-totter predicament between striped bass and shad that has been with Lake Powell for the past few decades stripers go up and shad go down, then stripers go down and shad rise ... and the cycle begins again.
Since the limit on striped bass was removed several years ago, and fishermen have been able to catch and keep as many fish as they want, the fluctuations have been less dramatic.
For now, what the lower food supply means is "the fish are hungry and are easy to catch," said Wayne Gustaveson, lake biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
"It's easy for a fisherman to catch 50 or more of the four-pound stripers in a day. It's not a problem."
Tyler Pratt and Jeff Baird of Washington came off the lake last week with 30 fish caught in about three hours.
"We've fished the last few weekends and caught 70 to 80 fish each trip," said Pratt as he set up a portable cleaning station away from the main station that was clogged with fishermen waiting to fillet their catches.
Jeff Lindquist and Mike Asay of Salt Lake City said they caught 81 fish in a matter of three to four hours, "one right after another," said Lindquist.
"We caught double this last year. Today we actually stopped fishing. It takes so long to clean this many fish," said Asay.
Most of the striped bass are being caught near the southern tip within 100 yards of the dam. Anglers are tying up on the buoy line, dropping a quarter-ounce jig head with a chunk of anchovy meat attached down about 30 to 40 feet and, as Lindquist said, "catching all the fish you want."
While the striped bass are struggling, other fish are doing better.
Gustaveson said he expects this to be a banner year for largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye and bluegill.
"We've got some good size to our bass," he explained. "In fact, it's the best we've had in a decade.
"We've already had a couple of bass tournaments. A few years ago you could win a tournament with a combined weight of five fish of seven pounds. It went up to 12 pounds last year and this year it's up to 17 and 18 pounds for five fish. That's an average of more than three pounds a fish, and that's great."
The reason for the good size, he continued, is there was excellent production on forage fish between 2003 and 2005, which allowed all fish, including smallmouth and largemouth, to put on weight. While stripers have been limited to shad and a growing population of gizzard shad, bass and walleye have been able to supplement their diets with crayfish. This has resulted in an adult population of bass that is large and plentiful.
Fishing is expected to remain good through mid-May. Fishing is also expected to be good this summer, especially for smallmouth. How and where the fish can be found will change, however.
Gustaveson said that while the dam site is the hot spot for stripers, it's possible to fish other parts of the lake and catch just as many stripers along with several other species.
On a trip last Friday, among the 50 fish caught by a party of six, there were more than 30 striped bass, more than a dozen small and largemouth bass, one walleye, a half-dozen bluegill and one missed crappie.
Those looking for the best fishing, he said, need to look for slick rock canyons that hold stretches of sandy beach fronted with submerged tumbleweeds and brush.
"Along with providing some cover, the sand and vegetation also provided spawning habitat. And because there are a lot of tumbleweeds along these shores, people need to fish with lures that pass over or through the tumbleweeds, which may involve a little quicker retrieve," he said.
If the sandy beaches are long and without a break, he suggests looking for rocky areas on the beach that reach down into the water. Fish will hold along the edges.
He also recommended looking for areas where runoff drains into the lake that have shallows areas on each side and slope down in to a deep "V." This has not only been a popular area for stripers, but also bass, walleye and bluegill.
He recommended using shallow-running crank baits, Rattle Traps and weightless plastic lures like Senkos.
"The slow, tantalizing fall of the weightless plastic lures is what they really like, especially the bass when they are on their beds," he added.
Good colors to try are dark greens and dark browns and crayfish colors.Comment on this story
As to what's in store for the future, the hope is that since there is no limit on striped bass that fishermen will catch and keep as many as possible, with will hopefully reduce the population to a point where the shad will be able to recover.At this point the cycle will begin all over again ... the predators will increase because of the good food supply and the fish will grow in numbers and size.