Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lake Powell Striper Fishing

Every once and a while the opportunity comes along to take that once in a great while trip that you know you will remember for the rest of your life.  I seem to miss out on a lot of those when it comes to fishing because I am gone so much in the summer.  It also seems like a lot of those stories that you hear also occur very far from home.  It is a rare gem of an opportunity to find such an amazing experience close to home.

Back in December my good friend Randy Dickinson hit me up about going fishing for striped bass in Lake Powell (we refer to striped bass as "stripers" just so you understand).  I have always heard friends talk about how amazing the fishing can be at Lake Powell in the spring.  I have heard many tales of dozens of fish being caught in a short amount of time if you can locate a good boil.  However, going in March would mean there would not be any boils.  The fish are in a pre-spawn state, coming out of winter dormancy to eat all they can before the spawn.  This meant we would have to target them in deeper water, which could be a challenge.  I also know how the weather in southern Utah can be during the spring.  I hoped for good conditions to come!

We spoke over the phone several times over a 2 month period as we prepared for our trip.  Things worked out where we could take our oldest boys, Braden and Hunter with us.  So we embarked for Panguitch early Friday morning, March 22nd.  I had been hearing great reports from anglers at the lake, stating fishing was great near the dam.  I was hoping it would hold up!  We met up with Randy in Panguitch, jumped in with him there, and set out for Wahweap bay, on the Arizona side of the lake.


A quick stop in Page for groceries for the weekend, then we were at the marina unloading.  The day was perfect, in the 60s with a slight breeze.  A guide at the boat ramp confirmed fishing was amazing at the dam still.  So we changed plans on heading to Antelope and Navajo canyons, opting to see what the dam was like instead.  We were greeted there by several boats, and Wayne Gustaveson with the Utah DWR, who was just leaving, but instructed us to tie up at the security barrier as fishing was hot there.  We maneuvered into a spot, and began to fish.  Things started out slow, but after making adjustments Hunter was catching fish left and right, followed by Randy.  A few minutes later I caught my first striper ever, followed by Braden a bit later.  We made a reposition as another boat left, then were were into a fishing frenzy!  Every cast seemed to produce fish, more fish, and bigger fish!  For 3 hours we laughed, hooped, and hollered as we caught fish left and right.  Adding to the fun we were getting to know the folks in the boats around us, cheering each other on and having one heck of a good time.  About 3 hours later we had 2 coolers and the bottom of the boat filled, and the kids were saying they were exhausted from all of the reeling in of big fish all afternoon.  So we set back to shore, the work of filleting 44 fish still ahead of us!

Wahweap has an excellent fish cleaning station, where over the next 2 hours we took care of our fish.  Then it was off to find a campsite in the nearby campground, and on to Green Haven for ice, more bait, and an ice cream.  Back at camp we set up before the predicted cold front and strong winds arrived, then it was hobo dinners, brats, and good laughs by the fire until bedtime.

Saturday greeted us with strong winds and cold temperatures.  We took a cruise down to our spot on the lake where it was obvious we would not be able to safely tie off.  I pulled up a forecast on my phone that indicated that winds would calm after the front passed, so we took the boat into the marina, where we hung out at the store for a couple of hours.  Heading back to our spot, we discovered perfect conditions and we also had the area to ourselves for a while!  Immediately we were back into the fish!  Today's catch was 53 kept with somewhere between 15-25 released that we had no room for.  So after another frenzy, we set back to the marina to fillet 53 fish.  The evening was perfect as great weather settled back in, more good food by the fire, more good laughs and jokes as we celebrated another fine day on the water!

On our last day we decided we would give the largemouth and smallmouth a try.  We knew it still was not quite time for them to become active, but we wanted to try for some variety.  A few hours of different tactics and trolling were unsuccessful, so we took a little shore excursion over to Sand Hill to let the kids stretch their legs.  In the past couple of years you would have been able to boat to this spot, but it is now high and dry.  Before we called it a day we were going back to the dam for one more round.  We filled the last cooler, and the bottom of the boat 1 more time, leaving with 2 coolers of fillets and a cooler of fish not taken care of yet.

As we packed things up, the boys were teary eyed at the thought of going home.  They had a blast reeling in big fish and cruising the lake; they wanted more.  I have to say, I think the dads were just as sad to go, even if we did not show it.  However I was looking forward to a hot shower and a nice bed!

I will say, I was hoping for more video but it was nearly impossible with all the fish we were catching to hold the camera and help the kids with fish.  I also apologize for some of the shakiness of the video due to the waves and the craziness of what was going on! 

If you are wanting to get in on this amazing fishing I suggest you hurry!  As I stated, this is not normal boil fishing.  Talking with a few folks since, I have found that this is a rare event for Lake Powell that only happens during low water events.  The lake has dropped sharply over the last year, most marinas and cutoffs now being above water.  The lake has not seen this low of a level since 2007.  On these years where there is a sharp drop, the stripers will come out of the canyons early in search for food and for whatever reason they will congregate along the west wall in the dam's fore bay.  Starvation is forcing the fish into this, and local biologists will tell you that you are doing the fishery a great favor if you will keep all of the stripers that you catch.  There is no limit on striped bass in Lake Powell, so fish away!  If you are from Utah, no need to buy an Arizona fishing license.  Simply purchase a $3 reciprocal fishing stamp from Arizona to fish their water on Lake Powell as well.  Keep all the fish you can and enjoy fish tacos year round!

Fishing was easy, simply fish that west wall at a depth between 20-70 feet.  Start at 20 and if nothing keep letting it down until you find the fish.  Buy a bunch of anchovies; you will need them for bait and for chum.  Cut up some pieces, toss them around you, then bait a hook (no need for big lures, just a hook) with anchovies and the rest is easy.  Jigging a bit seems to help, the small waves were doing it for us this weekend.  We caught very few fish (less than 10) under 20"!  Most fish averaged 4-5 pounds, with a few closer to 7-8 pounds!  It is nothing to catch over 50 fish in a short time span.  Don't feel like crowding will pressure the fish!  Every day we had 5-6 boats around us in close proximity in that corner (again, close enough we could all chat!) and the fishing never slowed!  It actually added to the experience as we talked and laughed with everyone.

A report from today tells of the same great conditions, but don't put off the trip!  This event is usually short lived as the fish go into the spawn and scatter back out in the canyons.

A big thanks to Rusty Lures, as we took along a nice sample of gear that I recently purchased from their site!  What a great sponsor, and what a great source of everything you need for great warm water fishing!  You will find everything you need for warm water fishing here!

I want to thank Randy and Hunter Dickinson for taking us along, driving us, and for getting us around on their boat!  I look forward to next time with great friends and good times.  I also want to thank my son Braden for going along for the weekend.  He has had a rough bout with fishing lately, and it took some persuasion, but I think this weekend has really brought him back to a love of fishing.  It was great time spent with my son, time I will cherish forever!

Check out Wayne's Words for up to date reports and Lake Powell info!