Spring fishing at Lake Powell

Long-time biologist gives his predictions

PAGE, ARIZ. Lake Powell is one of Utah's best fishing waters. And no one knows how to catch fish in the lake better than Wayne Gustaveson, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resource's long-time biologist at the lake.

Here's Gustaveson's tips and advice for fishing Lake Powell this spring:

Gustaveson says striped bass populations are near the bottom of their "boom and bust" cycle. That means populations will be rebuilding, and young stripers will dominate the catch.

Smallmouth bass populations lag a year or two behind the stripers. Gustaveson says the bass you catch will be a balanced population of both young and old fish.

"Other fish species are less abundant than the "big two," so it's almost impossible to predict subtle changes in how many there will be and how fast you'll catch them," Gustaveson says.

Runoff is the second major factor that will determine what fishing is like this spring. Spring inflow has been modest the past few seasons. But this winter's snow pack is building, and more storms are on the way.

Gustaveson says it's possible that water level increases in 2008 could be similar to 2005, when the lake level increased by more than 40 feet. The additional water will spread the shad in the reservoir out. "Fishing results will be similar to 1999, when shad abundance was small," he says.

Gustaveson says the largest variable can't be estimated. "That's the effect of storm fronts that cool the water and drastically impact fishing success for a three- to five-day period following the storm," he says. "Remember that warming periods usually provide the best spring fishing, regardless of the phase of the moon.

"With that introduction, this is my best guess on fishing prospects for 2008," Gustaveson says:

Fishing success for striped bass and walleye will improve in late February. The best early success will be found near where the Colorado and San Juan rivers flow into the reservoir. Fishing across the lake will improve in the backs of canyons rather than in the main channel. Slow trolling (2 mph) is the most effective technique.

March fishing success will be punctuated by spring storms that will make fishing success spotty. Some of the best largemouth bass fishing is found on warm March afternoons in shallow coves that have brush in them. Because shad will be scarce, crayfish will be the prey the fish will seek the most. Fishing bottom-bouncing grubs in rocky structure is the best way to imitate crayfish. Stripers on a crayfish diet are extremely susceptible to anchovy bait. You'll catch more stripers in the main lake if you fish with bait. At the inflow area, trolling and casting produce the most fish.

Smallmouth bass and striped bass fishing will improve in April. Search for both species in the murky colored water in the backs of the canyons. Remember that clear water is colder. Clear water won't provide good fishing until it warms above 60 degrees.

The best spring fishing will occur in late April when the water is warming but runoff hasn't significantly increased the lake level yet. Expect bass to spawn the third week of April. During this time, you can actually see bass building nests on the shallow shoreline. Striped bass will be in the same canyon locations that the bass are in, but they'll be in deeper water just off the edge of the spawning flats. In those special years when bass spawning happens before the lake rises, fishing success is beyond belief. If the snow melts early, this event won't happen. Expect the lake to be rising rapidly by the fourth week of April. The runoff will muddy the water all the way to Bullfrog by mid- to late-May. When the northern waters get muddy, fishing for most species is better south from Bullfrog to Padre Bay.

May is the very best month to catch walleye. The warming water increases their metabolism and forces them to feed during the day. Walleye like murky water. Most of the walleye are north of Bullfrog.

Striped bass will be caught half way between the back of the canyon and the main channel. The lack of abundant shad in the canyon will move stripers toward the detectable current of the main channel in April and May. Striper fishing success by numbers will certainly be less, maybe much less, than seen in the record-breaking harvest years of 2005 to 2007. It will be challenging to finding moving schools of stripers, but once you've located a school, the fish will be cooperative. You'll catch fewer fish, but the condition of the stripers will be dramatically better.

For more information including updated fishing reports visit www.wayneswords.com.