A few sunny days make a world of difference at Lake Powell. With the onset of spring the stripers, large and smallmouth bass and walleye in Powell start thinking about spawning. But the water has to warm a bit before the fish break out of their winter lethargy and start prowling. That often happens around the first week of April. From that point forward success gets better and better until hot weather arrives in June and the crowds descend on the popular playground.
April and May–along with September and October–are prime months at Lake Powell. Great fishing ... pleasant temperatures ... and fewer people. Now that's an ideal combination.
Striper fishing is expected to be very good at the big lake during the coming years and biologists are encouraging people to catch and eat a bunch of them. The stripers are fat and healthy, thanks to a strong shad population. But the stripers are still overpopulated and harvest is needed to keep them from literally eating themselves out of house and home.
The stripers congregate in Wahweap in the spring because the water is warmer there than on the upper end where snowmelt runoff is coming in. They normally stage for spawning right at Glen Canyon Dam and at the intake to the power plant. So, those are often easy places to find fish.
"We get a whole bunch of fish stacked up in those pre-spawning congregation areas. Glen Canyon Dam is often the best spot in April," said Wayne Gustaveson, DWR Lake Powell project leader.
Most of the stripers will be down 20 to 40 feet, with a few deeper. Anchovies are the most popular bait, but white feathered jigs are also very good. Just locate a school on your fish finder and drop your bait down into them. Cut the anchovies into chunks large enough to cover your hooks and drop them down to the fish.
If you don't have a graph, there are usually other boats out there and they crowd around the schools.
The striper spawn usually begins about April 25, and peaks around May 10th. It is usually over by the first of June.
During the spawn fish sometimes leave the dam and go out onto the flats. If you move with them you can have exciting action casting lures. Get out right at dusk–from about 7 until 9 p.m. Anything that imitates a shad works well. White jigs are also good at that time.
When the spawn is over the stripers move toward the midsections of the lake. So areas like Bullfrog and Good Hope actually get better after the spawn. Just follow the fish around.
Walleye fishing was great at Powell before the stripers were introduced. As the striper population exploded walleye fishing dwindled, because the two species compete for food. Now, with more forage in the lake, walleye numbers could be on the upswing.
"To catch walleye you definitely have to use something that stays in contact with the bottom," Wayne said. "Try a plastic worm, double-tailed jig, grub–something you can fish down on the bottom and jig it off and let it go back down. Night crawlers and dead minnows also work, but they aren't used very much. The key to catching walleye is to fish early in the morning or evening or at night, or in cloudy water. Fish the first hour of light in the morning, just before the sun hits the water."
Look for walleye in the slick rock canyons on the lower part of the lake, down 15 to 25 feet. You can often find them right in the middle of the canyon. "I throw my lures out into the back of the canyon and work right down the middle, very slowly," Wayne said.
"Once the light's on the water they will go back into hiding. Then you have to move to places like mud lines–you can often find the wind blowing across a point, and washing mud into the water. The walleye will move in there. A lot of times tour boats moving up and down the lake throw a tremendous wake upon the shore and wash mud into the water. The walleye will often move in there."
Submerged islands and shelves down 15 to 25 feet often attract walleye. "You can just barely see the rocks down there and the water's kind of yellow, and then it falls off to deep blue. So there is deep water on the sides of it," Wayne said.
The walleye spawn in Powell peaks about the first week in April, and they don't bite well at that time. "We don't usually find walleye hitting much until after the spawn. So, by April 15 the action is usually good. Actually, May is the best month for walleye," Wayne said.
There are still a few big walleye in the lake–a 10 pounder was caught a few years ago. "That's the biggest that's been caught hook and line that I'm aware of," Wayne said. "I don't expect a state record out of the lake."
Walleye fishing stays pretty good through June. Then the shad hatch in the backs of the canyons, so forage is more available and the walleye are harder to catch. In the summer you do best fishing for them at night.
Largemouth and Smallmouth
During the spring largemouth and smallmouth bass will be in the backs of the canyons, preparing to spawn. Many years there are tumbleweeds along the lake’s shoreline and they become primary structure for bass. Tumbleweed mats attract good numbers of fish.
"Usually in the spring I tell people to fish in the backs of the canyons where turbid water meets clear water. The water looks green there and it's usually the most productive spot for largemouth and smallmouth," Wayne said.
In slickrock canyons, if you find a pile of rocks you can also expect to find fish around it.
Largemouth get going a bit sooner than smallmouth–usually during the first weeks of April. Smallmouth action picks up by the end of the month. Both readily take jigs and grubs. Crawdad colors are often good, along with salt and pepper. Shad imitating lures are also productive.
Catfish usually become active when the surface temperature gets above 70 degrees. That's usually in May or June at Powell.
"Actually, the hotter the better for the cats. And the closer you get to the inflow areas the better the catfishing is. It can be just fantastic in the Good Hope to Hite area, and upper San Juan. It's been really great the last couple years in July and August. Chicken liver is probably the best bait.
"We usually pull up into a narrow cove that's protected from the wind. If you have a narrow cove with a sandy bottom that is fairly deep, that's usually the best spot. Catfish tend to come in shallow to feed, so you can almost see the bottom in most area. The thing I look for is a narrow canyon that has a gently sloping bottom and it tends to concentrate the fish, like a funnel, and they can find the bait pretty easily," Wayne said.
Fish in water 15 to 25 feet for catfish.