Where do you find the best fishing in Utah? On the Green river during the cicada hatch, when the big browns eagerly hit almost anything in the water? On Flaming Gorge in early November, when the lake trout become aggressive just before they spawn? Or maybe on Fish Lake, when anglers pull 20-inch splake through the ice?
One of the most incredible fishing opportunity anywhere takes place on Lake Powell in late August and September, when the striped bass boil on the surface. It's a real adventure – one that should be experienced by every serious fisherman.
You launch out onto the big lake during the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun's rays skip across the top of distant buttes and paint the clouds and canyon walls in pastels. You cruise quickly down the channel, searching the coves for feeding fish. When you find a school, you've found a fisherman's paradise. The predatory stripers literally herd shad into the shallow coves where they can't escape. Then they go into a feeding frenzy, hammering the shad so hard that the water on the surface appears to boil.
You pull up a comfortable casting distance away from the feeding fish. Then you throw silver lures and plugs into the boiling water. Anything that resembles a shad entices an instantaneous strike. Sometimes two or three stripers hit at the same time. Sometimes, as you fight one fish in, others hit the lure while it is in the first fish's mouth. The fishing is furious – you won't find faster action anywhere.
Most stripers at Powell run 3-4 pounds. But the increased shad population is allowing them to fatten up. They are in good shape and are scrappy fighters. You battle them until your arm aches and you decide you've caught enough. Then you rest as you cruise, enjoying the magnificent scenery until you find another boil and the furry starts again.
The lake is calm ... serene. The bustle of summer quickly evaporates after Labor Day. Even the marinas are quiet. Get a few miles away from the marinas and you may be all by yourself. Periodically, as you cruise, you see a bass boat with fishermen looking for smallmouth along the rocky walls. But they seem to fit in – an appropriate part of the panorama.
The air is cool during the mornings and evenings, and the days aren't too hot. But the water is delightfully warm. Warm and inviting. Perfect conditions for skiing, diving and swimming. And camping. It is easy to find a secluded cove or canyon, with a sandy beach and good fishing close by.
The striper action is triggered by movement of the threadfin shad – the lake's primary forage fish. The shad spawn in the backs of the canyons. The young shad stay in the canyons through the summer where they are protected from the stripers, which prefer open water. But, during the last weeks of August, the tiny fish migrate down the canyons and into the open water of the main lake. Suddenly the shad are abundant and the stripers think it's Thanksgiving. They gorge themselves. They go into one feeding frenzy after another. The hot surface action usually lasts into the first weeks of October.
After the boils end the stripers move deeper but fishing continues to be good through the fall. Troll shad imitating lures or white Marabou jigs around the coves and the mouths of canyons until you find fish. Or look for fish on your graph. It's usually no trouble locating schools of stripers. If the fish are near the top cast Zara Spooks or Near Nothing plugs, or other shad imitating lures. If they are deep jig for them or drop anchovies down. You will probably find great fishing.
The coves and islands of Good Hope Bay are good bets for stripers. Cedar Canyon and the Moki Wall are also usually good, along with many areas in the San Juan arm. The mouth of Copper Canyon is usually good.
For years stripers and shad were on a boom and bust roller coaster in Powell. Shad were abundant when the stripers were introduced a few years ago. With plenty of food and other favorable conditions, the number of stripers skyrocketed and they grew to tremendous size. The stripers soon outgrew their food supply. Shad became scarce and the stripers began to suffer. The shad seemed to fluctuate in a three year cycle, and the stripers rebounded when shad are abundant.
Recently gizzard shad were inadvertently introduced into Lake Powell and they may reproduce fast enough to stay ahead of the stripers. That could turn Powell into an incredible fishery, with good numbers of large fish.
Powell is delightful in the fall. Get down there and enjoy it. And plan to be there next year, about the middle of September, when the stripers are boiling and the fishing is fantastic.