Sometimes I get an almost uncontrollable urge to go to Lake Powell. The big lake is one of my favorite places on earth – I love it. I often feel its draw in early spring, in late March to be exact, when I start hearing about the stripers piling up against the dam, and anglers pulling them in by the boatload. It's hard to resist such a seductive pull.
A year or two ago when a couple neighborhood kids started pestering me about taking them to Powell over spring vacation, it wasn't hard for them to persuade me. The kids couldn't keep their mouths shut, of course, and before I knew it we had 20 people heading for Wahweap.
It's almost impossible to go to Powell and not have fun. It's fun just sitting on a rock in the sun, watching the birds and boats and people. Throw in a little exploring, a little fishing, perhaps some skiing, and you have a great adventure.
We had fun. . . We had adventure. . . We had 60 mph winds which sand blasted our smiles and blew down every tent on the beach. Twenty people crammed into my Suburban, waiting for the monster waves to die down enough to put the boat on the water – that's not the best way to spend spring vacation. But still, we had fun.
We caught fish. With 20 people I did more chaperoning than anything else, and I spent a lot of time helping others fish. But you know, helping can be fun. When a six-pound striper almost jerks the rod out of a kid's hands – the first fish of her life – and she squeals with delight while she struggles to control it, that's kind of fun. We played that scenario several times on this trip.
The fishing wasn't red hot, probably because of the storm. It was hard holding the boat over the fish. But we caught enough to keep the kids excited.
Stripers are a blast to catch. They fight hard. The fish are averaging 2-5, but it's not unusual to hook an 8 pounder. And there are a few 30 pound plus fish in the lake. I've helped kids battle big stripers for 20 or 30 minutes, until the kids become exhausted and beg for help. Sometimes they lose fish – that's part of the experience. But it's great to see one finally bring a monster to the net. Powell can easily give a kid the biggest fish of his life.
During the spring the stripers congregate near the dam and near the power plant intake between Antelope and Navajo canyons. It's not hard to know where to fish. Just get into the general area and look for the concentration of boats. The fish swim in schools, staying in toward the canyon walls. Boats pack as tightly over the hot spots as the drivers dare, without interfering with each other.
I elected to use one of the rental powerboats available from the marina on this trip, and that turned out to be a good decision. We used an 18 1/2 foot open bow, with a 115 HP outboard. You can load those boats with 6-8 people and cruise around at 40 mph as you explore the lake. A couple of our kids had never been in a powerboat and we found enough speed to give them a thrill.
When we fished we jigged with anchovies, and often had 4 lines over the side. The boat was big enough that we had little trouble with tangled lines.
A few of the kids thought they wanted to water ski. I warned them the water would be cold, but they insisted. One of the leaders volunteered to try first and jumped in. Almost instantly his teeth started to chatter and you could see blue under his stubby beard. Wind always makes skiing tricky, and the cold water made it even more difficult. His muscles started to stiffen and he couldn't get up. We drug him in and then they decided it was my turn.
I pulled on the skis, grabbed the rope and told the driver I wanted to hit the water moving. As I slid into the water the cold took my breath away. The water was probably about 50 degrees, but it felt like ice.
The rope came tight and I gave the thumbs up. I felt warmer the moment I pulled my body up out of the water. The wind was stinging but it feet good to be on the skis again. We made a loop around Lone Rock and then headed down the bay – the only time I've ever skied at Wahweap without competition from others. (There were several people on wave runners, but I was the only skier in sight.) The longer I stayed up the colder I felt, and after about 10 minutes I decided I had better call it a ride.
After seeing the adults shiver, none of the kids dared venture into the water.
The powerboats you can rent at the marinas are good basic boats. The 115 HP outboards are great for most people – and are a good choice for beginners. Plenty of power to pull skiers up quickly, but not so many horses that you develop too much speed too quickly. Boats with 150 HP outboards are also available, and would be a good choice for proficient skiers.
ARAMARK, the concessionaire at Powell, has beefed up its houseboat fleet, adding a line of luxury boats. Houseboating is an incredible way to see Powell – I certainly recommend them for fun and comfort. Beds, hot water, showers, doors and winds that shut out the wind and rain, even microwaves and VCRs in the fancy models. A small group can explore the lake in style from the deck of a houseboat. But you need to schedule early if you want one. They book months in advance – years in advance for major holidays.
Powerboats are much easier to book – you can get one for virtually any day of the year if you make arrangements a few weeks in advance. You can often get them without making advance reservations, but then you are taking your chances.
In my opinion, a houseboat is the way to go for small groups – say 5-10 people. Put more than that on the boat and you stumble over each other, and overwhelm the toilet facilities.
One of the great attractions of Powell is the chance to get away from the crowded marinas into a remote canyon – it's fairly easy to get off by yourself, where you'll just see water and sand and stars. But, like so many places, people are loving Powell to death. Disposal of human waste is becoming a problem at the lake. If you camp away from the marinas then carry a porta-potty or some other sanitary system with you, if at all possible. If you can't then bury wastes far above the high water line. Swimming and water sports have been restricted in some spots in the past because of sewage problems, the result of people dumping toilet holding tanks into the lake or burying wastes in spots which will be flooded when the lake level rises. If we don't act responsibly to solve these problems then new rules will be imposed which will restrict our ability to enjoy the lake.
Powell's a great playground – I can't wait to get back down there. But I think I'll wait until the water warms a bit.
Summer's great at Powell. It's hot but the water feels wonderful. The marinas get crowded, but part of the fun is watching the antics of the many people around.
Fall is my favorite time at Powell. The air is warm, but not too hot. The water stays warm late into the fall – you can swim and ski well into November. The crowds thin out. And, later in the fall, off-season rates provide a break for people wanting to rent boats or stay in the lodges. Fall's a great time to explore the lake.