By Dave Webb
There's some good top-water striper fishing right now at Lake Powell, but it won't last long. Get down there quickly, if you can, and take advantage of it.
Striper fishing at Powell generally heats up during August, when young-of-the-year shad become big enough to draw attention from the big predators. The action generally peaks in late August or early September, then fades. This year the shad crop is small and spotty, and the topwater feeding frenzies may well be over by Labor Day.
Stripers literally herd shad into coves or the backs of canyons, where they gorge on them until the school is decimated. The feeding action can make the surface of the water appear to boil, as the little forage fish break the surface trying to escape, and as the stripers pursue them. Sometimes shad actually jump out of the water onto the shore, where they are often gobbled up by waiting ravens or gulls.
If you can find a boil, and pull a shad-imitating lure through it, fishing can be incredibly fast. You will often get a strike on every cast. If the first strike doesn't produce a hookup, your lure may be hit again and again as you draw it back toward the boat.
My kids and I fished early boils on July 27 and had an incredible time. We caught fish after fish, ranging from two to five pounds, during the first hour of daylight, in the back of Bullfrog Bay. The fish are strong fighters, fun to catch and great to eat.
Near the cliffs in the back of Bullfrog is one of the most consistent spots to find the boils – fish come to the surface there virtually every morning. We saw fish boiling all around the cliffs, but the biggest concentration seemed to be in and around a small cove across the bay from the cliffs, and a few yards to the south. If you can be in that area at first light sometime before the end of August you can almost be guaranteed fish.
Other spots are not as dependable, but are worth pursuing. A school of stripers boil regularly near the mouth of Navajo Canyon, down toward the dam, another works the Good Hope Bay, White Canyon area and another can be found near Piute Canyon on the San Juan arm.
Other areas may also have boils. The shad crop is spotty – one canyon will have a bunch and the next three or four may not have any.
You need to camp in the area you hope to fish, so you can be fishing as soon as it is light. If you stay at the marina and boat out in the morning, you will probably miss the best action.
We slept on my boat, our rods rigged and ready, so we could just pull up anchor and fish. As soon as it was light enough to see the water I started seeing rings made by fish nosing the surface – the rings looked just like those made by trout taking a fly off the top of the water. Often there would be two or three rings close together, but sometimes there was just one. That was the extent of the boiling activity we saw. Not very intense, but enough.
We would motor quickly to a position within casting distance of the rings, then pop the boat out of gear and throw out our lures. If we hit close to the center of a ring a fish would often hit immediately – you had to ready to set the hook or you missed the fish. We tried to cast just beyond the center of the ring and reel the lure through it. That provided time to get slack out of the line and brace for a powerful strike.
The rings would disappear after a couple minutes, then re-appear yards away. We would race over and repeat the process, following the boil around.
We would often catch one or two fish at every stop.
Any kind of silver-gray-white minnow imitating lure seemed to work. A floater is best – it sits on top the water until it is retrieved, and then dives just under the surface. My favorite for stripers is a silver jointed shad-rap Rapala. It has a very life-like movement and works well on the surface or trolled deep on a downrigger.
White or chartreuse feathered jigs also work well. If you really want fast action, tie a medium-sized jig onto a floating lure, so the lure runs just under the surface and the jig hangs down a couple feet. Pull the rig through a boil and you may get a double-hookup.
A good stiff rod that allows long casts is helpful. Other than that, no special equipment is needed. You don't need a fish finder or downrigger, or fancy boat. You just need to be able to chase the boils. You could do that in a canoe or even a float tube in the back of Bullfrog Bay, if you want to.
I've never attempted this, but I'm confident I could catch boiling stripers with my fly rod by casting a wooly bugger or muddler or some other minnow imitator. That would be fun.
Powell is very hot in August. The air temperature will often climb above 100. It feels cooler on the water, but there is still a real danger from sunburn and dehydration. Everyone gets burned, at least a little, at Powell. But you can quickly end up with serious burns if you aren't careful.
The water temperature is in the high 70s – just right for swimming and playing. It sure feels good.
September and October are my favorite months at Powell. The crowds thin after Labor Day, the air temperature cools, but the water is is still warm and inviting.
Striper fishing should be good through the fall, but you will have to troll or jig to get at the fish. Smallmouth action has been good even during the heat, and will get better in September.
After the striper action stopped for the day, we caught catfish on hunks of hot dog, and bluegill on tiny pieces. The kids loved it. You can catch catfish on almost any gently sloping sandy shore, and bluegill near most rocks.
Get to Powell. It's wonderful. (Except during UEA vacation, then it's a zoo. That's a good weekend to avoid.)