Biologist predicts good fishing as Lake Powell warms up

Fishing season is officially open at Lake Powell. Dale Barsness of Duck Creek, Utah, opened it in style by catching a 36-inch striped bass that weighed about 16-18 pounds.

Five-year-old Jade Berry of Page, Ariz., is all smiles over this largemouth bass caught last spring at Lake Powell.  Early predictions say bass fishing in March will be just as good and perhaps better than last year, which one was one of the best years on record.

It’s never too early to get excited about fishing Lake Powell, says the one man who probably knows more about fishing that lake than anyone.

Utah fisheries biologist Wayne Gustaveson has made a career of the 186-mile long lake and popular fishery that attract more than 3 million visitors a year.

His weekly fishing report is a must-read among Lake Powell regulars and his personal Web site,, attracts hundreds of readers every week and generates some lively debate among anglers.

The site also offers a boat load of fishing information useful to veteran and first-time Lake Powell anglers.

This week, though, Gustaveson is cautioning anglers it might be a bit early to expect a fast bite.

“With the surface water temperature still around 50 degrees, you’ll find warm-water fish still aren’t too excited yet,” said Gustaveson, who keeps his headquarters near Wahweap Marina at the lake’s southern end.

“The fishing will improve every day as the days continue to lengthen and the sun shines on the water for longer periods each day.”

The one exception to that rule, Gustaveson said, is largemouth bass, particularly large, largemouth bass.

“Big bass are the first fish to react,” Gustaveson said. “Some dandies have already been caught with many more to come. I expect we’ll see some nice fish caught during the tournaments this month.”

Large bass respond quicker to slight temperature increases, he said, and can rapidly move to find the warmest water available.

The largemouth bass fishery has made an impressive rebound in recent years, thanks to rising water levels flooding shoreline brush and improving bass habitat.

That flooded brush also offers cover and breeding areas for both threadfin and gizzard shad, the two forage fish that supply the base of Lake Powell’s fishery pyramid.

The abundance of shad has made life easier for all predator fish, and, this year, the size of largemouth bass should well exceed sizes in past years, Gustaveson said.

“I expect to see winning weights (during the tournaments) to be near 20 pounds for five fish,” he said. “That’s a far cry from a decade ago when winning weights were closer to 7 pounds for the same five fish.”

He ventured a guess that this summer will produce the best bass fishing in memory.

“I expect 2010 largemouth fishing success to be among the best ever seen,” Gustaveson said. “Largemouth fishing in 2009 was of record proportion for fish size and quantity. March bass fishing success will mark the beginning of a very special year.”

Walleye, which are a cool-water fish, will be the first fish to make an appearance this spring, although the bites won’t really show up until April.

As soon as water temperatures reach 53 degrees, Gustaveson expects to find walleye laying eggs on lake rockslides and gravel bars.

But walleye don’t eat during their spawn, Gustaveson said, and it may be mid-April before walleye start showing up in angler’s live wells.

Smallmouth bass won’t start moving until water temperatures reach 55 or so, and as water temperatures edge closer to 60, the spawning season will begin in earnest.

Anglers targeting spawning bass will find the males guarding the nest from predators.

Gustaveson said the early season fishing near the dam for striped bass hasn’t begun yet, nor does he expect to see it soon.

Stripers are hanging out in the backs of canyons where shad are plentiful, and as long as that pattern continues, anglers will have to go there to catch stripers.

“Abundant forage in the backs of canyons gives stripers no reason to move,” Gustaveson said. “They love to eat shad and will stay with the food. They can just as easily spawn in the back of the canyon as near the dam, so why not eat while waiting for the spawning event?”

Earlier this spring, Gustaveson forecast a rise in water levels above last year’s elevations, and with that possibility in mind, water managers are lowering the lake to make room.

Lake elevation as of Monday was 3,619 elevation, down from 3,636 elevation four months ago.

That’s about 80 feet below full pool (3,700 elevation) but still leaves more than 480 feet of water at the dam.

Lake levels should continue to fall through the month, Gustaveson said.

“Declining water is not a positive factor for angler success,” he said. “However, the dominant variable is rising water temperature, which will negate the effect of falling lake level.”

Once spring really hits and water temperatures start to rise, the fishing season should take off, Gustaveson said, recommending that anglers start planning a fishing trip now.

“This will be a year to remember as fishing success, for all species in both size and number will be remarkable,” he said.


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