Lake Powell is returning to old ways

Wayne Gustaveson of Page, Ariz., shows off two of the stripers he caught during a recent fishing trip at Lake Powell. Gustaveson says Lake Powell is fishing more like it did in the 1980s after the lake filled for the first time.

Wayne Gustaveson, the veteran Lake Powell aquatic biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, says welcome to the new (old) Lake Powell.

With the lake level down Monday by more than 99 feet and expected to drop another foot before runoff starts to move the lake skyward, Gustaveson urged anglers to recall how the lake fished prior to all of the brush growth in the high-water years.

“Declining lake level will have a huge impact on spring fishing,” Gustaveson said in his latest email newsletter. “This current generation of fish has been displaced from living in the luxurious brush zone where cover and forage have been abundant. Now brush is four feet out of the water on dry land. Fish habitat has reverted to rocks, shelves and boulders.”

That’s like the good real-old days, before the high-water years had the water rising and falling in regular cycles, with brush growing up in the low-water spells and the fish crowding into that brush when the water rose again.

Before the cyclical up-and-down, the water stayed fairly level, which eliminated most of the brush growth and meant anglers had to search for fish, testing rocky points, ledges and muddy water, the less-exciting type of cover that attracts bait fish, which in turn attract larger fish.

“Fish care more about the water level as it relates to forage and cover,” Gustaveson said. “Shad have left clear water for the added security of murky water where sight-feeding predators are not quite as efficient. Crayfish are now the prime targets for many predators.”

He lists what he calls “critical factors” needed for the successful angler.

“Start with water color and temperature,” he said. “Expect shad to be in colored water and to avoid clear water. Predators will follow.”

That means your best chances of hooking up calls for fishing the muddy water using shad-imitating lures.

Gustaveson suggested using medium-depth-running crankbaits, swim baits, jigs and spoons for stripers and crayfish-imitating lures for bass.

“Colored water is literally the spring hot spot as murky water warms more quickly than clear water,” Gustaveson said.

He recently recorded a two- to three-degree temperature difference between clear and cloudy water as his fishing day went on, a change significant enough to affect fish behavior and activity.

This means you should “fish deeper water in the morning and move to shallows in the afternoon,” Gustaveson suggested.

Bass, he said, are staying home, feeding on crayfish in muddy and clear water and stripers are in the backs of canyons where muddy water offers the opportunity to ambush the remaining schools of shad.

“Fishing technique and conditions are different this year, but it is still Lake Powell, which always provides a very special fishing experience,” Gustaveson said.


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