Opening lines: Fish biting at Lake Powell

Harry Baker of Page, Ariz., had a great late-winter day at Lake Powell recently, catching three big walleye. The two biggest weighed more than 5 pounds each. He said he parked the boat in 25 feet of water and cast to the shoreline. A very slow retrieve was the secret to his success.

Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, the sight of Wayne Gustaveson’s first Lake Powell fishing report of the season is a sure sign of spring.

Gray, snow-laden clouds drag themselves across the Book Cliffs, but even the gloomiest late-winter mood is brightened by Gustaveson’s news that fish are biting at Lake Powell.

All you cabin-fever anglers can’t expect to make the drive to Bullfrog or Hite and have stripers jumping into your boat. But there are enough fish ready for when you do make that first trip of the year that you should make room in your freezer before leaving home.

“The water is cold and fish are fussy but some really nice stripers, walleye and bass are being caught,” wrote Gustaveson on Monday in his salvo-starting e-mail. “The first fish of spring are fat and healthy. It looks like game fish have wintered well and show signs of producing a bumper crop of trophy individuals in March and April.”

Words fishing dreams are made of include “fat,” “healthy” and “bumper crop of individuals.”

Let me dig through those skis and find that PFD, cooler and my new striper rod.

And maybe a heavy jacket and wool hat, since Gustaveson notes it isn’t quite summer and your fishing patterns must adjust.

“If you can’t wait for warmer weather and need a trip to Lake Powell, here is the pattern for success: Most fish are holding in the back of canyons where water depth is 25 feet,” he wrote.

There is a good reason all those game fish — bass, stripers, and walleye — are hanging together while crappie are only a few feet higher.

“The forest of trees submerged by the huge spring flood from last year is still under water (so) bait fish and predators are all in the same location,” Gustaveson said. “Most are slow moving and happy to stay wrapped in the tree limbs they have occupied all winter. But all will eat for a short time each day when a tiny bluegill, shad, or lure invades their brushy living room.”

Stripers are taking lures trolled slowly or dead-sticked through the trees, while bass and walleye also are looking for something moving slow and deliberately.

“Suspending jerkbaits, like Lucky Craft Pointers, can be retrieved very slowly with long pauses to interest bass and walleye suspended in the trees,” Gustaveson said. “In this cold water, try slowing down until dormant fish begin to react.”

Cold is right. Water temperature is only 48 degrees, with some spots warming to the low 50s on sunny days.

That’s well short of the 55 degrees needed to wake up fish and kickoff the spring fishing madness.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see a lot of success on these early trips, Gustaveson said.

The fish are there to be caught, it just might take the water edging up another degree or two warmer.

“All of these fish have been caught well at times during February,” said the veteran fisheries biologist, hedging his bets just a little. “March will be even better on good weather days.”

You can read all of Gustaveson’s Lake Powell fishing reports at


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