Colorado River Northwest

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March 31st, 2008
Colorado River Northwest

LAKE POWELL – By Wayne Gustaveson. Finally, the lake is starting to warm and consequently fishing has improved. Do not expect super fast fishing that happens when bass spawn or stripers stage. The expectation now is that the fishing excursions will be rewarded with a few fish instead of none.

Largemouth bass fishing is still the most productive. Run a spinnerbait through a brush pile or drop a tube along the breaking edge of a flat to entice a strike. There will be long stretches of fishless shoreline punctuated by a certain spot where 4 or 5 bass can be caught in quick succession. Study the fishy spot and try to duplicate the productive elements in other canyons or coves. The pattern is very important. It may include water depth, sun exposure, amount of brush present, substrate of sand or rock, and a myriad of minute details. The reason for the popularity of bass fishing is that it takes some critical analysis and ingenuity to be successful. The reward of catching a bass from a spot that “looks just like” the successful spot in the last canyon is very gratifying.

Smallmouth bass are coming on with many more caught this week than last. The bonus of pattern fishing is that smallmouth bass do not know that you are fishing for largemouth. They will bite every time the bait is placed in their strike zone. Fishing a watermelon green tube jig may result in an encounter with a largemouth, smallmouth or walleye. Find the pattern and the fish will sort out the rest.

Here is a hint. Some fishermen are better at fishing a plastic grub while others excel with a tube. If you are not a proficient tube angler keep using the grub even though the tube is working better at the moment. If you decide to become more experienced with different terminal baits make sure you can feel what the bait is doing in the water. Grubs are easier to feel as they are retrieved along the bottom. Tubes are in a weightless condition more often and harder to maintain direct contact between angler and bait. But when a new bait is mastered it may become your best weapon.

Stripers are finally coming up in the backs of the canyons. Good reports recently came from Warm Creek on the shoreline east of the floating restroom. Crankbaits cast along the white rocky shoreline were taken by 1-2 pound fat stripers. This is what I have been waiting for. Stripers in the main channel (near the dam) are often disconnected from their food supply and may not be in prime physical condition. Those that live with the forage in the back of the canyon are often in better condition.

The parting shot is a plug for spring weather. It has been very nice here this week. Spring storms make it difficult to enjoy the scenery but calm warm days are unforgettable.

Here is what to expect in the near future: Largemouth bass are the first fish to respond in the spring. They will seek warmer water which is often provided by vertical cliffs with southern sun exposure. The rock picks up solar heat and transmits that into water of calm coves. Check for temperature spikes and fish around brush in the warmest water found. Bass like spinner baits that can probe the brush without sticking. When the reaction bite stops, pull out the plastic grubs and drag them slowly along the bottom at 15-25 feet.

Smallmouth bass need a bit more warming before taking off. They increase activity about 10 days after largemouth start. Smallmouths are more numerous and will be found in a wider range of habitats. Again the 15-25 foot bottom contour will be the favored depth. Smallmouth will be on rock points and ledges without regard to the occurrence of brush. Brush only becomes important when it harbors the food source. If shad are present over the submerged creek channel then fishing location will be the rocky drop-off at the canyon edge. If bluegills hiding in brush are the forage target then bass will be around brush. It will be two more weeks minimum, before smallmouth fishing picks up.

Striped bass are scattered in the backs of the canyons. Fat two-pounders are present in good numbers but temperatures do not favor activity. A school may be located but the fish are flighty and hard to corner. Slow trolling may offer the best strategy to cover ground in search of stripers.

Other species are still huddled up looking for something warm. My advice is to wait one week and then come give it a try.

Powell Outlook: In trying to predict future fishing results, I have looked in the past for events that are similar to conditions that will be in place in 2008.

Striped bass populations are near the bottom of the population “boom-and-bust” cycle and will be rebuilding. Young stripers will dominate the catch.

Smallmouth bass lag a year or two behind stripers in population swings. Bass will be represented by a balanced population equally represented by young and old fish. Other species are less abundant than the big two so it is almost impossible to predict subtle changes in their abundance and catchability. Fish populations in 2008 most closely resemble conditions found in 1999.

The second major factor is spring runoff. Spring inflow has been modest the past few seasons. Snow pack is currently building with more storms on the way. An optimistic viewpoint suggests that a large spring flood is expected. With fingers crossed then, water level increases in 2008 will be compared to 2005 when the lake level increased more than 40 feet. Fishing results will be more similar to 1999 when shad abundance was small.

The largest variable cannot be estimated. That is the effect of storm fronts that cool the water and drastically impact fishing success for a 3-5 day period following the storm. Those events will happen but are not factored in because of their unpredictability. Typically, warming periods provide the best spring fishing, regardless of moon phase.

With that introduction this is my best guess on fishing prospects for 2008.

Fishing success for striped bass and walleye will improve in late February. The best early success will be found near the inflows of the Colorado and San Juan Rivers. Fishing will improve lake-wide in the backs of canyons rather than the main channel. Slow trolling (2 mph) will be the most effective technique.

March fishing success will be punctuated by spring storms making fishing success spotty. Some of the best largemouth bass fishing is found on warm March afternoons in shallow coves with brush. Shad scarcity will make crayfish the most sought after prey item. Crayfish are best imitated by bottom bouncing grubs fished in rocky structure. Stripers on a crayfish diet are extremely susceptible to anchovy bait. In the main lake bait fishing for stripers will catch more fish, but at the inflow area trolling and casting will be better.

Smallmouth bass and striped bass fishing will improve in April. Search for both species in the murky colored water in the backs of the canyons. Clear water is colder and not as productive until water warms above 60 degrees.

Best spring fishing will occur in late April when water is warming but runoff has not significantly increased lake elevation. Expect bass to spawn the third week of April. Bass will be visibly building nests on the shallow shoreline.

Striped bass will be in the same canyon locations with bass, just further out in deeper water off the edge of spawning flats. In those special years when bass spawning precedes lake elevation rise, fishing success is beyond belief. An early snow melt will negate this event.

Expect the lake to be rising rapidly by the fourth week of April. Runoff will muddy the water all the way to Bullfrog by mid to late May. When northern waters are stained, fishing for most species is better south from Bullfrog to Padre Bay.

May is the very best month to catch walleye when they are forced to feed during the day as warming water increases their metabolism. Walleye numbers are highest north of Bullfrog and walleye like murky water.

Striped bass will be caught half way between the back of the canyon and the main channel. Lack of abundant shad in the canyon moves stripers toward detectable current of the main channel in April and May. Striper fishing success by numbers will certainly be less, maybe much less, than seen in the record breaking harvest years of 2005 to 2007. Finding moving striper schools will be challenging but once located the school will be cooperative. Striper health and condition will be dramatically improved, making up for fewer fish caught.


LEES FERRY – Report Courtesy Lees Ferry Anglers Fly Shop. Today’s Fly Fishing: Fishing was good today, not quite as good as it was the past few days, but good. Nothing to put your lip out about, you did not miss. It will continue to fish well until you can make it up here. The weather is going to be great the next week or so, sunny and warm. From here it looks as if spring has sprung!

The midge hatches should be improving and with that wade fishing should start to take off. I didn’t have a lot of guides out today so I am a little short on information to pass on to you but, tomorrow we can give you a much better up-date. Thanks in advance for your patience.

Terry Gunn also provided these observations in the Glen Canyon reach of Lees Ferry post experimental flow in early March.

I recently spent two days on the river, beginning two days after the experiment concluded. I was surprised at the lack of change in the topography of the river compared to the past two high flow experiments…this time there appeared to be much less erosion of silt banks, and the few sand bars that were created were small in comparison to the past two events. There was some sand moved around; most of the existing bars appeared to be smaller, while a couple were larger.

There was a lot of sand that settled in sections of the river that were previously void of fine sand, and several sections that had previously had a great deal of sand covering the bottom of the river were scoured down to gravel.

As far as visual changes along the river, there were few and of no significant impact. The water entering the river is not as clear as pre-experiment and has a deeper green tint; I expect that the increased withdrawal might have had a mixing effect in the lake and this should be good as the water appears to be more nutrient rich than pre-experiment.

Prior to the experiment the river contained much less algae than normal, which I attribute to the extended drought and two consecutive low runoff years into Lake Powell. This translates into fewer nutrients out flowing into the river and depressed aquatic vegetation. As a result, the scouring effect was less noticeable than prior high-flow events.

There are long stretches of clean gravel, but hopefully the higher flows stirred up and redistributed nutrients, and the aquatic vegetation should return quickly.

Some of the trout have moved from their normal locations, but for the most part they appear to have weathered the high flow and are returning to normal behavior. There was quite a lot spawning going on before the high flow, and most all the spawning areas that were in use prior to the high flows appear to have been disturbed, so it is likely that the eggs were washed away.

The good news is that the high flows apparently stimulated the majority of the trout in the river into a spawn. There are fish spawning throughout the river, mostly in deep water up to 30-feet deep. This bodes well for the future, as there should be good survival of fry as the redds are at depths that will not be subject to dewatering due to fluctuating flows.

The two days that I spent on the river were with a long-time customer who had not been on the river in 15 years. We were spin fishing and this gave me an opportunity to really cover the river, look around, and sample fish from a variety of depths and locations. The 100-plus fish that we caught during the two days were all in good physical shape, and the vast majority was in spawning mode and colors. I was amazed that the average size of the fish that we caught was much larger than I have seen in many years. The largest that we caught was 21 inches, several were 19 inches, and lots of 18-inch fish. I would guess that we caught more fish 17 inches and larger than fish under 17 inches. My customer mentioned to me that he thought that the fish were larger than any time he could remember from his fishing here in the late ‘80s or ‘90s.

One very important thing that I cannot visually assess is what affects the high-flow experiment had on the aquatic food base. Other experimental flows stranded incredible amounts of scuds, worms, and snails on the banks and gravel bars. I looked around and could not find any evidence of mass standings, but I did see ducks feeding on something that was left on the sand beaches, and I assume they were eating worms and scuds.

There are aquatic food base studies being conducted and I’m anxious to see the results. I did see a few midges and black flies flying about. We will be able to determine soon enough if there was any loss of midges as the seasonal peak midge hatches are due to start in the next week.

So what does all this have to do with fishing?

If I were spin fishing, I would be up here right now to take advantage of the incredible trout fishing. Most all of our business is based upon fly fishing, and I fully expect everything to return to normal soon. It is going to be totally dependent on the midge hatches to prompt the trout to move into the shallow water and riffles to feed on the emerging midges.

If we get the expected hatches, the trout will move within casting range of wading anglers. If the midge hatches do not occur or are not as prolific as normal, the trout will have no reason to move into the shallows and we will be drifting flies out of the boat.

More observations in the Glen Canyon reach of Lees Ferry
Standing in the water the other day I noticed that that my feet were much colder than normal. I took a water temperature reading at 4-mile and was surprised to see a reading of 44 degrees! This is the coldest reading that I have ever seen. This morning I took the temperature while at the boat dock and again got 44 degrees. This backs up my theory on the mixing of water in Lake Powell; I do not know any other way to explain the sudden drop in temperature.

There are scuds in the river! I kicked several rocks at 4-mile and there were scuds that emerged from underneath. This is good news, since the last experiment had a devastating impact on the scud population. I also saw a healthy population of NZ mud snails on and around 4-mile. They must have been scoured from the deeper water and deposited there, since none were visible prior to the experiment. I’ve also seen a few trout fry swimming about, so at least some survived the high flows.

A few midges are flying about, but no major hatches. This could be due to the cold water and/or the cooler than normal air temps that we have experienced the past few weeks. The trout are moving back into the riffles, not in big numbers, but they are there and eating.

The river is greening up quickly, not much filamentous algae, but I’m surprised that it is coming back as quickly as it is.

Good news all around except for the snails!

Great video clip of fishing at the Ferry recently:
Check out: www.kutv.com/content/outdoors/default.aspx
Whirling disease:
Don’t forget, the Arizona Game and Fish Department has detected whirling disease in a small percentage of Lees Ferry trout that were collected for a random sampling. For those of you who are not familiar with whirling disease; this disease only affects fingerling trout and limits their survival. Adult trout can harbor the disease but in all respects appear healthy and normal.

The arrival of whirling disease at Lees Ferry isn’t good news nor is it necessarily terrible news. Whirling disease has infected many of the Western states fabled trout streams with greater and lesser effects, depending on the watershed. The Madison comes to mind as one river that was severely impacted, while the San Juan suffered no noticeable impact from whirling disease. Lees Ferry has more in common with the San Juan than the Madison…both Lees Ferry and the San Juan are tail-water rivers with clear, cold water which is a consistent temperature year-around.

Consistent cold water temperatures are believed by most experts on the disease to keep the spread and severity of the disease in check. I’ll be sure to keep you informed as more data becomes available. In the meantime, when you do come to Lees Ferry, be sure to clean your wading gear thoroughly before you leave to prevent the spread of whirling disease. For more information visit: http://www.whirling-disease.org

LAKE MEAD – According to fishing guides out of Las Vegas, the striper and largemouth bass bites are both picking up, especially on non-windy days. Catfish are still biting at night. The ramp is open at South Cove, but it is a gravel ramp. Be careful when launching here. The lake elevation has come up a little at around 1,117 feet above msl. State and federal biologists sampled fish populations in Lake Mead during October and found gizzard shad for the first time. This is not a surprise since they have been found in Powell since 2000.

Important notice: With the recent discovery of invasive quagga mussels in Mead, Mohave and Havasu, proper cleaning of all watercraft is critical to help prevent the spread of these invaders. Please drain and dry your livewell and bilge on land. Drain all the water you can from your engine. Also, inspect your vessel and trailer, removing any visible mussels, but also feel for any rough or gritty spots on the hull. These may be young mussels that can be hard to see.

For more information, go to the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s web pages at azgfd.gov or visit http://100thmeridian.org/.

Angler report
Where:
Lake Mead (south Cove)
When:
03/14/08
Caught:
striped bass
Technique:
cut anchovy with light weight
Comments:
Caught several fish but all were extremely skinny. Most fish had the length of five or sic pounders but weighed less then two pounds, some less than a pound. Seems like the fish are starving.
Name:
Rich Gaudreau

LAKE MOHAVE – The striper bite is picking up a little. The stripers seen in the fall were fat and full of shad, with schools of shad being chased by striped bass. If the shad are making a comeback, we may see more mid-size stripers in the basin. If you can find schools of shad, throw a small crankbait. I’ve also received reports of largemouth being caught in 25 to 35 feet of water on drop-shots.

Biologists from both Arizona Game and Fish Department and Nevada Division of Wildlife installed fish habitat in Carp cove on Dec. 12-13. A total of 84 wood pallets and 16 4X4-foot PVC structures were put into Lake Mohave in an attempt to increase angler success. On January 29-30 an additional 54 wood pallets and 16 4X4-foot PVC structures were put into Lake Mohave at Box cove. Additional habitat will be added at several locations over the next two years. These structures are fish magnets.

There is a wheelchair accessible fishing pier just south of the main launch ramp at Katherine’s Landing. If you fish Mohave and are having luck, please e-mail me at mchmiel@azgfd.gov so I can share your successes with others.

Important notice: With the recent discovery of invasive quagga mussels in Mead, Mohave and Havasu, proper cleaning of all watercraft is critical to help prevent the spread of these invaders. Please drain and dry your livewell and bilge on land. Drain all the water you can from your engine. Also, inspect your vessel and trailer, removing any visible mussels, but also feel for any rough or gritty spots on the hull. These may be young mussels that can be hard to see.

For more information, go to the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s web pages at azgfd.gov or visit http://100thmeridian.org/.

WILLOW BEACH – Trout are stocked every Friday. The fishing for trout has been good from shore immediately following the stocking. Try using a Jake, Panther Martin, or other spinner’s or spoons. If that doesn’t work you can always use Power Bait.

Important notice: With the recent discovery of invasive quagga mussels in Mead, Mohave and Havasu, proper cleaning of all watercraft is critical to help prevent the spread of these invaders. Please drain and dry your livewell and bilge on land. Drain all the water you can from your engine. Also, inspect your vessel and trailer, removing any visible mussels, but also feel for any rough or gritty spots on the hull. These may be young mussels that can be hard to see. If you fish Willow beach and are having luck, please e-mail me at mchmiel@azgfd.gov so I can share your successes with others.
For more information, go to the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s web pages at azgfd.gov or visit http://100thmeridian.org/.

TOPOCK MARSH –Water level is coming up, but still be careful while launching. The bass and catfish are in the channel. While the bite has been slow, there is no shortage of fish in the channel. Look for the bite to really pick up as the water warms.

Game and Fish biologists surveyed the Marsh starting on the week of Jan. 15. The largemouth bass population was observed to be very healthy, as well as channel catfish. Crappie were also present, but in smaller numbers.

You can access the marsh by boat at North Dike, Catfish Paradise, and Five-Mile Landing. All three also provide plenty of area for shoreline fishing too. For more information on the marsh, contact the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge at (760) 326-3853 or go to http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/arizona/havasu/index.html.

Important notice: With the recent discovery of invasive quagga mussels in Mead, Mohave and Havasu, proper cleaning of all watercraft is critical to help prevent the spread of these invaders. Please drain and dry your livewell and bilge on land. Drain all the water you can from your engine. Also, inspect your vessel and trailer, removing any visible mussels, but also feel for any rough or gritty spots on the hull. These may be young mussels that can be hard to see.

For more information, go to the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s web pages at azgfd.gov or visit http://100thmeridian.org/.

COLORADO RIVER BELOW DAVIS DAM – Trout stocking resumed in October. Fishing has been good below Davis Dam immediately following the trout stockings. Fish and Wildlife Service stocks once a month in this area. A few days following the stocking look for trout to be across the river from the Riverside.
The fish are stocked in two locations; Davis Camp and near The Riverside. I am getting some reports of the largemouth bite picking up.

Striper fishing has picked up in the needles area. Water levels on the river fluctuate, so be careful. You can check the Bureau of Reclamation Web site for flow predictions http://www.usbr.gov/lc/riverops.html before you go. If you fish the river below Davis Dam and are having luck, please e-mail me at mchmiel@azgfd.gov so I can share your successes with others.

Important notice: With the recent discovery of invasive quagga mussels in Mead, Mohave and Havasu, proper cleaning of all watercraft is critical to help prevent the spread of these invaders. Please drain and dry your livewell and bilge on land. Drain all the water you can from your engine. Also, inspect your vessel and trailer, removing any visible mussels, but also feel for any rough or gritty spots on the hull. These may be young mussels that can be hard to see.

For more information, go to the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s web pages at azgfd.gov or visit http://100thmeridian.org/.

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