The gates at Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River in Utah were first closed in 1966. A playground in the desert was beginning, but it took 17 years for Lake Powell to fill completely the first time.
Since then it has become a fishing and camping destination spot but know this: the fishing comes with a price: Gawking at all that spectacular scenery can severely depress the catching!
In 1869, John Wesley Powell found the surroundings, “a weird and grand place of naked rock, with cathedral-like buttes towering hundreds or thousands of feet, cliffs that cannot be scaled and canyon walls that shrink the river to insignificance.” Except for the lake, little has changed since.
Unlike the silt-laden Colorado River, Lake Powell is deep and clear, home to a variety of gamefish. Largemouth, smallmouth and striped bass, black crappie, channel catfish and walleye are among the favorites. The Utah state record largemouth (10 pounds, 2 ounces), and carp (32 pounds), were caught there. The lake record for striped bass stands at a whopping 48 pounds, 11 ounces. Below the dam, the tailwater is a world-class rainbow trout fishery.
Lake Powell offers great scenery and great striper fishing… the lake record is a whopping 48 pounds, 11 ounces!
Since average daily high temperatures soar to over 90 degrees in June, July and August, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the best lake fishing is in spring and again in fall. But nonetheless good fishing is found year-round. It is just slower in high summer and dead of winter.
The National Park Service regulates camping. Because of the rugged surroundings any vehicle access to the Lake (180 miles long with over 2,000 miles of shoreline) is limited to just four main roads. In addition there are a number of dirt roads best driven with high clearance 4×4 vehicles. There are several developed campgrounds all administered on a first come, first served basis with fees ranging from $6 to $10 per night. Primitive camping is allowed in most places, but strict human waste rules are in effect.
Houseboat camping is popular and rentals are available — be sure to call ahead for reservations. For further information, write Glen Canyon NRA, PO Box 1507, Page AZ 86040; e-mailGLCACHVC@nps.gov; on the web www.nps.gov/glca or phone 1-520-608-6200. Anglers can check out this super web site: www.wayneswords.com.
There’s not much about fishing Lake Powell that Wayne Gustaveson, the site’s keeper hasn’t put in there. Fishing the Utah portion of the lake requires a Utah license and vice versa for Arizona — fishing in both requires two licenses. Because of the long distance between licensing agents to avoid surprises (sorry we’re out) it’s best to make arrangements beforehand.
According to Gustaveson largemouth bass are caught “most readily in March and April. Smallmouth are found on the ubiquitous rocky shorelines and may be the most common fish in Lake Powell. They can be caught in good numbers from April to October.”
Just like most places, the biggest bass are often caught during the spring spawn. Gustaveson is a big fan of the soft jig when it comes to bass catching. When asked what to try first he leaves no doubt as to his favorite, “When I reach in the tackle box in my hand is a soft plastic jig.” Color, lead-head size and weight vary with the season and conditions but he’s adamant about style, “Old reliable continues to perform time after time.” Look for largemouth around brush and smallies just about anywhere.
Striped bass are caught on a variety of lures: white jigs, spoons and crankbaits work as do surface lures (stick baits) cast into “striper boils.” “By far the most exciting way,” according to Gustaveson, “is during late summer and into the fall when stripers drive threadfin shad to the surface creating surface feeding frenzies or “boils.” Chumming with and fishing cut dead anchovies is also popular among striper regulars, especially in late fall, winter and early spring. Gustaveson emphasized, “all striped bass caught should be kept to help bring the population into balance with the available forage.”
Bluegill and green sunfish are abundant, easy to catch, grow quite large and are “under utilized,” in Gustaveson’s opinion. Worms, dry flies and small soft plastic jigs all provide fast action. Look for them around the shoreline and even in the shade of an anchored boat. Collectively the sunfish family, aka panfish, has a reputation for good eating and those swimming in Lake Powell are no exception.
Look for channel cats during summer near sandy beaches. Fish with stink baits, anchovies and table scraps any place a boat can be beached. Feisty and good to eat, the biggest cats are found in the Lake’s many tributaries.
With the great bass fishing found in Lake Powell walleye are less popular. But there are walleyes to be caught and those who specialize do quite well. Walleye are light sensitive and the desert is characterized by endless bright and sunny days. So it doesn’t require rocket science to realize Lake Powell gives up most of its walleye during low-light dawn and dusk and after dark.
The best fishing is in spring when prey species are at low ebb and walleye metabolisms are cranking up forcing them to forage during daylight. Savvy anglers use bottom bouncing rigs tipped with a nightcrawler with good success. Standard operating procedure should include trolling along the base of cliffs and across rocky points and fishing any mud line where walleye can lay in shade and ambush passing prey.
In Gustaveson words, “Lake Powell is deep and clear with little brush — use light, small diameter lines (6-pound to 8-pound test). It’s common to catch fish, particularly striped bass, at depths of 60 feet to 90 feet.”
The Bottom Line
For an other world-like camping and fishing experience, pack up your gear and head to Lake Powell — and don’t forget that blinders just might be the most important item.
There is only one sizeable town on Lake Powell — Page, Ariz. To get to Page from St. George, Utah, and Interstate-15, take Rt. 9 to Kanab, Utah, and then Rt. 89 to Page. From Flagstaff, Ariz., and I-40, take Rt. 89 to Page. To access the middle and upper reaches of Lake Powell, turn off I-70 in Utah at the intersection of Rt. 24, south to Rt. 95. Stay on Rt. 95 to Hite at the lake’s upper end or turn off on Rt. 276 to Bull Frog at the lake’s midsection. Powell is 136 miles from Flagstaff; 378 miles from Salt Lake City; and 515 miles from Denver.