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Rediscovering Lake Powell

Lake’s rising creates dose of excitement

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BULLFROG — The prediction, coming way last January, was that the level of Lake Powell would rise this summer, something it hadn't done, with any significance, for five years.

Even going back that far, based simply on predictions, there was a sense of a new dawn rising at the lake ... and it has — risen, that is.

The level of Lake Powell rose 53 feet this year. From its peak, it has dropped two feet.

The rising of the lake has, in fact, made a big difference, not only in the lake itself but also the attitude of those working there and visiting.

It's like a ski resort getting its first snow and the guarantee that it would be opening for the season. Attitudes change. Only in this case, it was the knowledge that the lake is, once again, filling.

The response from those visiting the lake is that the rising water has given the lake a new look, "some new coves, new beaches, new areas to explore," said one Arizona visitor as he waited at the fuel dock at Bullfrog.

"People are coming here and telling us they are rediscovering the lake ... seeing things they haven't seen for a few years. The rising water brought a lot of things back to the surface," said Kerry Mystrom, boat rental manager at the lake.

"The rising water has also expanded the lake. It's a bigger lake now. The bays are bigger and the canyons longer, offering more opportunity to explore. Like I said, people are rediscovering the lake."

Steve Ward, public relations director, said he saw new interest shown in the lake going back to the first of the years, "at some of the boat shows I attended around the country.

"People would come up and ask about the anticipated rise in the lake, and about the ramps. Launching boats late in the summer last year was a problem, and they wanted to know if it would be better this year — and it is."

With the exception of Hite, all of the ramps on the lake are open and able to accommodate even the largest boat.

In fact, many boaters launching and retrieving on the two ramps at Bullfrog and the single ramp at Halls Crossing said their decision to visit — and in some cases revisit the lake this year — was based on better ramp accessibility.

As much as anything, however, the rising water has changed the look of Lake Powell. As noted, the bays are bigger and the canyons deeper, and new beach areas can be reached now.

"There's simply more room to move about," explained Ward.

All of this has resulted in higher visitation numbers this summer.

"We're not back to our season highs we had back before the drought, back in 1999, but this is definitely the best year in the past three," he added. "A lot of people have told me they feel it's time to go back (to Lake Powell)."

When the lake was at its high-water mark, it flowed under Rainbow Bridge National Monument.

Currently, from the boat dock in Bridge Canyon, it is a two-mile hike to the observation area. Because of the extreme heat and the lack of shade and water, park rangers recommend visitors wait until temperatures cool in the fall before taking the hike.

Because of the number of serious injuries resulting from cliff jumping, the National Park Service has introduced new regulations this summer.

It is now illegal to jump or dive off any structure, be it a cliff or boat, at a height greater than 15 feet.

As noted, the only marina on the lake without ramp service is Hite. Water levels there, however, have made it possible for rafters on the Colorado River to pull out at Hite. Earlier this summer, before the water level peaked, rafting companies had to float down to Halls Crossing in order to remove equipment.

"Now," as one operator noted, "things are back to normal."

Boat rentals — small powerboats, personal watercraft and houseboats — are available and can be reserved at all of the marinas with the exception of Hite. Some summer discounts are still available.

Another area that has benefited greatly from the rising water has been fishing. Fishing this year, especially for smallmouth bass and striped bass, has been excellent.

"Some of the best fishing, in fact, in several decades," said Wayne Gustaveson, lake fisheries manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Striper fishing, he added, continues to be excellent in portions of the lake. This, too, is a time when lake anglers are able to fish the "boils."

Boils appear when striped bass push small shad to the surface in large schools and feed. During this frenzy, the surface of the water appears to be boiling. A surface lure thrown within the boil is guaranteed a strike.

Some of the largest and longest boils have appeared in the San Juan arm of the lake at Cha Canyon. There are reports that stripers, in the 2- to 7-pound range, have been feeding for up to three hours in the early mornings and evenings.

The lower end of Good Hope Bay and Escalante arm have also been good.

"It takes a bit of cruising and looking in the morning or evening before you can find a good boil that comes up that stays up for an hour. An hourlong boil should result in 20 to 40 big stripers being caught," he said.

"The characteristic striper holding spot is quite consistent over the length of the lake. Find a steep cliff face near the intersection of the main channel and the main canyon that has just enough rock to hide crayfish. Look for a rocky point jutting out from the smooth cliff face. It doesn't have to extend far to hold stripers.

Chum the spot and then toss out one-third of an anchovy on an eighth-ounce jig head. It should only take 15 minutes to start catching fish. Move from spot to spot until a school is located. Then fill the cooler with lots of big stripers. Remember to take ice to keep the fish fresh until they can be filleted."

Predictions are that the lake level will remain over the ramps through the summer season. Which, of course, is good news for those planning trips to discover or rediscover Lake Powell.

E-mail: grass@desnews.com