LAKE POWELL — Picture this: The water bubbling, little fish leaping out of the water followed by larger, hungrier fish, and ravens and coyotes waiting patiently on the shore for their meals.
It’s an incredible sight, said Wayne Gustaveson, Lake Powell biologist, “striped bass chasing the shad, with some shad preferring to jump onto land with the coyotes and ravens rather than being eaten by bass.’’
The bubbling, or “boils,’’ are actually feeding frenzies put on by striped bass going after small shad and they're fairly routine in the fall at Lake Powell.
And that's the reason why so many anglers choose to fish the lake in the fall.
Along with good fishing, fall is also a time when the crowds are down, concessionaires offer some discounts and the full range of colors seem more vivid.
“Another reason fall is popular,’’ offered Christiana Admiral, chief of interpretation for the National Park Service, “is it takes time for the lake to cool down, so water temperatures remain comfortable.’’
Water levels are also higher this year. At its peak, the lake rose roughly 40 feet and has dropped only about five feet. It now sits at around the elevation of 3,635.5 feet. When full, the lake is at 3,700 feet. At one point the lake was down 150 feet. The lake is currently 14 feet above the level at this point last year.
“This has been one of the best water years in recent memory,’’ added Gustaveson.
Admiral goes on to note that fall is a time when some of the attention is shifted from the water to land-based activities “like camping and hiking and exploring.
“Lake Powell is only 13 percent of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, so there are lots of areas to hike and explore.’’
Guides and maps of hiking and exploring opportunities can be found at NPS offices at the lake’s marinas and by visiting www.nps.gov/glca.
Gustaveson, who has been a biologist at the lake for more than 40 years for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said with the rising water levels and a good shad spawn, “the fish are fat and healthy.’’
On a recent fishing survey, he said his group caught more than 130 striped bass “before 11 (a.m.)’’
Best fishing is early morning and late afternoon when temperatures cool.
“There aren’t many boats on the water so it’s pretty calm. When I see a boil I like to use topwater lures so I can see the bite instead of feeling the bite. What happens is the fish will hit the lure and knock it up in the air. But I tell people to not set the hook until they feel the fish.
“The tendency is to try and set the hook when the fish first hits the lure. I have to keep telling people to wait. I had one fish hit my lure seven different times before it finally took the lure,’’ he said.
The striped bass being caught are mature, averaging between 14 and 20 inches and weighing between 3 to 3 1/2 pounds.
Best fishing and the most boils have been from Bullfrog Marina North up to Hite. Smaller boils have been seen South from Bullfrog to Wahweap.
Striped bass will typically herd the shad into the center of the lake and then attack. When the shad move in closer to shore they will begin to leap onto land and into the mouths of ravens and coyotes.
At this time of year, the smallmouth bass are holding along shorelines. Anglers are advised to troll around points and bush-covered shores.
“Once you catch a fish, stop and fish the area. Smallmouth school up and you can catch four or five more, then continue to troll,’’ said Gustaveson.
Largemouth bass and crappie are recovering. The rising water has covered up brush, popular nesting areas for largemouth and crappie, which will make fishing good in the coming years.
According to Admiral, the consensus is that visitation is up this year, especially with international visitors.
“It seems to be the trend for national parks this year. At Horseshoe Bend, for example, we are expecting around 1.5 million people, mostly international visitors,’’ she added. “People are discovering the rest of the (Glen Canyon National Recreational Area). We are no longer a seasonal recreational area.’’
Horseshoe Bend is located South of Page, Arizona, within GCNRA boundaries.
This is also a time when concessionaires are offering discounts to visitors. For example, ARAMARK, which operates five of the lake's marinas, has discounts of 60 percent for its popular 19-foot powerboat for residents of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. For information visit www.aramark.com.