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Original Fishing Tips in 2000 --They still work.

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wayne gustaveson

Staff member

Lake Powell is a clear, deep canyon lake with little brushy structure. Light, small diameter monofilament line is recommended (6-8 Pound test). If targeting brush or dirty water then the diameter and pound-test line size may increase. It is common to catch fish, particularly striped bass, at depths of 60 to 90 feet.


Bass are caught readily on soft plastic baits fished on lead heads. A variety of crankbaits, spinner baits, lead head jigs in both marabou and bucktail are effective. Live water dogs are seasonally available and very effective. Live fish are not allowed as bait.

Largemouth (bottom of picture) are caught most readily in March and April and are closely associated with brush. Smallmouth bass (top of picture) are found on ubiquitous rocky shore lines and may be the most common fish in Lake Powell. They can be caught in good numbers from April to October. Biggest fish are caught during the April spawning period.

Structure and Patterns


Structure is everything that isn't water. Main channel structure is typically the sheer cliff wall. When fishing the cliff wall, I look for something unique or different from the basic habitat type. Cast to cracks in the wall, a corner, broken rock, or even shade - maybe sunny, warm spots in the winter. Investigating further with a graph or just your lure, find a shallow shelf or "bottom" where everything else is deep. Structure is a target where you might cast or a spot where fish may chose to be.

Main channel structure would be a small rock pile, a talus slope, a sandstone point that is jutting out from shore and visible as yellow colored rock. Main channel water color is very blue where water is deep. Visually scan the shoreline for best looking spots and then fish these spots exclusively - not the entire shoreline. I have found that steep slopes (but not sheer cliffs) hold the most active bass. Broken rock (rocks from 6 inches to 2 feet in diameter) large enough for a crayfish to hide under are prime smallmouth hunting grounds.

Fishing parallel to shore or bouncing a soft plastic grub down a slope must be done at the beginning of every fishing day. Catch the first fish, get the first hit, and then determine what technique made that bass hit the lure. Try that approach in the next spot. If it works then you are on to the pattern and will be successful in all similar habitat for the next hour or even the entire day. That is what pattern fishing is all about.

Soft Plastic Jigs - The bait for all seasons

4" Double Tail Grub - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3" Single Tail Grub

After futilely beating the water to a froth with surface lures the grim realization sets in that today we have to go down where they live. Bass are just not coming up to put on the delightful air-show acrobatics that we had hoped for. Dip into the tackle box and guess what comes out first. I can’t speak for you but in my hand I have a soft plastic jig. There are some other possibilities but for me it just a matter of determining what size and color plastic grub and how heavy of head to complete the presentation. The soft plastic jig catches more bass for me than any other lure. Old reliable continues to perform time after time.

Now what color? In the spring trying to imitate a crayfish is a good starting point. (Crayfish are green and brown with a bit of red or orange.) In the fall maybe a shad color is best. (Shad are a silver fish with blue/black on top with a white belly. There is a lot of yellow in the tail of an adult fish.) Bait color definitely attracts interest but movement and behavior are equally important in actually fooling the fish. Plastic jigs are a package deal with color, size, action and presentation equally important. Really what happens is that the fish sees and feels the bait in the water and then natural curiosity takes over. Fortunately, bass are more curious than a pup with baby teeth trying to decide what to chew next.

Spring time is marked by slow metabolism, cool temperatures, overcast skies, and scarcity of food. Fish are trying to get active, move shallow and find nest sites. A soft plastic jig fished on the bottom fits right into the needs of the bass. It is available near the bottom where the bass is spending resting and searching time. The slow moving jig matches slow bass movements induced by cold temperatures. Plastic jig body color associated with natural food such as crayfish or panfish complete the package making it a desirable morsel ready to eat. End result is a pickup by one of the better quality fish that are more aggressive and the first fish to become active in the spring time. Soft plastic jigs are great spring fishing lures.

Summer finds fish diving deeper to beat the heat. There is lots of food with crayfish and forage fish hatching out. Bass are warmer and therefore faster moving, full of energy and always on the move ready to eat or chase at a moments notice. Food is available on the bottom and swimming in the open water above. The wider variety of food items available leads to a wider acceptance of plastic body colors. Color and movement attract fish from longer distances. The bait may be held in the mouth longer in warm water but it can still be rejected by a bass in a matter of milliseconds. Those baits that offer a taste of salt, crayfish or fish are often held longer by the fish before being rejected.

Fall is harvest time when food is abundant and bass are gorging prior to winter. The soft plastic jig still works since it can be fished shallow or deep, close to the bottom or at mid depth in the water column. Fish are moving maximum distances between feeding opportunities and preferred temperature zones. A bait bounced on the bottom still attracts attention from bass looking for crayfish, while that same soft plastic jig swimming rhythmically back to the boat is enticing to bass looking for suspended bait fish in the water column.

The soft plastic jig is the most versatile bass lure that I have found. It works in any season. Adding a plastic skirt and a double tail grub make the bait fall slower when a slower presentation is needed. A heavy head and single tail make the bait zip through the water when a fleeing forage fish bait is called for. A heavy lead head can be used as a fish call by bouncing the head on a rocky bottom creating a noisy disturbance that can draw curious fish to the plastic bait. A light head on heavy line can make the jig semi-buoyant when the most subtle presentation is needed.

Bass seem to have the same impression. Plastic jigs account for the majority of sport caught bass reported by anglers in my work. The success comes from the great variety of sizes, colors, presentations, and techniques in which plastic jigs can be used. This bait is the ”real deal”, ready for any situation that the angler can discern. Just use your imagination, a soft jig, a little knowledge of what the fish want and the recipe for success is there.

Want a sure thing? Forget it, that doesn’t exist. But the closest thing to it in bass fishing at Lake Powell is a soft plastic jig.


Striped bass are caught on cut dead anchovies which are sold in most tackle and grocery stores around the lake. White jigs, spoons and crankbaits are also effective. Trolling with flat line monofilament is deadly as is leaded line and down-rigger trolling. The most exciting technique is to cast surface lures (stick baits) in surface feeding frenzies called "stripers boils". During the fall and winter stripers go deep but are readily visible with the use of a fish locating graph which reduces search time and greatly enhances total harvest.

Please keep all striped bass caught so the population can be brought into balance with available forage.


Striped bass are ocean fish that can live in freshwater. Now that this population is landlocked in Lake Powell they are reproducing at an unprecedented rate due to the unique water chemistry of Lake Powell which allows eggs that settle on the substrate to hatch instead of smothering as they would in most nutrient-rich (eutrophic) lakes.

With unlimited reproduction the limiting factor for striper survival and growth is available forage. Stripers have eliminated shad from the pelagic zone on more than one occasion. From 1986-1990 there were almost no shad seen in open water of Powell. That period resulted in stunted stripers and led to the current management plan which is to reduce striped bass numbers by angler harvest. If enough stripers are removed then those that are left will benefit from the finite forage base and remain healthy and grow normally.

That program has worked. The average striper weighs about 2-3 pounds which is a good freshwater angling target. The fish are in good health which is my main concern. The fish typically boil in the fall which is unheard of in most other freshwater species.

To keep the fishery as healthy as it is now we continue to harvest all stripers that will not be wasted. If you can't eat them all then give some to your family, friends and neighbors. Take good care of them, put fish immediately on ice, fillet as soon as possible, keep them cold and those that benefit from your good fishing fortune will be better friends and happy to see you coming up the walk.


TOP: Jumpin' Minnow
BOTTOM: Zara Spook


Striped bass school and tend to feed as a group. They compete with each other for food and use quick swimming ability to chase down the prey. They are vulnerable to quick moving “reaction-type” baits like 'rattletraps' (swimmin image), minnow-shaped lures, silver and shad-colored jigging spoons, white jigs and especially top water stick baits such as 'zara spook', 'jumpin’ minnow' (Spittin image)and soft plastic jerk baits (Senko). Reaction baits are dependent upon normal searching behavior which occurs when stripers are feeding on shad. In years when no shad are present, stripers eat suspended plankton or forage along the bottom for crayfish. When shad are limited, the smelly anchovy or sardine cut bait is much more effective. When shad are plentiful cut bait is ignored in favor of reaction type offerings. Spring is the annual period of low food availability while fall is a time of surplus. Choose lures accordingly.

Fish staged at pre-spawning sites in the spring are partial to cut bait. Place 1/3 to1/2 anchovy on a size 2 hook with a weight some 18 inches up the line (Carolina rig). Anchovies can be hooked on a jig head with bait in-line with the jig head to present a straight swimming profile. Adding a small soft plastic curly tail gives the anchovy more action and increases fish attracting potential. Normal fishing depth is 30-50 feet.


You can get the school to eat anchovies by cutting up 6 anchovies in 1/4 inch slices and broadcasting them in all directions around your (hopefully) stationary boat. Watch the bait descend and see how slowly it moves. It will take well over 5 minutes to reach 50-90 feet where resting schools may be. If the school takes the bait then they all look for food and will eat your baited hook too. They move shallower when one fish starts to feed.

So fix the carolina rig (above) and attach a one inch chunk of bait which covers as much of the hook as possible. If fishing at 60 feet it is okay to use one ounce of weight. Sometimes a quarter ounce is enough. Experiment and see how much weight is prefered by the fish on the day you are fishing. They will let you know.


In summer I suggest a slow descent rate. Put out 20 feet of line. Let it go down another 2 feet every minute. When you get to 80 feet start reeling in one foot every minute. Another method of simulating sink-rate of chum is to put half an anchovy on a weightless line and just let in sink naturally. I usually do this after I have hooked a fish or two and know that the school is in the area and interested. Heavy line will only let the bait go down about 30 feet before line buoyancy equals anchovy sink rate and gravity quits working. Really technique is not quite as important as finding fish. Read reports and keep a log or mark on a map where the action was.

Summer temperature forces striped bass adults into deep water and separates them from shad. Deep trolling with down riggers, jigging at 60-90 feet or bait fishing at 60 feet is the secret to finding summer time stripers. Trolling with monofilament is effective if fish are willing to come up from the depths when they see and feel prey 10-25 feet above them. Use a Little Mac, Deep Thunderstick Jr, Wally Diver, Shad-r, Excalibur Fat Free shad or other deep diving plug trolled at 3-5 mph for best success.


Fall is the most exciting time. When shad are available stripers drive them to the surface creating surface feeding frenzies or “boils”. When feeding on the surface, stripers are constantly looking to the surface for food. Lures that stay on the surface and swim side-to-side making a V-wake, most resemble shad and demand attention from striped bass even when not actively feeding. It is common to retrieve the stick bait and see striped bass come up to look - then swirl as they head back down. This swirl is guaranteed assurance that stripers are in the area and can be coerced into feeding. Prospecting for stripers in the back of the canyon with a stick bait is a quick way to locate active fish.


Winter finds striped bass hugging the bottom. The best approach is to use a fish finding graph and a hammered silver jigging spoon or a shad colored slab spoon (shad minnow). Drop the spoon into a school at the depth indicated on the graph. If no response, try bait fishing with anchovies where stripers are found on the graph. Stripers will feed all winter long but are less active when water temperature is colder than 55 degrees.


Stripers cannot be discussed without including their primary forage, threadfin shad. Every summer, newly hatched shad move from the back of the canyon to the open bays to feed on plankton. Two to four pound striped bass find the small shad and feed aggressively on the surface until the shad are eliminated or get smart and move back toward cover. There may be an extended period of striper surface feeding activity during July and August at many open water locations over the expanse of Lake Powell. After the mid summer fire works, shad moved out of open water to find escape cover where they could avoid the relentless pursuit of stripers.

Really good surface action is most likely to happen very early in the morning, about 30 minutes after first light. The boil may be near cover, such as a flooded tamarisk cove or a buoy field or break water guarding the marina. Shad need to eat and are prone to sneak out of cover just after dawn and just before dark. That's why boils are seen most often at twilight periods.

As the water begins to cool in September and October, larger stripers which require cooler temperatures and have been living in deep water all summer, are able to spend longer periods of time in the warmer surface layers. The big fish round up schools of shad and drive them into short, wide canyons and coves where they hold them captive in between feeding sprees. Shad get in shallow water where stripers can't swim. Stripers guard the mouth of the cove waiting for a ball of shad to attempt an escape. Finding one of these guarded box canyons is like having your own private fishing hole. Look for shad schools that will not leave shallow water. A wave of the hand over the school causes them to scatter and even jump out on the shore. They will do anything except enter deep water where stripers are patiently waiting.

Ravens walk the shoreline like prison guards waiting for shad to make an ill fated leap for freedom. Ravens, gulls and blue herrons can be used like sign posts that say "Fish here!". Throw your favorite top water bait to the back of the cove near the raven's feet and brace for the jolt of airborne stripers or the slurp of a bass. A large, trapped shad school may stay in the same cove for two weeks while enduring daily feeding attacks from guarding stripers and opportunistic bass. Generally, shad are trapped in a cove for three to five days before escaping or being eliminated. If the shad are gone when you return for another day of fishing search the adjacent shoreline for another shad corral.

Use some of these subtle clues to really increase your striper catch rate. If you need more enticement I will dangle a little more bait. There is often a daily progression of feeding activity. Shad leave cover to feed at first light. Stripers show up about 30 minutes later. The surface boils with flying shad and stripers until shad head for cover again. That can be 5 minutes or two hours depending on the day. But as the shad turn from open water towards cover they find bass waiting. Large and smallmouth bass let stripers drive shad right to their waiting mouths. On numerous occasions I have watched a striper boil build to peak intensity. Then as shad leave open water and stripers lose interest a second wave of green fish hit shad right at the cover line. A zara spook or jumpin' minnow thrown towards the middle of the bay gets a striper swirl while the same lure thrown towards the canyon wall or other cover gets a bass attack. I have taken more big largemouth on top water baits from declining striper boils than with any other method. Three to five pound largemouth will swim near similar size stripers and use the aggressive striped bass wolf pack to get an easy shad meal.

Trophy Stripers


Big stripers will consistently be in 64 degree water if they can find it and still find a way to feed in close proximity. So trophy stripers will be at or near the thermocline (60-90 feet). They feed at night when boating and recreational activity is less and feeding opportunities are enhanced for the very proficient nocturnal predator. They exert only as much energy as needed to catch a 1 pound carp every other day. The number of trophy size fish is small compared to the great numbers of school-size fish. If you really want to go trophy fishing, troll with down riggers at 60-90 feet or fish with bait (whole anchovies) all night long. Spend a lot of time graphing and isolate individual targets and try to fish for that one fish. Chances of catching the bigger fish are enhanced in the winter when cooling temperature allows the big fish to use the entire water column to forage BUT, They still prefer to feed at night. The only daytime opportunity for big fish comes in May when spawning draws them to the top and decreases inhibitions.


Sunfish are underutilized and easily caught with live worms, dry flies and small plastic baits. Bluegill live in brush and green sunfish hide in rocks. Both are common on every shoreline and can be caught by anglers of all skill levels. Use the smallest hook possible (aberdeen long shank preferred) to entice the schools of sunfish that often use your boat for shade at virtually any campsite. The larger fish are usually most aggressive and will be the first fish to take the bait. Once the larger fish are captured then many smaller fish will move into the vicinity and swarm around the bait. The larger specimens are big enough to fillet and provide some of the finest eating quality of all Lake Powell fishes. Even the smallest sunfish is big enough to bring a grin to the youngest anglers.


Crappie are not abundant but they can be caught in bunches when a school is found in the spring, fall or winter. It is most common to catch crappie during April when they spawn. Nests will be seen in shallow water close to brush. The dark black crappie are males which guard the nest and insure the survival of the next year class. Please release all males. The lighter green crappie are usually females which are the ones that could be harvested. The crappie population is not large due to the lack of brush in the springtime. Good numbers survive only in years when new desert brush is flooded by rising water during April and May. Catch and release is recommended. Live minnows CANNOT be used.


Catfish are ever present in the summer on shallow sandy beach areas and caught on stink baits, anchovies, and table scraps. Fish any place a boat can be beached for best success. Use a carolina rig with a light weight or just a single hook with a piece of bait and no weight in shallow water (5-15 feet). The biggest fish are in flowing water of tributaries. But the scrappy, great-tasting fish are commonly caught during the summer months near marinas or off the back of the houseboat.



Walleye are caught on bottom bouncing rigs tipped with live nightcrawlers during the month of May. They are most often caught by accident while fishing for bass, but some anglers fish specifically for walleye. Trolling close to cliff walls and across rocky points with a shad imitating minnow lure can be good at times. Consistent bottom contact while trolling or casting is the most important key in finding walleye.

Walleye are light sensitive. The huge eye is constructed to gather light in dim conditions and let walleye have a sight advantage when there isn’t much light. The eye becomes a liability in bright conditions.

May is the month when warming water increases fish metabolism and the need for food. Most species have spawned in April or May but numbers of small forage fish are at a low point for the year. Newly hatched fry are still very shallow and hidden in brush. There is not much food of the right size and in the right place for walleye yet. With more food needed and not much available, normally nocturnal walleye are forced to forage around the clock.

Fish seek out a comfort zone. With feeding expanded to daylight hours during May more anglers come in contact with hungry walleye. The walleye comfort zone still requires low light. Walleye strike from the shade of overhanging rock ledges, brush, cloudy water, wind washed mudlines trailing off a wind-swept clay point, and many other environmental conditions that filter light.

Walleye feed on rocky reefs and points near brush where forage fish and crayfish live. They prowl uninhibited at night and are still present in fairly open habitat at daylight and dusk. Once the sun hits the water walleye are forced to seek shelter in the form of shade. Walleye can avoid bright light by going deeper where light penetration is filtered by plankton, algae and other microscopic organisms. The focal depth of the water can be estimated by simply watching your lure descend below the boat. In some locations the lure will disappear at 8 feet while in others it can still be seen at 25 or 30 feet. The lure disappearance point is the minimum depth that walleye will be hunting at that particular location. It works both ways. When the lure can’t be seen, a fish looking up will be protected from most of the sun’s bright rays.

Walleye like live bait. Walleye are omnivores which eat anything that swims, flips or crawls. They prefer not to chase prey but lie in wait and then strike like a snake as prey passes in range. They are notorious tail-biters, often just tasting the bait before eating the whole thing. A plastic bait is often struck and discarded before the angler knows he has been ambushed. Using scent, salt, amino acids, or adding a live worm really gives the taste and feel necessary for the walleye to take the bait in the mouth and hold it long enough for the hook set.

Vulnerability to angling is short lived. When young-of-year forage fish grow in size and number to the point that walleye can feed in the normal nocturnal fashion and obtain their daily food requirement, then feeding rituals return to those that exclude most daytime anglers. Walleye harvest decreases in June and is lowest in fall when the annual crop of small fish is most abundant. When fish are well fed they are extremely hard for anglers to catch.

Walleye spawn in March. They spawn in the main body of the lake on clean broken rock. Those residing near current will ascend to the headwaters of the lake searching for clean gravel to deposit eggs. Males seldom eat while in spawning condition and are hard to catch during March. Females continue to eat except for the one day when spawning actually occurs and the entire ovary is evacuated during that event. Walleye spawning in the lake are not congregated in isolated locations and in large enough groups to provide good fishing. There may be spawning aggregations near the flowing water where major tributaries enter Lake Powell where schools may stage prior to spawning and provide a large enough group of fish to provide a brief period of excellent fishing.
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