Lee’s Ferry Fishing Synopsis and Forecast by Terry Gunn 2/18/09

Fishing Synopsis and Forecast by Terry Gunn 2/18/09

Come by and see us at the ISE Outdoor Show, Cardinal Stadium, Feb 27-Mar 1.

Recent Fishing Conditions: Spring has arrived at Lees Ferry, I have always considered Feb. 15 to be our first day of spring, not only is the weather warming but the sun is moving higher in the sky and once again flooding the canyon corridor with sunlight. As usual, the midges are responding to the arrival of the sun and the hatches are beginning in earnest and the trout have just this week begun to move into the riffles to feed on the emerging midge pupae. The last few days I have been drifting a worm and a midge in the deep tail-out of the riffles and 90% of the trout have been eating the midge.

The spawn is just trickling along; it started with a bang in early December and has been slowly increasing in intensity the last few weeks. I get the feeling that the fish are currently staging for a major push into a full blown spawn within the next couple of weeks. Although it is important to keep in mind that spawn of the past 2 years has been off the charts in intensity and survivability so the fish may take a break this year.

The current water flows are perfect wading and drifting flows for fishing Lees Ferry and these same flows will continue for the next several months. I expect the fishing this spring to be a banner year and likely better than the last several years. The average size of the fish is the largest of this decade; most of the fish that I put in my net are 16 to 17-in with many that are larger. I recently had a father and son get a double hookup and both landed fish in excess of 20-inches at the same time. It has been more than 20 years since I have seen this happen. A few days before, a client landed a substantial 24-in long fish and I’m seeing a bunch of big fish in the river. We are also starting to catch some of the “little guys” that were part of the mass spawn of last year and the year before, these 12-in fish are growing fast and I always remind everyone that it takes small fish to make big fish.

Is this a peak before another down turn in the fishery? No, this is the beginning of a trend that is set to continue for at least a couple of years, and if nature cooperates and gives us moisture in the Rocky Mountains, and Lake Powell continues to rise, this trend of healthy trout populations and good fishing will continue for the next several years.

The turning point and the beginning for the recovery of the Lees Ferry fishery occurred in 2005 when Lake Powell had the first above normal snow-pack and runoff year since 1997. Last year we had almost exactly the same conditions. The above normal winter snow pack and runoff into Lake Powell in 2007-08, stirred up a tremendous amount of nutrient laden sediment that had accumulated at the lake mouths of the Colorado River, San Juan River, and the Green River. Lake Powell elevation increased 43-ft. and the rivers flowing into the lake mixed the sediment and nutrients into the lake water. It usually takes several months before we see this mixing affect the nutrient load in the water that enters the river from Glen Canyon dam. The increased nutrient load in the lake and river will be evident this coming spring by the enormous and dramatic increase in aquatic vegetation and aquatic organisms throughout the river.

For those of you that remember what the fishing was like in 1999 and 2000…you should be as excited as I am about the current conditions and what the increased nutrient load should do for the fishing at Lees Ferry.

Lots of stuff happening at the Ferry and it is all good!

Recent Fishing: With the water flows once again fluctuating and lower flows; we have been fishing from the boat as well as wading the riffles. The best fishing technique has been using a “heavy nymph rig” which is a 9 to 12-ft leader, strike indicator, split shot, and dual fly rig. I have been using 6X fluorocarbon tippet and feel that the lighter tippet results in a much higher success rate than say 5X. Anglers might argue that they break fish off on such light tippet but my argument is that in order to break a fish off, you first have to first get a fish to eat your fly and you are going to get more eaters with lighter tippet than heaver tippet.

When wading the riffles you need long dead drifts. There are 2 types of drifts; perfect dead drifts and all other drifts. Perfect dead drifts catch fish at Lees Ferry; all other drifts don’t catch fish here. You get a dead drift by mending the line, then throwing slack line on the water. If your line is straight from your rod tip to your indicator or you move your indicator during the drift, then your drift is not perfect and will not catch fish. The key to success is to stay over fish, get the flies down to the bottom, and get a long, perfect dead drift.

Word has it that the “walk-in’ is fishing very well. There are times in the spring that this area actually fishes better than upriver. Look for this area to continue fishing well until the summer high water arrives.

The high flow experiment, 4/08, was basically a non event as far as the fishery is concerned. It came and went with few visible changes to the river or the fishery. For more details and to see my complete comments go here: http://coloradoriverconservancy.org/

The experimental steady flows that occurred in September and October 2008 (12,000 constant) were beneficial to the river and are scheduled again for 2009. In years past, the flows in September and October have been the lowest flows of the year and have reset the “green line” to the 5,000-cfs level from the 12,000-cfs level of the summer flows. This has effectively reduced the food supply in the river by a significant amount. Then the higher flows of November and December arrive; but because of the declining sun angle and the shade of the cliffs, photosynthesis and aquatic production in the river declines and the areas of the river that were desiccated by the low flows do not regenerate until the following spring. This did not happen this year because of the steady flows in September and October the green line stayed high. The current fluctuating flows (7,500-cfs to 13,000-cfs) are continuing to keep the green line higher than in years past. There have been prolific midge and black-fly hatches every day and it appears as though the scud population has a higher density than any time since 2004.

For details on Lake Powell conditions and snow-pack, go here: http://lakepowell.water-data.com/

For a real time graphic view of water releases and ramp rates go here: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/az/nwis/uv?09380000

New guides at Lees Ferry Anglers: The last couple of years we have had several long time guide staff move on to bigger and hopefully better things. Last year we had 3 new guides join our team, though new to our organization they are not new to guiding. Luke Blaser, Tom Jones, and JD Miller have joined our team. They bring with them a couple of decades of combined guiding experience on various waters around the world, college degrees, and an enthusiasm for guiding that is contagious. I’m proud to introduce these fellows and I’m sure that you will agree that they are a great addition to our team.

The AZ Game and Fish Department has detected whirling disease in a very small percentage of Lees Ferry trout that were collected for a random sampling. A more recent sampling turned up no sign of the disease, which may mean that it was a “one time” exposure, where the disease was not established or that the disease is present but at a very low prevalence.  Anglers should still use caution in cleaning their equipment both before and after they have fished here or in other waters. For more information visit: http://www.whirling-disease.org