Lee’s Ferry Synopsis

Fishing Synopsis and Forecast by Terry Gunn 7/26/08

Recent Fishing: The Cicadas began singing in June and by early July the trout were starting to key on this winged meal. The hatch was normal by historical standards but not the “bumper crop” of last year. The numbers of cicadas are such that the fish are feeding on them near the rocky shores but not in the middle of the river like last summer. It is always a treat to catch Lees Ferry trout on big dry flies; July and August is the time to do it. The cicadas appear to be declining as their life cycle is short but there will be some flying around for the rest of the summer and the fish will continue keying on them even as the cicadas die off. The cicada fishing is always best on cloudy or overcast days.

Drifting from the boat with heavy nymph rigs has been very productive! The high flows of summer restrict the areas that are productive to wade but open up vast areas that are productive to the drifting angler. We have been having terrific success with scuds and San Juan worms, attached to 10 to 15-ft leaders, with heavy shot and a strike indicator. The key to success is to stay over fish, get the flies down to the bottom, and get a long, perfect dead drift.

If you can take the heat; the summer is a very productive time to fish the Ferry and provides the most consistent and least crowded fishing of the entire year.

I recently heard the spawn this year was 10X normal. I have never seen so many fry and small trout in the river.

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

Important Note: Due to the higher than normal runoff conditions and the desire to equalize Lake Powell and Lake Meade, water releases were increased on April 14. The projected increase amounts to more than 600,000 acre feet of water to be released between 4/14 and the end of the water year in October. This means that water flows will be higher than normal for the months of April, May, June, and July.

Steady flows are planned for September and October. Read below how I predict the increased flows will affect fishing.

The trout spawn began in early December which we have not seen in several years. It was a good strong spawn until the start of the experimental flow. Immediately following the high flow experiment the trout spawn began in earnest. It looked like every fish in the river was spawning at once and was the strongest spawn that I have ever witnessed. It was an inspiring sight…fish spawning everywhere and in areas that I have not seen them use in years. The spawn occurred in mostly deep water (up to 40-ft. deep!) with very little shallow water spawning taking place. The deep water spawn should translate into a “bumper crop” of fry and the survival rate will likely be off the charts.

Here is a quick overview and prediction.

The high runoff will provide the river with a huge nutrient load that will result in tremendous growth of aquatic organisms and plants (trout food).

The current trout population is healthy and the fish are larger than we have seen in years. These fish will grow rapidly to a larger size with the arrival of the nutrients and food. The current average 17-in fish should grow at least a couple inches and we have a bunch of fish that are bigger than that. We will see lots of 20+-in fish in the river next year.

The 2007 spawn survival rate was substantial; the river is currently full of 7 to 8-in fish and the increased productivity of the nutrients should arrive just in time to stimulate growth of these juvenile fish. These fish will be 12-in and larger by this next fall and be catchable. The nutrient load should last at least a couple years even if next year’s snow pack is below normal. One strange phenomenon regarding juvenile fish at Lees Ferry is that once the fry reach 3-in long, they “disappear” until they reach 12-in and then suddenly they reappear and populate normal fishing lies. We’ll be seeing these fish this next fall and winter.

I have already told you about the trout spawn from this year. The number of trout fry will likely be off the chart and the survival should be good. The river conditions should be perfect for survival and growth of these young of the year fish and they will show up as 12-in or larger fish in the fall of 2009.

Higher water flows always provide better health and growth rates for trout at Lees Ferry. Due to the projected run-off and the desire to equalize Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the planned release volume from April to October is being increased from 8.23 million acre feet of water to 8.88 million acre feet which is an increase of more than 600,000 acre feet of water. This is the first time since 1997 that there has been a release larger than the minimum of 8.23 million acre feet. Lake Powell has been rising since early March and the final forecast calls for the lake to raise a total of 50 feet by August. So, why is this important for Lees Ferry? The streams that flow into Lake Powell (Colorado River, San Juan, and Green River) have been raging and stirring up all the accumulated sediment at the stream entrance. This sediment is nutrient laden and the suspended nutrients will be distributed throughout Lake Powell. All these nutrients will be transported and arrive in the river below the dam in a few months and the river will explode with algal growth and there will be lots of food for the fish. The last time this happened was 2005 and this set the stage for the dramatic increase in the health of the Lees Ferry fishery and aquatic food base.

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

The high flow experiment 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/

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. This year I’m proud to introduce 4 new guides, though new to our organization they are not new to guiding. Luke Blaser, Nick Gibb, 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 recently detected whirling disease in a small percentage of Lees Ferry trout that were collected for a random sampling. A 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

For the latest on Lee’s Ferry visit: http://www.leesferry.com/index.htm