Lees Ferry Fishing Synopsis and Forecast by Terry Gunn 11/12/08
Recent Fishing Conditions: At a time when just about everything you read is bearing bad news, it gives me great pleasure to bring you some good news: The fishing at Lees Ferry is not just good it’s great! The fish are in the best shape and size that I have seen in several years and everything points to this being a trend that I expect to continue. Fishing is just going to get better and better as 2009 arrives…. Isn’t it great to hear some good news for a change! Not only is the fishing upriver great but rumor has it that the Walk-in area is fishing extremely well. One other thing; there has been no one here…come up (you can probably book a guide for tomorrow) and see the best fishing in years and you will likely have the river to yourself. Read on for the full story.
The experimental steady flows that occurred in September and October (12,000 constant) were as I predicted, beneficial to the river. 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.
The trout spawn last winter was off the charts, never has there been such a productive spawn in the river. The high flows of summer and the steady flows this fall provided the perfect rearing habitat for the fry and fingerlings. I’m seeing them all over the river and they are growing fast! In addition to last winter’s great spawn, the survival rate from the spawn of 2006-07 was substantial and the river has a very good population of smaller fish that are growing fast.
The fish that we have been catching are probably averaging 16 to 17 inches and most are thick, fat, and heavy. We are also catching lots of larger fish, 18 to 20-inches. I have recently had clients hook into fish that were probably much larger, but as you well know, the big ones almost always get away.
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. This 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. I believe that we are just now starting to see that as evidenced by the recent warmer than normal water temperatures. The river temperature this time of year is normally 48-degrees but the recent temperature has been 54-degrees which is the IDEAL water temperature for trout. 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 stopped fishing from the boat and have been 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.
Flows should increase in December and I predict another year of a normal and strong spawn. I have already seen a few fish spawning; I have not seen this is several years.
We have recently lost a couple of friends who have contributed much to the sport of fly fishing. Mel Krieger passed away last month after a brief illness from a brain tumor. Denny Breer, from Trout Creek Flies and Green River Outfitters, passed away 11/07, he was involved in a freak accident. Our hearts and best wishes go out to all their families
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/
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 past 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 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
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