May 2008 Bass Fishing Tips
for Lake Powell
May 12, 2008
Lake Powell is considered "the" loveliest and most scenic bass fishing lake in the world. It is a bass fishing wonderland. It is also the home lake of Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits in Page, Arizona.
Each month through October 2008, we'll be publishing a few bass fishing tips for Lake Powell.
This is to assist fishermen who visit here, especially the anglers who will partake in the U.S. Angler's Choice Tournament of Champions ("TOC") on October 23-25, 2008 on Lake Powell.
Over 10,000 anglers are U.S. Angler's Choice members. Any one who qualifies in their own region of the country is also eligible to fish the TOC on Lake Powell too. So come on!
We'd love to have you visit our town and fish our lake for the Angler's Choice TOC in October - or anytime!
This month, we start talking about a few of the well-known fishing areas on Lake Powell.
San Juan River Arm
Years ago, it was 2000 when I first moved here, I only fished the San Juan Arm for the first few years, and boat-camped there every single weekend with GYB sales manger Jeremy Riley, one of my first and long-lasting friends in Page.
Most every weekend all year for a few years, we boated and fished exclusively on the Juan. We'd leave right after work late Friday if we could or in the dark of Saturday morning. We'd not return until Sunday night, running the green and red blinking buoys for the 70 mile cruise home under the stars. We lived for those long holiday weekends when we didn't have to work Monday, so we could camp on the Juan one extra day. Yet even if we only had a half-day to fish on a weekday, we felt it worth the hour drive up there, to fish an hour or two on the Juan, and drive back an hour.
In those days, it seemed there were always a few more bass that were always a tail fin longer and thicker-shouldered on the Juan.
Oh, we'd sure start out fishing the lower lake some days, but after a few minutes of that, we'd look at our watches, look at each other, and roostertail it to the Juan. As soon as we reached Jack's Arch, the magic started. It seemed the lower lake couldn't compare in quantity and quality of bass on the Juan, and that was the general perception that everyone held about the Juan back then and to some extent, still today.
I think there will always be the myth and magic of the fish on the Juan, and the long boat ride to get there is part of it. All your cares and worries melt away mile by mile. The lake scenery changes and your attitude changes the closer you get to the Juan. Once there, both you and the lake are transformed in a special way and bond between man and nature so that you'll always cherish the time you spend on the breathtaking twists and turns of the San Juan River.
When top tournament trails made tour stops on Lake Powell (in the nineties), the best pros in the business, their winning sacks came from the Juan then. I think the Juan will always be regarded that way in legend, and possibly in truth. Who can say?
Traditional Tournament Grounds
As for myself, after a few years of fishing the Juan exclusively, I made several other fishing friends in the area, and I was invited by some of the local guys to team up with them in the local team tournaments. I convinced my new partners that we needed to fish the Juan in those tournaments. What I realized by my second season fishing team tournaments, attending the weigh-ins and comparing notes with other local tournament anglers I was getting to meet, a most significant observation emerged that changed how I fished Lake Powell ever after. Here it is - as many tournaments were won out of the lower lake as the Juan, even during those days (6 or so years ago) when the fishing on the Juan had a mythical status to it.
Some teams who won or placed highly were fishing the Juan. Yet other teams, the savvy veterans with many years and decades of experience on the lake were doing as well, winning or placing highly in local haunts like Warm Creek, Gunsight, the backs of Navajo, Last Chance and West, the Rock Creeks and a few other locations that were the perennial lower lake tournament hotspots for years on end, long before my time on the lake.
Murph and Mel McBride from Pioche, Nevada were a new team that burst onto the Powell scene in a big way around the same time I started fishing tournaments here. Murph and Mel won or placed highly in event after event, a level they continue to perform at still. At first, they flabbergasted the lake veterans by fishing in Wahweap Bay, the home port. Most anglers had considered Wahweap to be fished out at that time, but Murph and Mel's astonishing successes have redirected a lot of ongoing tournament attention to fishing in Wahweap Bay.
What I learned from those "middle" years in my Powell experience when I fished tournaments by going to the Juan versus competitors staying in the lower lake, it made me vow to learn the lower lake. I did, over one winter, by fishing daily. The bass season never ends on Powell but it can get pretty lonely out there in December, January and February. That winter I would usually be the only rig parked on the launch ramp, the only boat on the lake. Whenever I was fortunate to have one of my new tournament friends go with me, I'd stay in Wahweap Bay that winter, fishing it daily.
When fishing on my own that winter, I'd pack a minus-40 sleeping bag, a month's supply of canned tuna, a reliable can opener, and leave a note on the truck dash where I could be found in case the boat broke down, hopefully before the spring thaw. Where I went on my own that winter was Padre Bay. It seemed to be the least-fished and most-overlooked basin by tournament anglers at that time. So I vowed to make it my own. What I found there was 95% of the shoreline was devoid of any bass in winter. It's a harsh desert environment above and below the water to start with, and bitter mister winter makes most of the shoreline inhospitable for bass. Most all small bass descend into the icy cold comfort of the abyssal depths of Powell over the winter, beyond fishing range, not to re-emerge again until spring. The few fish that do stay up shallow all winter are the very finest and fittest Lake Powell has to offer, yet even they can only survive in the most life-nurturing oases on the lake.
On the one hand, there were very few bass to be found in very few spots that winter. On the other hand, they were the very best bass in the very best spots. Without the confusing distraction of numerous smaller fish in many marginal locations, I was able to zero in on the best that Lake Powell had to offer.
That winter was the hardest yet most rewarding fishing I've done on Powell. The life-giving cradles that held good fish that winter proved to hold good fish year-round, and for the next year or two, I got to be pretty successful in the local tournaments by fishing the oases of life I found in Padre and Wahweap basins that winter. The benefit of that hard work and my special relationship with the untapped body of prime bass in Padre was fleeting. You can't always fish alone or incognito. It wasn't long before other tournament anglers moved in on the good fishing there. Today, Padre Basin has swung from the most overlooked into the most heavily fished basin by tournament anglers.
The Lower Lake
I rarely ever fish local tournaments nowadays (just too busy) and I rarely go up to the San Juan the past few years. A handful of guys used to fish up there religiously, but I am not in contact with anyone who fishes the Juan regularly now. It seems the bass fishing on the Juan has fallen off - at least in anglers' minds - the past few years. At the same time, there is a self-fulfilling situation on the lower lake in that the more local tournaments that are won on the lower lake basins, the more local tournament anglers fish the lower basins. It is a self-fulfilling situation and local tournament anglers in recent years have really been fishing tighter and tighter together, clustering closer into the hotspots the lower lake has to offer.
As I say though, I don't fish tournaments much any more and most of my fishing time on Lake Powell is spent to test lures these days. Although I have fished practically every inch and rock, bush, point or ledge of Lake Powell, it would be rare for me to go as high up lake as Dangling Rope Marina these days. There are more than enough and bigger bass in the lower lake for me. These last few years, that's where I stay, mostly between Wahweap and Dangling Rope.
There are three big basins - almost their own watersheds and ecosystems - in the waters I fish now - Wahweap, Warm Creek, and Padre. Then there's a fourth rambling area I frequent "Above Padre" as I call it (from Friendship, the Rock Creeks on up just past Dangling Rope), but this is not a basin like the other three, and probably it's more in the "middle lake" than the lower lake.
There are a couple of tricks to fishing the lower lake regions. I am not going to reveal all my best kung fu at once (or ever), but since 2008 is shaping up to be one of the best years since I've been here for big largemouth, let's start with a few tips for finding them, okay?
Targeting Largemouth on Lake Powell
First, a word on water color. Don't worry about the stained or dirty water. If you are not comfortable in it, you do not need to fish it. Many people feel more comfortable with the clear water, and it is truly like fishing in a natural outdoor aquarium! The clear is just fine, and the largemouth will be in the clear, wherever there's even a small stick of wood.
Smallmouth will but largemouth won't normally be on open points or shoreline protuberances (except if there's wood). Largemouth will often be in the "bowls" (think of an inverted point along the shoreline). Especially if there is a stick of wood in a bowl, they will be under that stick, even if it's no bigger than a popsicle stick or a twig. Largemouth here fixate on wood.
They like sharply-defined cracks on steep walls too (the largemouth), and you can just run the cracks all day some days, making a few casts far back into each crack, picking up a lot of largemouth by the end of the day that way.
Largemouth also love the van-sized rocks. On the lower lake, the van rocks are not so many, and there are many more of those van rocks on the Juan than anywhere else on the lake combined. So look for the van rocks, and fish your bait within inches of the rock edges for lots of largemouth.
Tumbleweed tangles are certainly largemouth magnets, and really, you can consider tumbleweeds a form of wood, which they are.
Those are not the only areas to target largemouth on Lake Powell, but they are some good choices of largemouth habitat here.
A Few Lures for Lake Powell This Month
As far as what lures to use, every day the fishing changes, and what lures work can change daily. I am constantly trying new lures of all kinds and colors as part of my job, and most everything seems to work on this lake. Lake Powell truly is one of the best places I've ever found to R&D lures because there are so many hungry bass and such a diversity of habitat that I can find a place on this lake where most any lure or color can work most any day, and I can get sufficient amounts of feedback and fish response I need on most any lure - usually.
When all else fails, soft plastics will be the "last lure" standing, still working. Soft plastics may not always be the absolute best lures, but they will always work.
Here's a little tip for when to try crankbaits or spinnerbaits though - when you are surprised to find fish chasing after your soft baits as you reel them in rapidly to make another cast, that is a pretty good indication that crankbaits and spinnerbaits are going to work that day too.
To narrow soft plastics down further, three very dependable lures on Lake Powell for me 365 days a year include:
1) the 4" Senko (9S-series)
2) the 5" Senko (9-series)
3) the 5" Yamamoto Hula Grub (97-series) on a football jighead
Two other soft baits that are as dependable and that I use every day I am on the lake, winter, spring summer and fall are:
4) the 3-1/2" Yamamoto swimbait (SB35-series)
5) the 4" Kinami Swim Senko (K31S-series)
These last two lures are virtually interchangeable substitutes for each other. I have never been able to detect the fish preferred the SB35 swimbait over the K31S Swim Senko or vice versa. Nor have I ever been able to detect the fish preferred these two lures any better in green or white. Both green and white seem to work equally with no fish preference on Lake Powell for one color or the other in these two lures.
The photo below shows the swimbait (#031 white) on a jig head, and the Kinami Swim Senko (#208 green with red). I have tried all other colors of these two baits, and these are the only two colors I find I need on Lake Powell (in these two baits). I have dismissed the need to use any other colors of these two lures on Lake Powell most days. These two baits in those two colors are so effective as to be almost monotonous. Honestly, they take a lot of the fun (and uncertainty) out of fishing for me - they are that effective. Truly I feel they are more consistent day-in/day-out and dependable fish-catchers on Lake Powell than even the incredible Senko or famous Yamamoto Hula Grub!
When I use these two most (the SB35 swimbait and K31S Swim Senko) is when fish are feeding deepest during the day. In cool water, that could be early in the day. In hot water, that could be mid-day when bass feed deepest. I do not fish the spinner jig any differently than the jig without the spinner. I fish them both the same, but you really do need to keep them as close to the lake bottom as possible. And that is the biggest key of all - to fish on or very close to the bottom of Lake Powell.
As you'll note with the wacky-rigged and Texas-rigged Senkos (top and second) in the photo, I always like a little weight on Lake Powell, since even shallow water is nearby deep. I am not such a big fan of weightless soft baits here. You can use weightless baits and you will do well, but a little weight is always your friend on the deep waters of Lake Powell.
Those aren't the only soft baits to use here, but that is all for now for this month's story.
Check back next month for more bass fishing tips for Lake Powell every month. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the TOC to be held on Lake Powell on October, 23-25, 2008, please contact Vern Price, VP of U.S. Angler's Choice at (702) 896-1198.