Recent fishing rating 5 to 7
As 2017 comes to an end and we welcome in a New Year, I would like to discuss where the Lees Ferry fishery has been in the past few years … and where it’s headed.
In the fall of 2013, there was a decline in the trout population due to much lower- than-normal water flows and warmer-than-normal water temperatures from Glen Canyon Dam. The lower water flows were part of the Experimental High Flow Event and the warmer water was a result of Lake Powell water levels being low due to drought. This was the first fishery decline that we had seen since 2007 and the fifth decline witnessed in my 35 years here at Lees Ferry.
The good news is every time we have seen a decline in the fish population, Lees Ferry is back in a boom phase within 3 to 4 years and that’s where we are today. Fish numbers are rebounding and we are seeing lots of healthy fish of all sizes: fingerlings to 20-inch footballs and everything in between. The Lake Powell water elevation is higher than it has been since 2011, so river water temperatures have returned to normal. The future looks bright for the fishery and I see nothing on the horizon that could derail this trend. We have had great spawns the last couple of years and this year should not be different. All the trout in the river are wild and naturally reproducing fish so there is going to be no instant rebound when a population declines unlike other rivers that are stocked with trout. We did ask the AZ Game and Fish Department to stock some additional fish a couple of years ago in an attempt to fill the void left by the declining trout population. The AZ Game and Fish Department obtained fish for stocking, however was halted at the last moment (the day before the trucks were scheduled to load) by National Park Service order with very little explanation of the decision, just that the stocking needed further discussion and study.
Some of the best news regarding the river is that the Walk-In area has been fishing much better lately. For whatever reason, when the fish population declined, this section of the river was hardest hit and the fishing there was really slow for a couple years. However, we have been getting lots of good reports from this area and when the flows drop this spring and the midge hatches increase in intensity, we expect the fishing to be a banner year – better than we have seen in several years.
Winter in Glen Canyon is when the days are short in our deep chasm with more shade than sun. The cooler temperatures of winter also require more power generation to provide increased electricity to the western power grid. This means that the water flows are higher in December and January than any other time other than the summer months of July and August. Higher flows are good for the fish as more and larger food items are moved around. The higher water favors drifting heavy nymph rigs from the boat since there are not as many wading spots in the high water. For the heavy nymph rig, a long leader is required with two flies and enough split shot to get the flies down quickly, but not so heavy as to snag on the bottom.
Water flows will be dropping in February and lower water favors midge fishing with bead head midges, either in tandem with a strike indicator or presented beneath a dry fly dropper combination. Lees Ferry Angler guides test-fish various combinations of a midge below a scud or San Juan worm, but our best reports on lower water fish have been with the double midge combination, also known as a “double tiny” rig.
The classic zebra midge – which was developed here at the Ferry – is a standby fly, but you’ll do well to mix it with other color variations of bead heads. A size 16 is the biggest you’ll want; look more toward 18s and 20s with the smaller midge below the larger.
Our guides report olive or black wooly buggers as well as scuds and worms continue to be highly effective in the seams and deeper runs.
Overall we are very optimistic about the fishing and where the river is headed. We are already booking up for the coming year so if you are looking for a great adventure and some of the best fishing to be found anywhere, now is a good time to be planning for your trip to Lees Ferry.
For details on Lake Powell conditions and snow-pack, go here:
For a real time graphic view of water releases and ramp rates go here:
Cliff Dwellers Lodge has been proudly serving guests for more than 60 years!
Our lodge has rooms with cable TV (20 channels), in-room coffee and refrigerators, and the basic amenities. Choices of rooms are ONE king-size bed, TWO doubles and TWO queen-size beds and one 2-bedroom unit. Also, our group unit we call the HOUSE, sleeps six with two baths, dining area, kitchen, patio with a view, and cable TV. Rates vary with season. We are excited about the winter season and have some great “black board” specials planned. Patio dining is available. (Enclosed in the winter months)
MEET THE GUIDES:
The guides and staff of Lees Ferry Anglers have thousands of days on this water, and well over 100 years combined fish-guiding experience. Captain’s Terry Gunn, Jeff English, Skip Dixon, Natalie Jensen,Kevin Campbell, Dale Gauthier, Jimmy Daniels and Scott Keller make up our guiding staff. Lees Ferry Anglers is proud of our fly-fishing guide team!
Walk-in rating: 4 to 6
What a difference a year can make…for the first time in several years we are seeing people walk into our fly shop who have just fished the walk-in area bearing big smiles and anxious to share a fish story or two. We are really excited that this area is once again providing a quality fishing experience for the visiting angler. I’m not saying that it is great fishing every day or all day but if you hit it right and know what to do and have the right flies, you can have a very quality fishing experience here. Be sure to check in with our fly shop to see what the fish are eating and get suggestions for how, when, and where to fish this area. We think that the walk-in is going to really pop this spring when lower water arrives. One thing to keep in mind is that the cliffs are low in this stretch of river which allows the river to get abundant sun so this area often gets the early and abundant midge hatches.
Spin Fishing rating: 5 to 6
This is the time of year that the fish are really starting to key in on glo-bugs (egg patterns), which is due to the fish beginning to spawn. The key success is getting the fly to the bottom and drifting along the bottom of the river in a long dead-drift. The best way to do this is from a boat. Spin fishing in the higher water months of December and January is always good.
December 7, 2017
GLEN CANYON DAM / LAKE POWELL CURRENT STATUS
High-Flow Experiments (HFE) below Glen Canyon Dam are driven by weather, sediment inputs, and other resource conditions, in accordance with the Glen Canyon Dam Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan Record of Decision (LTEMP).
When sediment conditions during the summer and fall meet specific thresholds as described in the LTEMP HFE Protocol, a fall HFE can occur. Fall HFEs can be scheduled to occur anytime during the months of October and November. In order to facilitate advance planning for a potential HFE this fall, the HFE technical team determined that October 9th was the latest date for which sediment inputs could be considered for a potential HFE this fall. Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center (GCMRC) scientists and Reclamation modelers considered cumulative sediment inputs from July 1 through midnight October 9th. Based on these data it has been determined that there is not sufficient sediment to support implementing a high flow experiment (HFE) at Glen Canyon Dam during the fall 2017 planning window; therefore an HFE will not be tested this fall.
The unregulated inflow volume to Lake Powell in November was 388 thousand acre-feet (kaf) (82% of average). The release volume from Glen Canyon Dam in November was 630 kaf. The end of November elevation and storage of Lake Powell were 3,625.29 feet (75 feet from full pool) and 14.33 maf (59% of full capacity), respectively. The reservoir elevation is now declining and is expected to continue to decline until spring 2018.
Most current reservoir elevation, content, inflow and release, click: Lake Powell Data.
Most current reservoir elevation projections, click: Lake Powell Elevation Projections.
2017 progression of snowpack above Lake Powell, click: Lake Powell Snow Chart.
Current inflow forecast relative to past inflows, click: Lake Powell Inflow Forecast.
The operating tier for water year 2018 was established in August 2017 as the Upper Elevation Balancing Tier, with an initial water year release volume of 8.23 maf and the potential for an April 2018 adjustment to equalization or balancing releases. Based on the current forecast, an April adjustment to balancing is projected to occur and Lake Powell is currently projected to release 9.0 maf in water year 2018. This projection will be updated each month throughout the water year. Reclamation will schedule operations at Glen Canyon Dam to achieve as practicably as possible the appropriate total annual release volume by September 30, 2018.
In December 2018, the release volume will be approximately 740 kaf, with fluctuations anticipated between about 7,300 cfs in the nighttime to about 14,000 cfs in the daytime and consistent with the revised Glen Canyon Operating Criteria (27-Sep-2017) (https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/studies/GCOC.pdf). The anticipated release volume for January is 860 kaf with daily fluctuations between approximately 9,100 cfs and 16,850 cfs. The expected release for February is 730 kaf with daily fluctuations between approximately 10,500 cfs and 13,900 cfs.
In addition to daily scheduled fluctuations for power generation, the instantaneous releases from Glen Canyon Dam may also fluctuate to provide 40 megawatts (mw) of system regulation. These instantaneous release adjustments stabilize the electrical generation and transmission system and translate to a range of about 1,200 cfs above or below the hourly scheduled release rate. Under system normal conditions, fluctuations for regulation are typically short lived and generally balance out over the hour with minimal or no noticeable impacts on downstream river flow conditions.
Releases from Glen Canyon Dam can also fluctuate beyond scheduled releases when called upon to respond to unscheduled power outages or power system emergencies. Depending on the severity of the system emergency, the response from Glen Canyon Dam can be significant, within the full range of the operating capacity of the power plant for as long as is necessary to maintain balance in the transmission system. Glen Canyon Dam currently maintains 27 MW (approximately 800 cfs) of generation capacity in reserve in order to respond to a system emergency even when generation rates are already high. System emergencies occur fairly infrequently and typically require small responses from Glen Canyon Dam. However, these responses can have a noticeable impact on the river downstream of Glen Canyon Dam.
INFLOW FORECASTS AND MODEL PROJECTIONS
The forecast for water year 2018 unregulated inflow to Lake Powell, issued on December 1, 2017, by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, projects that the most probable (median) unregulated inflow volume next year will be 7.64 maf (71% of average). There is significant uncertainty regarding next season’s snow pack development and resulting runoff into Lake Powell. The forecast ranges from a minimum probable of 7.0 maf (65%) to a maximum probable of 17.5 maf (162%). There is a 10% chance that inflows could be higher than the current maximum probable forecast and a 10% chance that inflows could be lower than the minimum probable forecast.
Based on the current forecast, the December 24-Month Study projects Lake Powell elevation will end water year 2018 near 3,614 feet with approximately 13.2 maf in storage (54% capacity). Note that projections of elevation and storage for water year 2018 have significant uncertainty at this point in the season. Projections of elevation and storage using the minimum and maximum probable inflow forecast are 3,612 feet (12.9 maf, 53% capacity) and 3,654 feet (17.7 maf, 73% capacity), respectively. Under these scenarios, there is a 10 percent chance that inflows will be higher, resulting in higher elevation and storage, and 10 percent chance that inflows will be lower, resulting in lower elevation and storage. The annual release volume from Lake Powell during water year 2018 is projected to be 9.0 maf under the minimum and most probable inflow scenarios and 13.56 maf under the maximum probable inflow scenario. There is a chance that inflows could be higher or lower, potentially resulting in releases greater than 13.56 maf or as low as 8.23 maf in water year 2018.
UPPER COLORADO RIVER BASIN HYDROLOGY
The Upper Colorado River Basin regularly experiences significant year to year hydrologic variability. During the 18-year period 2000 to 2017, however, the unregulated inflow to Lake Powell, which is a good measure of hydrologic conditions in the Colorado River Basin, was above average in only 4 out of the past 18 years. The period 2000-2017 is the lowest 18-year period since the closure of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, with an average unregulated inflow of 8.76 maf, or 81% of the 30-year average (1981-2010). (For comparison, the 1981-2010 total water year average is 10.83 maf.) The unregulated inflow during the 2000-2017 period has ranged from a low of 2.64 maf (24% of average) in water year 2002 to a high of 15.97 maf (147% of average) in water year 2011. In water year 2017 unregulated inflow volume to Lake Powell was 11.9 maf (110% of average), the fourth year to be above average. Under the current most probable forecast, the total water year 2018 unregulated inflow to Lake Powell is projected to be 7.64 maf (71% of average).
At the beginning of water year 2018, total system storage in the Colorado River Basin was 32.9 maf (55% of 59.6 maf total system capacity). This is an increase of 2.7 maf over the total storage at the beginning of water year 2017 when total system storage was 30.2 maf (51%). Since the beginning of water year 2000, total Colorado Basin storage has experienced year to year increases and decreases in response to wet and dry hydrology, ranging from a high of 94% of capacity at the beginning of 2000 to a low of 50% of capacity at the beginning of water year 2005. One wet year can significantly increase total system reservoir storage, just as persistent dry years can draw down the system storage. Based on current inflow forecasts, the current projected end of water year total Colorado Basin reservoir storage for water year 2018 is approximately 30.7 maf (52% of total system capacity). The actual end of water year 2018 system storage may vary from this projection, primarily due to uncertainty regarding this season’s runoff and reservoir inflow. Based on the October minimum and maximum probable inflow forecasts and modeling, the range of end of water year 2018 total system capacity is approximately 30.06 maf (50%) to 35.47 maf (59%), respectively.