Perfect weather pretty much sums up current conditions at Lees Ferry. Fall has arrived and unlike last year, we have no government shutdown or dirty water exiting Lake Powell to contend with. Current water flows are near perfect for fishing the Ferry; the flows are starting out the morning at 7500-cfs and then slowly rising though out the day to a max of 13,000-cfs, then dropping through the early morning hours back to 7,500-cfs. The fishing has been good most days with all the regular flies coming into play with worms working well as the water rises. The midge hatches are happening but not with the normal intensity or duration. I can only guess that this has something to do with the water temperature being warmer than normal. These warmer temperatures have occurred a couple of times in years past when Lake Powell is low and receives a large runoff. Current river temperatures are running about 56 to 57 degrees which is about 7 to 10 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year. Optimal temperatures for rainbow trout are 55 to 60 degrees so we are well within normal trout temperatures so this is not a problem. The river temperatures should return to normal when Lake Powell “turns over,” which usually occurs in early December. One benefit to the warmer water is that you’ll actually see some of our guides and customers wet wading (no waders) which is especially nice in the warmer weather!
Streamer fishing, most days, has been great as the river rises and peaks. The best flies have been olive bead-head wolly buggers. The best all-around line is the 25-ft sink tip like the Teeny 200. These lines are best cast from an anchored boat, perpendicular (90 degrees) from the boat and allowed to swing in the current. The retrieve that our fish like is a very slow and smooth strip of about 6-in…a fast or jerky strip is not nearly as effective as a slow measured strip. Be sure to strip the fly all the way to the boat as it is not uncommon to have a fish take the fly at the last moment. Also be sure to continue stripping if you have a take but miss the fish, the fish will often return for a second or third attempt to eat the fly. T
he Bureau of Meteorology has revised downward its prediction of an El Nino weather event in 2014-15 to about a 50% chance. Strong El Ninos almost always bring big snow packs to the Rockies which could fill both Lake Powell and Lake Mead. A strong El Nino still could happen, but chances are diminishing. The cicada hatch came and went without much of a buzz. On a scale of 1-to-10, I would rate the hatch as a 3 based on historical standards. It started on schedule and fizzled out quickly. I really can’t explain why some years are better than others … it just happens that way. There were a lot of fish caught on cicada patterns, but for the most part the hatch is over for this year. Be sure to stop by the shop to see the flies that are currently working. The flies change on a daily basis and every day the LFA guides let everyone at the shop know the top producing flies and how to use them.
By Dean Windham The weather has been really nice but this weekend a front has moved through and we are expecting cooler and more normal temps for this time of the year. The flows are 8,000-cfs to 13,000-cfs which make fishing here at the Ferry very good. Weekdays has seen very light fishing pressure in the walk in . Most days I have been the only fisherman. Fishing has been good as the water rises with a lull during mid-day and then a great evening bite. The boulder field area has been fishing well using nymphs rigs in the morning and dry droppers in the afternoon. On Sunday, streamer fishing has been doing well with the low flows. The area by the large boulder is doing well with nymph rigs and streamers. This area is best fished from the shore out using long drifts. Morning and late afternoon have been the best time to pick up good numbers of fish. The confluence of the Paria River and the Colorado has been unfishable due to the monsoon rains and heavy silt. It is very dangerous to wade in this area. Never wade in any water that you cannot see the bottom. Above the confluence the fishing has been very good using Nymph rigs. The flies that are working best are zebra midges, san juan worms, scuds and streamers. I would rate the walk in at a 5 this week.
Spin fishing has been really good in the afternoon and evening as the water is at its peak flow. The area above and just below the boat dock at Lees Ferry is the best place to spin fish. The technique for spin fishing here is more like jig fishing or streamer fishing. Kastmasters, Panther Martins, and Mepps spinners are best. Quarter oz. is the perfect weight for getting the lure down to the fish. Gold is the preferred color here. Silver still works just not as effective as gold and black. I would rate the spin fishing at the walk in at a 5 this week.
Lees Ferry Techniques: I was recently asked by an angler how to target larger fish at Lees Ferry. If you want to see larger fish, just drift your boat over the deeper and faster runs and look down towards the bottom … you’ll see plenty of bruisers. However, catching these fish with flies is challenging due not only the depth of the water, but the velocity of the current. I’ve developed a technique that works very well for catching larger fish at Lees Ferry; a technique that works especially well in the higher water flows in July-August and December and January . To get down to these fish, you’ll need a long leader. I’m using a leader that is 15-feet from my strike indicator to my split shot, then 18-inches to a San Juan worm, then another 18-inches to a large ginger scud. The amount of spilt shot depends, but I use a BB as a minimum and go as heavy as an AB … if you are not hitting bottom on occasion, you are not going to catch fish. You’ll be drifting out of the boat. Set up your drift so that your bow is facing upstream, then cast 90 degrees towards the shore – add slack to the line so that the drift is natural and drag free. Try to keep the indicators off to the side of the boat for the maximum amount of time without recasting or dragging the fly. Casting a rig like this with a normal 9-foot rod is very challenging. I suggest a rod of 10- to 11-feet. I use 11-foot Sage Switch rods which are perfect for these heavy rigs. Fish in shallower water will spook from the boat, so longer casts are better. In deeper water, you can catch fish when the flies are closer to the boat. Good luck and try this to catch bigger fish at Lees Ferry this month.
Fish Behavior 101. Some thoughts on why fish eat and why they don’t. “Any man who claims to understand fish is a fool.” T G
Fish are weird; there is just no getting around it. One day they are jumping in the boat, the next, they are nowhere to be found. Some people say that this is what keeps bringing us back to the stream, that this uncertainty we call “fishing” makes us more competitive. After all these years I do understand a little about fish and I would like to share some ideas on why fish are happy one day and not the next. First and foremost the fish have to be present in the area of water that you are fishing. Fish are not always going to be in the same spot. This is especially true at Lees Ferry where you have water that fluctuates on a daily and monthly basis. A spot that is stacked with fish at one flow may be a “fish desert” at another level. FOOD and SHELTER: the two things that determine the location of fish. If there is no food present there is no reason for a fish to be in a specific location. However, if you find the highest concentration of food, you will always find the highest concentration of fish, assuming that this concentration of food has been present long enough for the fish to locate it. At Lees Ferry we have two different major feeding plots (each with hundreds of sub-plots). The first is PROLIFIC MIDGE HATCHES. Midges hatch throughout the year; however, by far the largest hatches occur in the spring. The lifecycle of a midge is very similar to a butterfly; the adult midge’s sole purpose is to make babies. In a nut shell, this is how it works…the adult midge mates with other midges in a swarm, then the female lands on the water to lay the fertilized eggs, she stays on the water for a second or so then flies off the water and then lands again to lay more eggs (this is a survival mechanism which helps protect her from being eaten by a fish). The eggs slowly sink and eventually hatch into a larvae (think of a tiny caterpillar) the midge lives as a larvae for a long time, living in the algae and mud. Then though some miracle of nature the midge larvae get a call to pupate in mass, (think of a butterfly chrysalis). As they pupate the midge, encased in a hard protective husk, slowly floats to the surface. The size and color of the midge pupae varies with the specie and with 50 different species of midges inhabiting Lees Ferry we have a large variety of sizes and colors of pupae. When the pupae reaches the surface, the midge hatches through the husk and the adult midge crawls out, dries his wings and flies off to repeat the entire process. Fish do feed on adult midges but mostly on the carcasses of dead midges that accumulate in back-eddies. The importance of a midge as a food source occurs in the emerging stage. When midges hatch they often do so in mass numbers and for long durations. The fish know this is happening and move into the riffles to feed on the emerging midges. WHY DO FISH MOVE INTO RIFFLES TO FEED ON MIDGES? Midge pupae are small, anywhere from a size #18 to #30. It takes a lot of midges to sustain a Lees Ferry trout; however, if you were to measure the midges as a percentage of total biomass, they far exceed all other food sources combined. Riffles are areas of river where the water transitions from very shallow to slowly deeper water. Do not confuse “points” with riffles, they look similar, however, the water on “points” transitions from shallow to deep in a short area. Fish move into the shallowest part of the riffles to feed on the CONCENTRATED MIDGES. Imagine if you had a thousand midges in a column of water that was 3-feet deep versus 6-inches deep, the midges are going to be much more concentrated in the 6-inch deep water. This is why we often tell people that they are wading in areas that they should be fishing. The other kicker to midge hatches is water volume: as the water flow increase the midge hatches decrease. This is something that I do not understand but I know it to be true. So the best midge fishing is always in lower water flows. If I were to put a number to it I would say the best midge fishing is in water less than 14,000-cfs. This is why in the spring, (March, April, and May) some of our best fishing is on the weekends when the water is at the lowest level of the week. We often see good midge hatches in September and October, but not the mass swarms that happen in the spring. The other situation that makes fish eat at Lees Ferry is HIGH WATER FLOWS. Anytime the water flows are high (above 16,000-cfs) food is dislodged, moved around, and transported by the current. Here we are talking about WORMS and SCUDS. High water flows normally occur 4 months each year, the 2 hottest months, July and August, and the 2 coldest months, December and January…this is all about electrical demand and high demand equals high flows. There are exceptions and high flows can occur at other times if there is a high lake level in Lake Powell and high runoff into the lake. This happened 1983-86 and a couple of other times in the 90’s. The best fishing periods at Lees Ferry has always been preceded by periods of higher than normal water flows. In high water the fish will concentrate in the rifles and the tail out of the riffles to feed on the drifting food. In addition to the riffles, feeding fish can be found though longs runs between riffles. This is the time of year that the most productive fishing is usually from a drifting boat as opposed to wading. WEATHER. Any change in the weather can shut off fish feeding. I cannot explain why this happens, however I guarantee you that it is true. I was in Placentia, Belize last year fishing with noted guide Eworth Gartbutt. A cold front was pushing through (it dropped to a frigid 78 degrees) and Eworth said “Terry, you realize that permit fishing and a north wind do not go together.” I thought to myself how “fishing is fishing” no matter where you are in the world. Impending weather change make fish at Lees Ferry not want to eat. It might look like a normal day, the sun may be shining and not a breeze is blowing but a storm is on the way and the fish know it and for whatever reason they decide to take the day off from eating. I saw it this week when I was fishing with a customer that I have fished with for 2 decades and the weather that day was a classic cold front, it was windy, cold, and spitting rain. My client is a good stick and at the end of the day he had landed 2 fish and his companion had landed 3 fish and they were all smaller fish. The next day started cold but warmed quickly due to the cloudless day and bright sunshine. They landed more than 30-fish including a 19-in football and several fish that were in the 18-in range. If they would have only fished the one day that might have concluded that the fishing at Lees Ferry sucks or that we are “blowing smoke” or overrating how good the fishing is…that actually happened with one trip last month when a couple of guys had a similar experience fishing with me one day with a cold front pushing through. So poor weather makes for poor fishing most of the time, however, there are exceptions and I have seen some great fishing on days the wind is howling and the snow is flying. Often times the impending or approaching weather is worse on fishing that the bad weather itself. I can’t explain this but I can tell you that more often than not, a change in the weather will affect fishing in a negative way.
September 2014 Glen Canyon Dam / Lake Powell Current Status The unregulated inflow volume to Lake Powell in August was 517 thousand acre-feet (kaf) (103% of average). The release volume from Glen Canyon Dam in August was 801 kaf. The end of August elevation and storage of Lake Powell were 3,605.8 feet (94 feet from full pool) and 12.31 million acre-feet (maf) (51% of full capacity), respectively. The reservoir elevation reached it seasonal peak of 3,609.7 feet on July 7, 2014 and is now declining. The reservoir elevation is expected to continue to decline until spring 2015. The April to July unregulated inflow volume to Lake Powell was 6,923 kaf (97% of average). Current Operations The operating tier for water year 2014 is the Mid-Elevation Release Tier with an annual release volume of 7.48 maf, as established in August 2013 and pursuant to the Interim Guidelines, Section 6.C.1. Reclamation will schedule operations at Glen Canyon Dam to achieve as practicably as possible a 7.48 maf annual release by September 30, 2014. In September, the release volume will be approximately 600 kaf, with fluctuations between about 6,500 cfs in the nighttime to about 12,500 cfs in the daytime and consistent with the Glen Canyon Operating Criteria (Federal Register, Volume 62, No. 41, March 3, 1997). In October, the release volume will likely be approximately 600 kaf with daily fluctuations between about 7,000 cfs and 13,000 cfs. The anticipated release volume for November is about 600 kaf with fluctuations between approximately 7,000 cfs and 13,000 cfs. In addition to daily scheduled fluctuations for power generation, the instantaneous releases from Glen Canyon Dam may also fluctuate to provide 40 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 typically maintains 41MW (approximately 1,200 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. September 2014 Inflow Forecasts and Model Projections The forecast for water year 2014 unregulated inflow to Lake Powell, issued on September 1, 2014, by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, projects that the most probable (median) unregulated inflow volume will be 10.27 maf (95% of average based on the period 1981-2010). The April to July unregulated inflow volume was 6,923 kaf (97% of average). Based on the current forecast, the September 24-Month study projects Lake Powell elevation will end the water year near 3,605 feet with approximately 12.19 maf in storage (50% capacity). Note that projections of elevation and storage have uncertainty, primarily due to uncertainty regarding the inflow to Lake Powell. The annual release volume from Lake Powell during water year 2014 is projected to be 7.48 maf under all inflow scenarios. Consistent with Section 6.C.1 of the Interim Guidelines, the Lake Powell operational tier for water year 2014 is the Mid-Elevation Release Tier with an annual release volume of 7.48 maf. This was determined in the August 2013 24-Month Study and documented in the 2014 Annual Operating Plan signed by Secretary Jewell in December 2013. The August 2014 24-Month study projected the January 1, 2015 Lake Powell elevation will be below the 2015 Equalization Elevation feet and above elevation 3,575 feet. Therefore, consistent with Section 6.B of the Interim Guidelines, Lake Powell’s operations in water year 2015 will be governed by the Upper Elevation Balancing Tier, with an initial water year release volume of 8.23 maf and the potential for an April adjustment to equalization or balancing releases in April 2015. An April adjustment to balancing releases is projected to occur and Lake Powell is currently projected to release 9.0 maf in water year 2015. This determination will be documented in the 2015 AOP, which is currently in the final stages of development. Upper Colorado River Basin Hydrology The Upper Colorado River Basin regularly experiences significant year to year hydrologic variability. During the 14-year period 2000 to 2013, 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 3 out of the past 14 years. The period 2000-2013 is the lowest 14-year period since the closure of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, with an average unregulated inflow of 8.25 maf, or 76% 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 2000-2013 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. Under the current most probable forecast, total water year 2014 unregulated inflows to Lake Powell is projected to be 10.27 maf (95% of average). At the beginning of water year 2014, total system storage in the Colorado River Basin was 29.9 maf (50% of 59.6 maf total system capacity). This is about 4 maf less than the total storage at the beginning of water year 2013 which began at 34.0 maf (57% of capacity). Since the beginning of water year 2000, total Colorado Basin storage has experienced year to year September 2014 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 2014. 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 2014 total Colorado Basin reservoir storage is approximately 29.8 maf (50% of capacity). The actual end of water year storage may vary from this projection, primarily due to uncertainty regarding inflow to Lake Powell. Updated September 10, 2014 Katrina Grantz