August water flows are going to be great for fishing Lees Ferry. This is always one of the least crowded times of the year and for the first time this season we have guides available on short notice. If you are looking for what is arguably some of the best rainbow trout fishing in the country, head this way.
By all appearances our good-to-great fishing should continue that way for the foreseeable future. We’re seeing slightly warmer temperatures in the river which has happened a couple of times in years past when Lake Powell is low and receives a large runoff. Current river temperatures are running about 55 degrees which is about 7 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year. Optimal temperatures for rainbow trout are 55 to 60 degrees; we are well within normal trout temperatures so this is perfect. The river temperatures should return to normal when Lake Powell “turns over,” which usually occurs in early December. One probable by-product of the warmer temperatures has been prolific midge hatches that occur every day. These hatches are keeping the fish eating in various parts of the river and offer some great midge sight-casting. Another 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!
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 the summer months. 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.
Streamer fishing has been slower than normal and I can only guess this is due to the slightly lower flows and the slow ramping rates from the dam. Normally in the summer, the water rises very quickly and is kept high all day. This summer the water has been slowly rising throughout the day and the peak flow has not occurred until the early evening hours. This has certainly been good for wading and fishing overall.
The water flows from Glen Canyon dam have been lower this summer (and all year) than normal due to the low water conditions in Lake Powell. Lake Powell rose 35 feet this summer which brings some welcome runoff and nutrient load into the lake which will eventually make its way into the river.
The Bureau of Meteorology has revised downward its prediction of a strong El Nino weather event in 2014-15 from last month’s estimate of 70% to a current 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.
Fishing in the walk-in area has been very good and will soon be very, very good. In August, the flows are dropping to 8,000 cfs from 15,000 cfs. With these lower flows, the fishing can only get better.
Weekends have seen more fishing pressure than during the week days. Most weekdays when I fish there have only been one or two others on the river. With the higher flows, the afternoons have been difficult to wade, but streamer and cicada patterns have really been taking some larger fish
The upper boulder area has been really good for nymph fishing in the morning using a San Juan worm and midge. However, as the water rises it makes for some difficult wading. In the afternoon and on the low water day (Sunday), streamers have worked well in this area. Please keep in mind this is a boulder area and a wading staff is recommended.
The fast water at – and just above the big boulder – has been fishing well with midges, worms and cicadas in the afternoon. This fast water can hold some larger fish that can also be caught on streamers.
The area from the big boulder down has been fishing well for the last couple weeks. Most fish are being caught on the nymph rigs in the morning and dries in the afternoon. With the high flows, fish have been close to shore, so let your rig float to the end of the drift and then slowly strip it in. Fish have been caught on the retrieve in this area. The flies are the same as the rest of the walk-in area. San Juan worms with midges and cicada patterns are all working. In this area, you should not wade very far out as the fish are close. If the water is above your knees you are standing in the fish.
The area at the confluence of the Paria River has also been fishing well, especially in the morning. Midges have been working very well here; dries in the afternoon have been this ticket. However, use caution when wading in this area as the Paria has been running higher with the monsoon rains and there is lots of silt built up. This silt has lots of air and water, can act like quick sand and is very hard to get out. A wading staff is also needed in this area as well as a fishing partner for safety. It is best to park at the upper parking lot and walk down to the Paria than to park at the lower lot and wade across the Paria River.
Another area that is not really fly-fished enough is the Paria beach below the Paria riffle. This has a large back eddy with good numbers of fish. On the weekends it can be crowded, but on the week days you will have large areas to fish and practice long casts to rising fish. Dry droppers are what can pick up some nice fish here.
I would rate the walk-in area a 7 for fly-fishing this week.
Spin-fishing has improved greatly with the higher flows. The afternoon is the best time to spin-fish as the water is highest then. Gold Kastmasters and Panther Martins are the lure and color of choice. Spinners can be use throughout the walk-in and also in the Paria Beach area. These areas get crowded on weekends, so a week day trip is suggested.
The rating for spin-fishing the walk-in area is 5.5 for this week. To help understand why midges are so important to our fishing success it’s good to know more about the lifecycle of midges and their importance to the trout diet. The adult midges contribute very little to the trout diet. It is rare that you will see an adult trout rise to feed on an adult midge; the reason is that the amount of energy expended is not worth the food intake. The adult midges breed then release their eggs into the water (I’ve always wondered … just how big is a midge egg anyway?) The eggs sink and hatch into a tiny caterpillar (larvae) that lives on the bottom of the river for an extended period of time. At some point, the larva pupates and forms a chrysalis. The midge pupae will release in mass, and countless pupae will begin slowly drifting to the surface. This in turn flips the feeding switch for the trout and the fish will move into the shallow riffles where the pupae are concentrated by the shallow water. This is when the trout are feeding so heavily that they get careless and will eat your fly if it closely resemblance the midge pupae that they are feeding on.
The bigger the hatch the better the fishing; this is why the best fishing always occurs during big hatches and why the midge hatches are so important to the trout diet. The biggest midge hatches always occur in the lower water flows. During the lower flows, trout are not eating worms or scuds – these food items are not available; the only time that worms and scuds are available is during the high water flows when the higher velocity water moves the scuds and worms around. If there are no midge hatches in the lower flows, the fish will not feed and fishing will be slow.
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.
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
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