Dam Operations

River Report

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October 25 2021

Fishing Report

Upriver Report

Walk-In Report

Spin Report

1 = Go Elsewhere

10 = Get Here Now!

Crowd Report

Upriver Crowd

1 Weekday

3 Weekend

Walk-In Crowd

1 Weekday

3 Weekend

1 = Sleep late and fish wherever

10 = Very crowded, get up early

Up-River Summary

Lees Ferry Fishing Report October 25, 2021

It’s the time of year when the shadows fill the canyon as the sun lays off to the south. The fish never seem to mind the lack of sunlight or the cooler air temps though. Our river water temperatures remained above normal (58 to 62 degrees) due to the low level of Lake Powell. The warmer temperatures have not appeared to change the trout condition or feeding behavior at all. The biggest change that the warmer than normal waters has brought has been the explosive growth of the pond weed along the edges of the river. We have seen this other times with warmer water releases and the weeds then die back with the arrival of winter and the lack of sunlight in the canyon but especially in December when Lake Powell turns over and river temperatures return to the normal high 40’s and low 50’s

The fish look great! The wade fishing has been OK but not great. I believe that this is attributable to the scud population increasing this last year due to not being disrupted by a High Flow Experiment. The main reason that fish concentrate in riffles is to feed on midges. I have to believe that given the choice of making a living off of eating scuds or midges, the fish are going to always choose scuds and the scud population is higher in the main river than in the higher velocity water that occurs in the riffles. This is the reason that heavy nymph fishing has extremely productive all summer and fall. Fishing a heavy nymph rig while drifting from the boat is producing some good numbers of fish. We have been using a worm and a scud and both flies have been productive. The trick is to get the flies (worms and scuds) to the right depth with a long leader (10 to 12-ft from indicator to split-shot) and a heavy shot that gets your flies to the bottom but does not hang up. Concentrate on areas with a fast current with the water depth no deeper than your leader length. I’m using a size AB lead shot or 2 BB’s. The best color of scud is ginger in a size #12 to #14 and a san juan worm in a natural or brown color. A long rod like a switch rod makes this style of fishing much easier. I do not remember the last time that I fished a bead head zebra midge.

Expect the current fishing conditions to continue through the winter and into the spring as we are scheduled for similar water releases for the next several months. December and January will be the exception with higher flows. These higher flows will move more of the larger food items (scuds and worms) around and the scud and worm fishing should be as good or even better than now. The higher water flows are best suited for drifting … there are not many places to wade during high water.

On a very positive note: This area returned to a more normal weather pattern this summer and fall with near normal rains. This follows 2 years of extreme drought where there was only 2 in of rain recorded at my house Jan 2018 through Jan 2020. So far this year we have had 4-in of rain.

There was no “bug flows” this summer, an experiment conducted over the past several summers attempting to boost the aquatic insect population in the Colorado River. Apparently, the cancelation is due the cost ($) for these flows. I find this incredibly sad and consider the bug flow experiments to be the single most important scientific study to have ever occurred here on the Colorado River. This experiment could single handedly have been a huge benefit to the fish and wildlife of the Colorado River corridor all the way through the Grand Canyon, by dramatically increasing the aquatic food resource in the Colorado River.  

 Brown Trout Incentivized Harvest:

You may have read or read about this through news articles and press releases. These have created quite the controversy and lots of misinformation regarding the need for this action. I’m going to try to explain it the best that I can from my perspective while not creating controversy of my own.

Brown trout have a long history in the Grand Canyon; they were originally stocked by the National Park Service in 1923. For comparison, rainbow trout were stocked at Lees Ferry in 1963 after the completion of Glen Canyon Dam. For many years, brown trout were a very rare sight at Lees Ferry, and then about five years ago, they started showing up in greater numbers in electro-fishing samples. This got the attention of the National Park Service which feared that the increasing brown trout population at Lees Ferry might begin to move downriver and impact the native fish populations in the Grand Canyon, 80 miles downriver, below the Little Colorado River.

The National Park Service decided that immediate action to control the brown trout population was required and announced their intention to begin brown trout removal by repeatedly electro-fishing the entire reach of the river from Lees Ferry to Glen Canyon Dam and removing any brown trout they shocked. You can only imagine what this action might do to the rainbow trout population and the fishery!  I and many others saw absolutely no good coming from this plan. The guides and angling groups were quick and loud in opposition to this proposal. To the credit of the National Park Service, they listened and came up with the incentivized harvest as an experimental program to replace (at least temporarily) the mass electro-fishing of the entire reach of the river. This experiment has been through a long process of development and has the support of many agencies and angling groups. I will be honest and say that my support of this program (and I believe many others as well) is based 100% on the fear that if this angler-incentivized harvest fails, then the next resort will be mechanical removal of brown trout by shocking the entire river repeatedly. It comes down to the lesser of two evils … killing brown trout through angling or mechanical removal. 

There are many people who would like the opportunity to catch a big brown trout at Lees Ferry. Some also think that the increasing brown trout population might actually improve the rainbow trout population, thereby reducing the population and allowing the rainbows to achieve greater size. While researching tailwaters across North America for my book, The 50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish, I found that the majority of tailwaters on this continent contain a healthy and mixed population of rainbow trout and brown trout, some stocked, some naturally reproducing. Some people have asked if it is not a good thing that the brown trout have chosen to move upriver and live further away from the native fish populations downriver. Many have also mentioned that fact that the native fish populations have flourished in the last couple of decades to the point that the US Fish and Wildlife Service, after scientific review, has proposed that the Humpback Chub be delisted from the Endangered Species List and be reclassified as Threatened. So far, the National Park Service has not provided any scientific proof that the increasing brown trout population at Lees Ferry is or will impact native fish downstream. Also, there is no plan to deal with brown trout in the 80 mile stretch below Lees Ferry to the Little Colorado which is the area of concern for native fish.

Questions abound about the need for and the potential success of the angler incentivized harvest. I think that the most important consideration is that this program is going to proceed regardless of how one feels about it and that incentivized harvest is exponentially more favorable than the specter of mechanical removal of brown trout. I urge everyone to keep an open mind and not disparage any person who wants to participate in this program and harvest brown trout regardless of their rationale.

In the meantime, we can all hope that this program succeeds to the goals established by the National Park Service, and that over time this program is successful; OR proof is provided that there is no need to continue harvesting browns by any means at Lees Ferry. The perfect scenario would call for the Lees Ferry trout fishery to continue to flourish and the native fish populations throughout the Colorado River and Grand Canyon to continue the trend to increase and thrive.

Last year, amidst the pandemic, Lees Ferry Anglers embarked on a new service Kayak Horseshoe Bend, we “back-haul” kayaks and other suitable self-propelled watercraft, passengers and gear up-river from Lees Ferry to wherever you want to go, even just below the dam. Our new boats, dedicated to this service, were designed for carrying personal watercraft and up to 6 passengers with loads of gear. In the past, you had to schedule your departure around the operations of the guide or service and often had to launch late in the day. This new boat is dedicated to transportation only, and we will coordinate with your schedule and be operating throughout the day with multiple departure times. You can do a day float, a partial day float, or camp along the river on a multiple day float. Call the shop to schedule your trip. We also rent kayaks.

Quagga mussels have become well established in Lake Powell and we are now seeing them in the river below the dam. So far, there has not been a major infestation and there is some thought by experts that they will not become very well established in the river due to the current. Be aware and remember to dry waders and boots before using them in other bodies of water. Also, private boats should drain all water from the boat and live-wells as soon as you exit the river. We all need to do our part to limit the transport of this and all invasive species.

For details on Lake Powell conditions and snowpack, see: http://lakepowell.water-data.com/

For a real-time graphic view of water releases and ramp rates visit: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/az/nwis/uv?09380000

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Walk-In Summary

Walk-in rating: 6

According to a regular who fishes the walk-in this area has been consistently good fishing with decent numbers of fish hooked and landed. The best time of day is to be there early so that you catch the rising water. Once the water peaks in the afternoon the fishing slows down. Streamers on a sinking line have been working much better than nymph rigs or midges.

Spin Fishing Summary.

 Note: The pond weed that has flourished in the river due to warmer water flows has made the spin fishing especially challenging the past few months.

Spin fishing up-river is an effective way to fish the Ferry. The best recent fishing has been to drift glo-bugs from a boat, making sure they are bouncing along the bottom. Casting Panther Martins, Castmasters, Z-Rays (if you can find them), and Mepps spinners toward the bank is a great method in the slower, deeper water. In the shallower water (3- to 15-feet) try drifting plastic worms. Rig with ¼- ounce of lead, swivel, a couple feet of tippet and bounce the lead so your lure stays just off the bottom.

Spin fishing the walk-in is best in the deeper water due to all the rocks. From the top of the boulder field all the way up to half a mile past the boat landing is good. Gold ¼ ounce Castmasters and ¼ ounce Panther Martins are the best. Using the quarter ounce lures you can really cast them out for some distance and cover a lot of water. Small, sinking Rapalas in both rainbow trout color and original have also been working well. Cast out, let them sink for a few seconds then retrieve them at a steady speed (and maybe even give it a little twitch here and there) to trigger a strike. When spin fishing, you need light line (4 pound test); you can cast further and the fish cannot see it. Remember to set your drag light!


Dam Operations

Last Updated: June 14, 2021

The unregulated inflow volume to Lake Powell during May was 543 thousand acre-feet (kaf) (23% of average). The release volume from Glen Canyon Dam in April was 624 kaf. The end of May elevation and storage of Lake Powell were 3560.57 feet (139 feet from full pool) and 8.37 million acre-feet (maf) (34% of live capacity), respectively.

Water year 2021 observed unregulated inflows from October 2020 through June 13, 2021 are 215 kaf greater than the observed unregulated inflows at this point in water year 2002, the driest year on record.

To view the most current reservoir elevation projections, click on: Lake Powell Elevation Projections.
To view the most current monthly release projections, click on: Lake Powell Release Projections.
To view the 2021 progession of snowpack above Lake Powell, click on Lake Powell Snow Chart.
To view the current inflow forecast relative to past inflows, click on Lake Powell Inflow Forecast.


Current Operations

The operating tier for water year 2021 (September 2020 through October 2021) was established in August 2020 as the Upper Elevation Balancing Tier, consistent with Section 6.B of the Interim Guidelines. Consistent with Section 6.B of the Interim Guidelines, Lake Powell’s operations in water year 2021 will be governed by the Upper Elevation Balancing Tier. With an 8.23 maf release from Lake Powell in water year 2021, the April 2021 24-Month Study projected the end of water year elevation at Lake Powell to be below 3,575 feet. Therefore, in accordance with Section 6.B.1 of the Interim Guidelines, Lake Powell will continue to release 8.23 maf through the remainder of the water year 2021.

In June the release volume will be approximately 651 kaf, with fluctuations anticipated between about 7,359 cubic feet per second (cfs) in the nighttime to about 13,869 cfs in the daytime, and consistent with the Glen Canyon Dam, Record of Decision (dated December 2016). The anticipated release volume for July 2021 is 766,000 af.

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 1,100 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 30 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 2021 unregulated inflow to Lake Powell, issued on June 3, 2021, by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, projects that the most probable (median) unregulated inflow volume this year will be 3.37 maf (31% of average).

In addition to the May 2021 24-Month Study based on the Most Probable inflow scenario, and in accordance with the (Drought Response Operations Agreement “DROA”), Reclamation has conducted model runs in May to determine a possible range of reservoir elevations under Probable Minimum and Probable Maximum inflow scenarios. Normally, outside of the DROA, Probable Minimum and Probable Maximum model runs are only conducted in January, April, August, and October. The Probable Minimum inflow scenario reflects a dry hydrologic condition which statistically would be exceeded 90% of the time. The Most Probable inflow scenario reflects a median hydrologic condition which statistically would be exceeded 50% of the time. The Probable Maximum inflow scenario reflects a wet hydrologic condition which statistically would be exceeded 10% of the time. There is approximately an 80% probability that a future elevation will fall inside the range of the minimum and maximum inflow scenarios. Additionally, there are possible inflow scenarios that would results in reservoir elevations falling outside the ranges indicated in these reports.

The Upper Division States and the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC) enhanced monitoring and coordination involves a monthly meeting communicating monthly model results from the minimum, most, and maximum projected operations. Please note that 90% of the suite of results are expected to be above the minimum probable projections and there is currently a 10% expectation to be below elevation 3525 feet under the minimum probable scenario.

The minimum probable 24-Month Study will continue showing operations under the Lower Elevation Balancing Tier (LEBT) that is pursuant to the 2007 Record of Decision on the Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead (Interim Guidelines).

The DROA coordination will continue until either (i) the minimum probable projected elevation remains above 3,525 feet for 24 months or (ii) the process moves to the next step when the most probable projected elevation indicates Powell elevations below 3,525 feet and a Drought Response Operations Plan is developed.

The June forecast for water year 2021 ranges from a minimum probable of 2.83 maf (26% of average) to a maximum probable of 4.46 maf (41% of average). 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 of 3.37 maf unregulated inflow, the June 24-Month Study projects Lake Powell elevation will end water year 2021 near 3,542.42 feet with approximately 7.06 maf in storage (29% of capacity). Note that projections of elevation and storage for water year 2021 have significant uncertainty at this point in the season. Projections of end of water year 2021 elevation and storage using the minimum and maximum probable inflow forecast from and results from the June DROA 2021 model runs are 3,538.92 feet (6.82 maf, 28% of capacity) and 3,552.55 feet (7.77 maf, 32% of capacity), respectively. Under these scenarios, there is a 10% chance that inflows will be higher, resulting in higher elevation and storage, and 10% chance that inflows will be lower, resulting in lower elevation and storage. The annual release volume from Lake Powell during water year 2021 will be 8.23 maf as determined under Section 6.B.1 of the Interim Guidelines.

Upper Colorado River Basin Hydrology

Upper Colorado River Basin regularly experiences significant year to year hydrologic variability. During the 21-year period 2000 to 2020, 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 19 years. The period 2000-2020 is the lowest 21-year period since the closure of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, with an average unregulated inflow of 8.62 maf, or 80 percent 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 2000-2020 period has ranged from a low of 2.64 maf (24 percent of average) in water year 2002 to a high of 15.97 maf (147 percent of average) in water year 2011. In water year 2018 unregulated inflow volume to Lake Powell was 4.6 maf (43 percent of average), the third driest year on record above 2002 and 1977. Under the current most probable forecast, the total water year 2021 unregulated inflow to Lake Powell is projected to be 3.37 maf (31 percent of average).

At the beginning of water year 2021, total system storage in the Colorado River Basin was 28.88 maf (48 percent of 59.6 maf total system capacity). This is a decrease of 2.77 maf over the total storage at the beginning of water year 2020 when total system storage was 31.64 maf (53 percent 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 percent of capacity at the beginning of 2000 to the now current level of 48 percent of capacity at the beginning of water year 2021. Based on current inflow forecasts, the current projected end of water year total Colorado Basin reservoir storage for water year 2021 is approximately 22.82 maf (38 percent of total system capacity). The actual end of water year 2021 system storage may vary from this projection, primarily due to uncertainty regarding this season’s runoff and reservoir inflow.