Lees Ferry Fishing Report April 14, 2021
As usual this time of year, Spring has arrived at Lees Ferry which means that midges are hatching. Also, as usual, the weather is warming, and our migratory birds are arriving, while the ducks are departing for cooler climates. The midge hatches have been getting stronger every day. This hatch is the catalyst that causes the trout to move into the shallower water and riffles to feed on the midge pupae. People are often amazed at what shallow waters trout will inhabit to feed on the emerging midges. It is really simple when you think about it; the shallow water concentrates the midges into the least space. This is also the time of year that the fish can get really picky on the size and color of midges, so sometimes it is just trial and error until one discovers the right fly. A rule of thumb is to go smaller in size if a specific fly is being ignored.
Current water flows are perfect for wading or drifting. Despite the fish starting to move into the riffles, most of the LFA guides are drifting from the boat and having great success doing so. The trout population is good, and the fish are all in terrific shape. I think that the fishing will be great through the spring and into the summer.
Water temperatures have been cold this year which is good for the trout and the food base. River temperatures are dependent on several factors including the amount of water that enters Lake Powell as runoff. Current snowpack conditions for the Lake Powell drainage do not look good, but there is always the chance that the snowpack could increase in late spring. The nutrient load in the river is good and algae are covering the entire bottom of the river, which translates into good habitat and nourishment for the aquatic insects that sustain the trout.
We are past due for a great cicada hatch … perhaps this will be the year. Forecast call for this to be a 14- or 17-year cycle for cicadas so this might boost this summer’s hatch.
There will be 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 to “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 boat, dedicated to this service, was 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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Spring is the best time of year to fish this area. The flows are perfect for wading and the increasing midge hatches get the fish feeding and moving into the shallower water. Try fishing the area above the big rock called the Boulder Field this is where the fish often concentrate to feed on subsurface midges. Try a dry dropper rig.
Spin fishing up-river is an effective way to fish the Ferry. Recent reports from anglers has been that they best fishing has been in the shade while areas of the river in the sun has not produced as well. 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 (1/4 oz), 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 rainbow trout 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!
o to 7,550 cfs beginning at 8:00 am on Saturday, March 20, o to 13,850 cfs beginning at 7:00 am on Sunday March 21, and o to approximately 20,150 cfs beginning at 7:00 am on Monday, March 22.
Hourly releases in March 2021 surrounding the apron repair and spring disturbance flow shall fluctuate from a low of approximately 8,589 cfs during the early morning hours to a high of 14,647 cfs during the afternoon and evening hours. Hydropower reserves, regulation and emergency criteria remain in effect. The anticipated release volume for April 2021 is 628,000 af. This will be confirmed with a subsequent notification toward the end of March. This notification supersedes all previously issued directives and is current until a new one is issued. All times identified in this directive are local time (Mountain Standard Time).