Dam Operations

River Report

Everything you need to know from our guides to your lines. Get a heads up of how the mighty Colorado will treat you before you head out.

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December 1 2020

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

2 Weekend

1 = Sleep late and fish wherever

10 = Very crowded, get up early

Up-River Summary

Lees Ferry Fishing Report 12/1/20


Hard to believe, but Lees Ferry Anglers is celebrating its 30th anniversary. We certainly appreciate – and thank – our loyal customers who have made this all possible!

Lees Ferry and the Colorado River including the NPS campground have remained open throughout the COVID-19 epidemic. Lees Ferry Anglers and Cliff Dwellers Lodge and Restaurant are open for business with your safety and safety of our staff our #1 priority. We have all experienced a year unlike any other. We have continued fishing throughout the pandemic … we are hoping that 2020 just passes and that the New Year brings us all a renewed hope for a life more normal.

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. Conditions of the river have been favorable. Our river water temperatures remained more normal (48-53 degrees) due to the level of Lake Powell and last year’s runoff. Due to a lack of monsoons and fall moisture, there was not enough sediment to conduct a HFE (artificial flood) this year and last year. We don’t like these fall floods and consider them harmful to the aquatic resource; they wash out all the food and aquatic vegetation at a time of year when there is no sunlight entering the canyon to regenerate photosynthesis and regrowth of vegetation and organisms. Spring should be the time to conduct these experiments; it would be the natural time for these events to occur and could provide benefits to multiple resources in the canyon. Fall floods are not natural and make little sense other than it is a “convenient” time.

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 fish concentrate in riffles is to feed on midges. I 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 been 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 with 90% of the fish eating the scud. The trick is to get the flies (worms and scuds) to the right depth with a long leader (10- to 12-feet 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 BBs. 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 as or even better than now. The higher water flows are best suited for drifting … there are not many places to wade during high water.

Brown Trout Incentivized Harvest:

You may have read or heard about the Lees Ferry brown trout controversy.  Here’s my perspective … while hopefully not creating any controversy of my own.

Brown trout have a long history in the Grand Canyon where 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; then, about five years ago, they began showing up in greater numbers in electro-fishing samples.  The National Park Service feared that the increasing brown trout population at Lees Ferry might move downriver and impact the native fish populations in the Grand Canyon, 80 miles downriver, below the Little Colorado River.

The National Park Service determined 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 river from Lees Ferry to Glen Canyon Dam and removing any brown trout they shocked. Since electro-fishing doesn’t discriminate between species of fish, you can only imagine what this action might do to the rainbow trout population and the fishery!

Along with many others, I saw absolutely no good coming from this. The guides and angling groups were quick and vocal 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 river. The concept of the incentivized harvest is to pay anglers to harvest brown trout and reduce the population, not eliminate it. For more details on how the program works, go here: https://www.nps.gov/glca/planyourvisit/brown-trout-harvest.htm

This experiment has been through a long process of development with 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, 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 both rainbow and brown trout, some stocked, some naturally reproducing.  We’ve been 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 U.S. 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. Regardless of the status, NPS will continue to endeavor to protect native fish in the Grand Canyon. So far, the National Park Service has not provided any scientific proof that the increasing brown trout population at Lees Ferry has 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 most concern for native fish.

Questions abound about the need for, and the potential success of, the angler incentivized harvest. I think the most important consideration is that this program is going to proceed regardless of how one feels about it; and that an 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 with 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.

Kayak Horseshoe Bend:

Lees Ferry Anglers’ “back-hauling” of kayaks and other suitable self-propelled watercraft up-river continues to grow.  If you are unfamiliar with Kayak Horseshoe Bend, passengers and gear are carried 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 exclusively for transportation, so we will coordinate with your schedule and operate 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!

In Case you missed this from previous reports:

Bug Flows

Implemented at Glen Canyon Dam May 1 – Aug. 31, 2019 happened again in 2020.

Bug Flows consist of steady weekend releases from Glen Canyon Dam and normal fluctuating releases during weekdays. The steady weekend flows provide favorable conditions for aquatic insects to lay eggs along the Colorado River downstream of Glen Canyon Dam, while the minimum flows on weekdays are designed to be similar to flows on the weekends. This flow regime decreases the amount of stage change in the river on the weekends, thus preventing the insect eggs that are laid along the river margins from drying out. Technical experts at the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center (GCMRC) and Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) have coordinated the design of the recommended experiment to optimize the benefits for insects throughout the Canyon while minimizing negative impacts to hydropower.

This experiment is expected to have positive benefits to the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in Glen, Marble, and Grand Canyons. The purpose of the experimental flow is to test the effectiveness of Bug Flows for improving insect production and to increase the availability of food for desired fish species including the endangered humpback chub and rainbow trout as well as terrestrial wildlife like birds and bats.

For each month of the experimental period (May through Aug.), weekend low, steady releases will be maintained at 750 cfs greater than the weekday low for that month. Normal fluctuating releases will be maintained during the weekdays. The LTEMP maximum ramp rates (4,000 cfs per hour when increasing and 2,500 cfs per hour when ramping down) will be adhered to throughout the experiment, as will the maximum daily fluctuations (9 times the monthly release volume in May; and 10 times the monthly release volume in June through August). The daily fluctuating range is not to exceed 8,000 cfs. In addition, minimum releases of 5,000 cfs during the nighttime and 8,000 cfs during the daytime will be maintained.

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, all 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

With great pride, Cliff Dwellers Lodge has been 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. As for dining, we have some great blackboard specials planned along with our regular menu. Patio dining is available.

Walk-In Summary


Current flows make this area difficult to wade on weekdays and the water is going to get higher through February. All the reports we have been getting from regular visitors to the walk-in have been mixed. All the regular tactics are working; olive bead head woolly buggers fished on a sink tip line have been effective as well as heavy nymph rigs with scuds and worms.

Spin Fishing Summary.


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!

Dam Operations

Last Updated: November 10, 2020

The unregulated inflow volume to Lake Powell during October was 91 thousand acre-feet (kaf) (18 percent of average). The release volume from Glen Canyon Dam in October was 640 kaf. The end of October elevation and storage of Lake Powell were 3591.72 ft (108 feet from full pool) and 10.98 maf (45 percent of full capacity), respectively.

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 million acre-foot (maf) release from Lake Powell in water year 2021, the November 2020 24-Month Study projects the end of water year elevation at Lake Powell to be above 3,575 feet, and the end of water year elevation at Lake Mead to be below 1,075 feet. Therefore, in accordance with Section 6.B.4 of the Interim Guidelines, an April adjustment to balancing releases is projected to occur and the contents of Lake Powell and Lake Mead will be balanced by the end of the water year, but not more than 9.0 maf and not less than 8.23 maf shall be released from Lake Powell. Based on the most probable inflow forecast, this November 24-Month Study projects a balancing release of 8.234 maf in water year 2021.

In November, the release volume will be approximately 640 kaf, with fluctuations anticipated between about 7,021 cfs in the nighttime to about 12,781 cfs in the daytime, and consistent with the Glen Canyon Dam, Record of Decision (dated December 2016). The anticipated release volume for December is 720 kaf with daily fluctuations between approximately 8,027 cfs and 14,507 cfs. The expected release for January is 760 kaf.

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

Inflow Forecasts and Model Projections The forecast for water year 2020 unregulated inflow to Lake Powell, issued on November 1, 2021, by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, projects that the most probable (median) unregulated inflow volume this year will be 6.79 maf (63 percent of average). This is notably decreased from October when the unregulated inflow volume was projected to be 7.9 maf (73 percent of average).

There is significant uncertainty regarding next season’s snowpack development and resulting runoff into Lake Powell. Reclamation updates the minimum and maximum probable forecasts four times a year: January, April, August and October. The October forecast for water year 2021 ranges from a minimum probable of 5.17 maf (48 percent of average) to a maximum probable of 16 maf (148 percent of average). There is a 10 percent chance that inflows could be higher than the current maximum probable forecast and a 10 percent chance that inflows could be lower than the minimum probable forecast.

Based on the current forecast of 6.79 maf unregulated inflow, the November 24-Month Study projects Lake Powell elevation will end water year 2021 near 3,575.04 feet with approximately 9.5 maf in storage (39 percent 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 October 2020 are 3,563.36 feet (8.58 maf, 35 percent of capacity) and 3,649.33 feet (17 maf, 70 percent of 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 2021 is projected to be 8.234 maf under the November most probable scenario, and 8.23 maf under the October minimum and maximum probable inflow scenarios.

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 6.79 maf (63 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 26.12 maf (44 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.

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