Lees Ferry and the Colorado River have remained open to the public throughout the COVID-19 epidemic. Currently, entry is free; however the Lees Ferry NPS campground is closed. Lees Ferry Anglers and Cliff Dwellers Lodge and Restaurant are open for business.
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!
The spring-summer season at Lees Ferry is in full swing. We’re sure the pandemic has nothing to do with it, but it’s been quite a different weather pattern than a normal April-May – it’s much warmer and drier than years past. For reasons we don’t understand, the trout were late to move into the shallows to feed on the midge pupae; most of early May the trout remained in the deeper water. Thankfully, the past couple of weeks that’s been changing. Fish are really starting to move back into the shallower water and into the riffles. This makes the wade fishing much more productive. It is mostly about the midges and the hatches are prolific and sustained. This good wading and midge activity should continue through June. When July rolls around, the higher water will arrive, and we’ll switch to drifting from the boats. July is not only cicada time, but the higher water stirs up the larger food items and the heavy nymphing with scuds and worms becomes very productive.
Current water conditions are good for both wading and drifting. A dry dropper rig with a bead head midge or a double tiny nymph rig works well either wading or drifting. Streamer fishing has been very productive as well using large streamers. The waterflows on the weekends is low and steady due to “bug flows” (see below) making for perfect wading conditions both upriver and in the walk-in.
The overall condition of the fish is superb, and we are seeing fish of all sizes from little guys to BIG fish and everything in between. This past year, we saw more BIG fish in the river than any time in the last few decades. We did not catch many of them since they were in water deeper than one can effectively fly fish, but they are here. Perhaps this will be the year that more of these large fish (22- to 30-inches) move into shallower water to feed.
The flow of nutrients from Lake Powell that I was predicting has arrived and the river is chock-full of algae. Last spring, Lake Powell rose more than 50 feet and the rivers flowing into Powell stirred up a lot of nutrient-rich sediment in the lake which, over time, is transported to the dam and then into the river. This nutrient-rich water will translate into explosive growth of algae and food for aquatic insects. A tailwater is only as healthy as the lake that feeds it and Lake Powell is in great shape for this year. Current snow-pack for the Lake Powell drainage went from over 100% of normal to currently 67% of normal which means that we will not get a large runoff into Lake Powell as we had hoped.
The river temperatures have returned to normal after being elevated last summer and fall. This was also a result of the huge volume of water that entered Lake Powell last spring. We saw river temperatures approach 60 degrees this fall; currently the river temperatures have cooled back to 48 degrees and I predict that the river will maintain this temperature and peak this summer-fall into the low 50s.
There was no HFE (artificial flood) this winter which is good news for Glen Canyon and the trout fishery. In order to conduct one of these experimental flows, sediment input is required from the Paria River. Last year was extremely dry and there was very little sediment input.
Lees Ferry Anglers has embarked on a new service. We will be “back-hauling” kayaks, canoes, and other suitable craft, 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, so 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!
Implemented at Glen Canyon Dam May 1 – Aug. 31, 2019 is happening again for 2020.
Bug Flows consist of steady weekend releases from Glen Canyon Dam and normal fluctuating releases during weekdays. The steady weekend flows are expected to 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 would decrease 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 (Gila cypha) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), an important sportfish, 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
Cliff Dwellers Lodge has been proudly 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 rating: 5
Current flows make this area highly wadeable and offers access to lots of good water. Weekday and weekend flows are both low enough to wade and are especially good with the steady low water on Saturdays and Sundays due to the bug flows. All the reports we have been getting from regular visitors to the walk-in have been good. The fishing has recently picked up as the fish are moving into the shallower water to feast on the prolific midge hatches. All the regular tactics are working; olive bead head woolly buggers fished on a sink tip line have been especially effective.
Spin Fishing rating: 5 to 6
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 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!
Last Updated: January 16 2020
The unregulated inflow volume to Lake Powell during December was 353 thousand acre-feet (kaf) (97 percent of average). The release volume from Glen Canyon Dam in December was 700 kaf. The end of December elevation and storage of Lake Powell were 3,609 ft (91 feet from full pool) and 12.60 maf (52 percent of full capacity), respectively.
The operating tier for water year 2020 (September 2019 through October 2020) was established in August 2019 as the Upper Elevation Balancing Tier, consistent with Section 6.B of the Interim Guidelines. Under this Tier the initial annual water year release volume is 8.23 maf, and if the April 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, Lake Powell operations will shift to balancing releases for the remainder of water year 2020. If the April 2020 24-Month Study projects the end of water year elevation to be above the 2020 Equalization elevation of 3,657 feet Lake Powell operations will shift to Equalization releases for the remainder of water year 2020. Reclamation will schedule operations at Glen Canyon Dam to achieve as practicably as possible the appropriate total annual release volume by September 30, 2020.
In January, the release volume will be approximately 760 kaf, with fluctuations anticipated between about 7,740 cfs in the nighttime to about 14,580 cfs in the daytime, and consistent with the Glen Canyon Dam, Record of Decision (dated December 2016). The anticipated release volume for February is 675 kaf with daily fluctuations between approximately 8,300 cfs and 14,370 cfs. The expected release for March is 700 kaf with daily fluctuations between approximately 7,635 cfs and 13,935 cfs.
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 1,200 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 currently maintains 28 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.
The forecast for water year 2020 unregulated inflow to Lake Powell, issued on January 6, 2020, by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, projects that the most probable (median) unregulated inflow volume this year will be 8.94 maf (82 percent of average). There is significant uncertainty regarding this 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 January forecast ranges from a minimum probable of 6.4 maf (59 percent of average) to a maximum probable of 12.82 maf (118 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, the January 24-Month Study projects Lake Powell elevation will end water year 2020 near 3,619.35 feet with approximately 13.69 maf in storage (56 percent of capacity). Note that projections of elevation and storage for water year 2020 have significant uncertainty at this point in the season. Projections of end of water year 2020 elevation and storage using the minimum and maximum probable inflow forecast from January 2020 are 3,598.83 feet (11.64 maf, 48 percent of capacity) and 3,649.60 feet (17.17 maf, 71 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 2020 is projected to be 8.23 maf under the January most, minimum and maximum probable inflow scenarios.
Upper Colorado River Basin regularly experiences significant year to year hydrologic variability. During the 20-year period 2000 to 2019, 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 2000-2019 is the lowest 20-year period since the closure of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, with an average unregulated inflow of 8.76 maf, or 81 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 2000-2019 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 2020 unregulated inflow to Lake Powell is projected to be 8.94 maf (82 percent of average).
At the beginning of water year 2020, total system storage in the Colorado River Basin was 31.64 maf (53 percent of 59.6 maf total system capacity). This is an increase of 3.64 maf over the total storage at the beginning of water year 2019 when total system storage was 28 maf (47 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 53 percent of capacity at the beginning of water year 2020. Based on current inflow forecasts, the current projected end of water year total Colorado Basin reservoir storage for water year 2020 is approximately 31.13 maf (52 percent of total system capacity). The actual end of water year 2020 system storage may vary from this projection, primarily due to uncertainty regarding this season’s runoff and reservoir inflow.