Smallmouth bass fishing remained outstanding the lower end of the lake last week. When I was up in late September I predicted the fishing would be at least as good if not better when I returned two weeks later, and that was definitely the case. There are many smallmouth up in shallow water right now, and they are hungry. As long as we don’t have a major early Pacific storm, I see this pattern holding up at least until the end of the month.
My partner on this trip once again was long-time friend John Conrad. John fished with me two weeks prior and was looking forward to another shot at those smallies, and anything else that might find the end of our lines. Wednesday’s (Oct. 5) fishing was a bit slow which I believe was due to post-front conditions. Still, fishing a rocky bay in the main channel, the mouth of Warm Creek and the double islands just beyond the Castle Rock Cut we managed 35 smallmouths, one largemouth, five stripers and four bluegills with three of those bluegill being very nice. Thursday morning we woke up to a plumbing leak at my Greenehaven mobile home which necessitated a visit from the plumber. That delayed our launching the boat until around 2 p.m. Still, in just a little over two hours of fishing, we took 15 smallmouths and one striper. We were fishing the ledges just above where Wahweap Bay meets the main channel. Friday, with the plumbing all fixed and nice weather predicted, we ran to my favorite fishing hole - Last Chance Bay. We fished three coves there taking 53 smallmouths, three largemouths, one striper and three more big bluegills - 60 total fish - making our three-day total 103 smallmouths, four largemouths, seven stripers and seven bluegills, a total of 121 fish of all species. I believe if we’d have gotten a full day on Thursday we would have conservatively added 30 to 40 to that total.
As mentioned at the top, we found most of the smallmouth in shallow water - 15 feet and less. We caught a few between 20 and 35 feet, mostly along a wall that I knew had some submerged ledges, but those fish were exceptions. There were so many fish in shallower water that it really didn’t pay to fish all that deep. As in our trip two weeks prior, we caught nearly all our fish off shore-related structure such as ledges and points. We had little success on offshore reefs. The best presentation was as slow as possible. Despite catching large numbers of fish, they did not seem overly aggressive. We had to put our baits right in front of the fish and leave them there. We had about an equal number of hits on the initial drop and while slowly dragging across the structure. As is our usual case, we caught nearly everything on drop shot rigs, however any slow soft plastic bait presentation such as jigs and tubes would have worked. I used a Yamamoto Shad Shaped Worm in the 901 color - watermelon and white laminate. John’s bait of choice was a Berkley Gulp minnow in a natural shad color. I don’t think the lure was all that important as any smaller soft plastic would have worked. We saw virtually no surface activity. I tried throwing topwater several times with nary a strike. Most of the fish we filleted had been feeding on crayfish which would explain the lack of surface activity. I did clean a couple that had shad in their stomachs, and I had one nine-inch bass spit out a bluegill that was much bigger than I would have thought a bass of that size could swallow. Most of the stripers we caught were small school fish that passed under our boat.
Just like the last trip we did not catch any really big smallmouth. Our biggest ones were around 16 inches and we caught quite a few of those. We also caught a lot between 13 and 15 inches and hordes of the 11 to 12-inch “eaters” which we enjoyed for dinner three nights. I don’t know what has happened to Lake Powell smallmouth over the past three years as they have on average fought much harder than in previous years. In fact, they have fought harder for their size than any smallmouths I have caught anywhere - and I have been privileged to fish some great smallmouth water in Arkansas, Missouri, Ontario and Maine. Most of these fish jump completely out of the water, sometimes multiple times. They dig deep and strip off line. They never give up. That’s what makes the smallmouth bass such a great gamefish and why I have pursued them so much over my fishing life. I consider them the perfect gamefish.
The biggest surprise of the trip were the bluegills. We have never caught bluegills of this size on Lake Powell. They reminded me of the monster bluegills that were in Lake Pleasant right after it filled behind the new dam in 1993 and 1994. They were the dark, copper-bellied bulls which are fun to catch and excellent eating. Every bluegill we caught was taken straight down at 25 to 35 feet. There is no doubt that if we’d replaced our larger bass hooks with smaller panfish type hooks and had used live worms instead of our soft plastic lures we would have taken quite a few of these fish. I learned from fishing Lake Pleasant and elsewhere that big bluegills spend most of their time in deep water, and fishing a smaller drop shot setup with live worms or crickets would take a lot of them.
The problem is I have a hard time bluegill fishing when the smallmouth fishing is so good, and smallmouth fishing is very good on Lake Powell right now. And it’s not necessary to travel many miles up lake to find good fishing. There is a lot of good fishing in Wahweap Bay and just beyond. It’s a great time to give it a try.