For striped bass on Lake Powell, follow the boils and then the ravens

Wayne Gustaveson showed up for work as a fisheries biologist on Lake Powell a year after striped bass were first stocked in the reservoir. He says he “grew up” with that fishery in the sprawling canyon-filled reservoir straddling the Utah-Arizona border, both as a manager and an angler.

“This lake is incredible,” he said. “It’s the most exciting fishing you can do on freshwater, on beautiful blue water under red rocks.”

Gustaveson is a fisheries biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, but he’s probably better known as the man behind Wayne’s Words, the most recent form of a website that has for 14 years served as a repository of knowledge for Lake Powell anglers — especially those seeking striped bass.

The website is part of Gustaveson’s years-long management effort to promote striper fishing and keep the population in check. After the species was stocked in 1974 to 1979, they took to Lake Powell better than anybody expected. They reproduced well and there were suddenly more striped bass than the lake could feed. When a plan to put more forage fish in the lake didn’t fly, Gustaveson recruited anglers to take more stripers out.

“We have 3 million people visit here each year, so I said, ‘Well, we’ll send one fish home with each guy and that will reduce the population dramatically.”

He posted striper-spotting fishing reports in boathouses and service stations and, starting in 2000, on a state-run website. When personnel changes kept him from posting reports in a timely manner, he launched his own site over a weekend.

A small, open-water boil signals hungry striped bass on Lake Powell. (Credit: Wayne Gustaveson)

A small, open-water boil like this one signals hungry striped bass on Lake Powell. (Credit: Wayne Gustaveson)

Visitors to the site this time of year (Gustaveson’s favorite) will find reports on where the lake is boiling. That happens when a school of stripers crowds a school of shad toward the surface and kicks off a splash-filled feeding frenzy visible from a mile away.

Small boils called “slurps” start in June and July and grow throughout August and September. If it’s a good year, it will continue into October. This is a good year, Gustaveson said.

When you see a boil, you’ve got one to five minutes to get there before it ends, he said. Once you’re there, throw any surface or shallow-running lure or spoon. It’s a not a matter of if you’ll get hit, but how many times before one hooks up.

“Sometimes your surface lure will get knocked up in the air like a volleyball about five times before somebody eats it,” he said.

That's a lot of fish, but Gustaveson says it's possible to catch 20 to 40 fish in a single morning. (Credit: Deb Mathis)

That’s a lot of fish, but Gustaveson says it’s possible to catch 20 to 40 fish in a single morning. (Credit: Deb Mathis)

Though the boils are quick — especially when the lake is up around 75 to 80 degrees — Gustaveson said he’s also used up every lure in the boat on four-hour boils. The fish drop down after the boil, but will continue to take jigged spoons.

As the season progresses, the shad move out of the main channel and into the lake’s sandstone-lined branching canyons. The stripers follow to the very end, sometimes boiling shad clear out of the water and onto the shore, where a different sort of predator awaits.

“Driving down the shoreline of Lake Powell, if you see 14 ravens and one coyote sitting on the beach, say ‘I should fish right here.'”

Gustaveson says fish biologists that don't fish are missing out on a chance to learn more about the fish they manage. (Credit: Wayne Gustaveson)

Gustaveson says fish biologists that don’t fish are missing out on a chance to learn more about the fish they manage. (Credit: Wayne Gustaveson)


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