Smallmouth bass fishing on Lake Powell turned into a real grind for longtime fishing partner John Conrad and I last week. This is not to say we didn’t catch fish - we did and quite a few of them - but we were never able to establish any one consistent pattern. We’d pick up a fish here and two fish there, but we were not able to find that one area that could produce a lot of smallmouths in a short time which is something we’ve grown to expect on Lake Powell in October. Part of it may have been other bass fishermen practicing for last weekend’s tournament as a number of them had fished or were fishing some of our favorite spots, however I believe most of it was the bass were just not in an aggressive mode in the areas we were fishing.
On Wednesday the 26th and Thursday the 27th we worked a number of my favorite spots in Last Chance Bay. On Friday we stayed in close and fished the double islands just through the Castle Rock Cut, the reefs along the mouth of Warm Creek, the rocky bay just up the main channel from Warm Creek and the steep structure just below the mouth of Navajo Canyon. On Wednesday we caught 26 smallmouths, two largemouths, one catfish and a walleye; on Thursday we took 32 smallmouths and three largemouths, while on Friday we caught 33 smallmouths, two largemouths and three sunfish and a striper.
We found three distinct patterns. In Last Chance Bay our best locations were small cuts with a trench running into them. We found the bass scattered along the sides of the trench mostly in the shadows of large boulders in five to 15 feet of water. We caught a few fish out on top of and at the ends of some long points, but this was not a consistent pattern. We took a few fish in the 20 to 25-foot range, but most of the fish caught were at 15 feet and above. Thinking this pattern would hold true in the far lower end, we began Friday by working those types of cuts around the double islands but with little success. We then went to the shelves and reefs at the mouth of Warm Creek and experienced far better action. In fact, this is where we caught our best fish of the day. We found most of them off the deep ends of the reefs and shelves from 15 to 25 feet - much deeper than what we found the previous days in Last Chance. Thinking we would duplicate this in the rocky bay up the channel, we were disappointed to discover very little activity there. About 1:30, at John’s suggestion, we moved down to the steep structure below Navajo where we took over 20 smallmouths in the last two and a half hours we fished. This was probably our most consistent action of the trip although the average size smallmouth was a bit smaller than in other locations. These fish generally ranged between 20 and 30 feet off the steeper structure. Unlike in Last Chance, the shallower cuts were not very productive.
The one thing that was consistent all three days was the fish we found were not willing to chase. We saw little surface activity. Our best presentation was putting a lure right in front of their nose and leaving it there. While I always catch some bass on the initial drop, I probably caught more after the drop on a very slow drag, almost a dead stick presentation, using a drop shot setup. The drop shot worked well because it allowed me to suspend my lure up off the bottom in one spot out away from the boat. Even in deeper water it was necessary to cast out away from the boat to get strikes. We had hardly any action directly under the boat - another unusual twist for October fishing. It paid to work all areas slowly and thoroughly. I also believe my tackle setup consisting of a sensitive graphite rod, no-stretch Berkley Fireline as my main line and a 15 to 20-foot fluorocarbon leader served me well. As mentioned earlier, most of the hits came on a very slow drag. That means the fish had a lot of time to look at our baits before striking. In this situation I believe line visibility was a big deal, and using a leader that the fish couldn’t see likely helped me. The bites, particularly Wednesday and Thursday, were very light so having a sensitive rod and a no-stretch line helped me feel strikes a lot of anglers would have missed. Often times all I felt was a tiny tap or just a little bit of extra weight on the end of the line. The exception to this was Friday below Navajo where the fish hit a lot harder and the weight on the end of the line felt a lot heavier.
Hook setting technique was also critical. I use a Yamamoto Split Shot hook which is a type of circle hook. When fishing circle hooks one does not use the hard jerk type hook set commonly used by bass anglers when fishing plastic worms and jigs. The proper technique with a circle hook is to simply start reeling while gently sweeping the rod into fighting position. For years as soon as I felt the fish I just started reeling, however over the past few seasons I found myself losing a lot of fish. I was having a particularly frustrating time this spring with my uncle fishing a small private lake in Texas. I was getting strike after strike using a weightless Yamamoto Senko, but I kept losing those largemouths one right after another. Convinced my hook was big enough for the lure, I decided to wait a bit before reeling down on the fish. When I detected a strike I dropped my rod, slowly took out the slack before really reeling down on the fish. This change worked as I lost very few fish the rest of the trip. I started using this technique with my drop shot setup with much improved results as well.
While it’s possible we were not finding the really active fish and fishing different locations with different presentations might have been more effective, I really do believe most of the bass last week were in a sluggish mood. The bass we cleaned were feeding mainly on crayfish with just a few having shad or sunfish in their stomachs. While I certainly believe any bass in Lake Powell will take a shad or sunfish if it swims too close, I just don’t believe the fish last week were in an active baitfish chasing mode. It takes a lot less effort for a smallmouth to catch a crayfish than a shad, and if there are a lot of crayfish available that’s going to be the forage of choice. That’s been a true statement about smallmouths every where I’ve ever fished for them. For that reason a grub or tube hopped along the bottom might have been a better presentation than what we were doing, however both John and I have such great confidence in drop shot fishing that I really don’t believe we would have done much better doing anything else. John, in particular, is an excellent jig fisherman, and I’m sure he would have gone to it if he felt it would have been more effective.
The weather, while wonderful, may have been a bit too good. There was virtually no wind the entire trip. Wednesday was bright and sunny while both Thursday and Friday were overcast. The fishing was better on the overcast days which I believe was no coincidence. I also believe a bit of a breeze would have been beneficial, especially when fishing the shallower areas. John caught the biggest smallmouth of the trip, a 2 3/4-pounder that was 19 inches. We caught a number of fish in the 1 3/4 to two-pound class, especially Thursday. All the smallies we caught fought extremely hard with many of them leaping completely out of the water more than once. Whatever Wayne’s been feeding these fish must be working because they certainly are strong.
This was my final Lake Powell fishing trip for the season. When motoring back late Friday afternoon John and I were enjoying exceptionally smoother water coming across Warm Creek Bay. As we approached Castle Rock the sun peaked out behind the overcast casting a beautiful light on Castle Rock causing it to glimmer against the steel gray October sky. The fall shadows provided a stark contrast to the bright rays illuminating the rock. Although I caught a lot of nice fish this year, I think this sight will be my lasting memory of the season. I don’t know how long God will allow me to continue to fish Lake Powell, but I’m so very grateful for the privilege of being able to enjoy this magnificent lake for as much as I have over the last 21 plus years. I hope these reports have helped others enjoy it as well.