Sometimes a disappointment leads to something better. I believe that is what happened on last week's fishing trip.
My old fishing buddy and co-worker Jim Buxton and I were supposed to have made this trip in early October, but the government shutdown prevented it. That was disappointment number one. Disappointment number two was having to reschedule the trip right after a cold front which likely meant that smallmouth bass, our fish of choice, would be slow. I told Jim before we left that smallmouth would likely be tough, and that our best chance of catching decent numbers of fish would be targeting stripers, likely in the back end of a canyon. Jim said that was okay with him, so that was our plan when we left Phoenix Tuesday morning.
As it turned out we really made the right call. Bass fishing, as we predicted, was extremely slow; however we were able to locate and catch a good number of stripers. In fact, had we come in October as expected we would most likely have targeted smallmouth; and I doubt we would have caught nearly as many fish then as we did targeting stripers this past week. In this case our disappointment led to something better.
Although it had been some years since I'd targeted stripers, I remembered consistently locating good numbers of them in the past in early November in the back of Gunsight, so that is where we went Wednesday morning. After a chilly ride, it did not take long until we were seeing striper schools on the graph. We chummed a few anchovies and dropped our lines, and soon we started hooking up. What followed was one of the most incredible fishing mornings I've ever had on Lake Powell. From about 9:00 a.m. until we stopped fishing around 2:00 we caught 61 stripers, one smallmouth and one channel cat. Most of these fish came in a couple of one-hour spurts in which one or the other and sometimes both of us were constantly hooked up. Things slowed down around 10:15 but picked up again at 11:00 and continued furiously until 12:30. We managed a few fish after 12:30, and the bite totally shut down by around 1:30.
Buoyed by our success, we decided to run back to Gunsight Thursday to see if we could duplicate the pattern. We found the bite a lot slower and lighter, however we still managed to take a good number of fish. Around 10:30 we started seeing random surface splashes in the bay. We started throwing surface lures and were rewarded with seven or eight topwater fish - a real highlight of our day. Our second day total was 37 stripers and one smallmouth - not as good as Wednesday but still an excellent day.
Most of the fish we caught were between 12 and 15 inches and in good shape. The few bigger fish taken were skinny and not fit to fillet. Fortunately we did not catch too many of those.
We were fishing in the little bay in front of the forks in the back of Gunsight. Except for the surface fish, we caught most of our stripers between 18 and 21 feet. Those surface fish really smacked our lures, but the anchovy bite was very light. Sometimes we would feel a slight bump, sometimes just a bit of a vibration and sometimes just sort of a weightless sensation. What I think helped us was we using as our main line Berkeley Fireline which has virtually no stretch and is extremely sensitive. We were using short fluorocarbon leaders with the Fireline. The other thing that I believed helped us was we were using a drop shot setup with the weight 12 to 15 inches below the hook. I believe having the hook above the weight helped us to detect strikes we never would have felt had we been using a Carolina rig or a jig head. Our hook of choice was a #2 Yamamoto drop shot hook which seemed to work very well. The best topwater lure for us was a Spit 'N Image. It enjoyed some popularity some years ago, but I haven't heard much about it in recent years. It's the easiest lure I've found for the"walking the dog" technique - far easier than, say, a Spook - and it has some wicked hooks that really grab a fish on the strike. I've found it to be a very good lure on Powell for both bass and stripers when they are busting shad.
Although we didn't fish any other side canyons besides Gunsight, I believe this pattern can likely be duplicated in the backs of most canyons right now. The key is get back into those areas and graph. Once fish are located, drop some chum and get the lines down.
On Friday we were both a bit tired and decided to stay in the Wahweap area. We first tried for smallmouth on the reefs above Anchovy Point but only managed a few. We then decided to see if there were still any stripers near the dam. On Tuesday as we crossed the bridge I noticed a couple of boats along the booms and thought it might we worth a try. We did manage to find some active fish just up from the dam along the northwest wall suspended over a 27-foot bottom. The bite was even lighter than the previous days, but we still managed to land 16 stripers to go along with seven smallmouth and two sunfish.
Our three-day total was 114 stripers, nine smallmouths, two sunfish and one catfish - 126 fish total. I guess this wasn't so disappointing after all.
This year marks the 30th anniversary that Jim and I have been fishing together. We started back in 1983 when we both lived in Flagstaff and have enjoyed many memorable trips over the years since. That's one of the reasons why fishing is such a great sport.