Alan, Bill and Jon fishing for catfish

Alan, Bill and Jon fishing for catfish in Lake Powell. 

Over the last 10 years I have traveled to Minnesota on several occasions to meet up with my brother, Doug. The focus of those trips was fishing the lakes of the North Woods. On the last two trips Jon Horn and Alan Reed joined us. Jon and Alan love to fish, so the trips worked out really well.

During our last Minnesota trip two years ago, we suggested that Doug join us out west for a fishing trip. Since Doug is quite familiar with warm-water fish species, we thought Lake Powell would be a great venue for a fishing trip.

Last week we traveled to Lake Powell, climbed on a rented houseboat at Bullfrog Marina, and piloted it up-lake to Moqui Canyon. Our plan was to beach the houseboat on a sandy shore of the lake, use it as a basecamp, then travel out each day on a smaller powerboat to fish the nooks and crannies of Lake Powell.

As it turned out the learning curve for beaching a houseboat in a narrow, twisty canyon on a windy day was rather steep. After a tense few minutes of near panic we parked the houseboat somewhat perpendicular to the shore.

Once our pulse rates returned to normal. We organized our gear and assembled our fishing equipment. We had watched numerous YouTube videos of Lake Powell fishing techniques and kept a close eye on the fishing reports for the lake. Those videos make it look so easy. We fired up the power boat, loaded to the gills with a host of sure-fire lures and plastic bait, confident we would return with a stringer of bass for supper.

Canned chili was the main course that night for dinner. Doug and Alan each landed a bass, but only one was a keeper. Jon and I were skunked. We quickly surmised we were in way over our heads regarding where to find Lake Powell fish.

Luckily, Alan had read that the lake held channel catfish. He had brought along some chicken livers that catfish find irresistible. After dark Jon and Alan tossed their fishing lines off the back deck of the houseboat, and patiently waited. By bedtime they had caught 5 nice catfish. We ate fish tacos the next evening for dinner. That same evening, we fished for catfish but didn’t have the same luck. Jon did land a large catfish that provided us each with a small portion for supper the next day.

We fished hard in Forgotten Canyon on day three. My partners caught a few smallies and bluegills. In the afternoon we motored up-canyon, beached the boat and hiked to Defiance House, a thirteenth century Anasazi site. The site is known for its rock paintings of human figures holding shields and clubs in a fighting position.

Our last full day on the lake produced a few more fish, but it was still slow. I hooked two smallies and a bluegill. My partners landed a few fish, as well. We had fished the lake around Moqui Canyon, and certainly didn’t unlock its fishing secrets. Apparently, other folks had the same experience — as we passed other boats, we asked what they were catching. Shoulder shrugs were most of the responses.

Fortunately, Lake Powell has more to offer than fishing. The 150-mile long lake is a scenic wonder. The presence of water in a desert offers a stark contrast. The red rock canyon walls were mesmerizing. The night sky was filled with a zillion stars, a gibbous moon and a few meteorites. We watched schools of shad boil along the lake shallows, spotted several beavers, and heard owls hooting in the night. We were off the grid in canyon country with like-minded friends and that suited us just fine.

Bill Harris has traveled the back country of the Colorado Plateau since 1976 and is author of “Bicycling the Uncompahgre Plateau.”

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