Anglers angle for million-dollar fish

    Rocky Mountain News
    April 25, 2001

    I am trying to imagine what my chances, or yours, are of catching a single million-dollar fish among millions of lesser fish at Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona. We probably stand a better chance of getting struck by lightning in the shower or being attacked by wild turkeys.

    Of course, several years ago a friend of mine was beaned by an uncomfortably large stone that launched itself from a cliff high above Lake Powell on a perfectly calm day while he fished. What are the chances of that happening? If you see him out there next month, angling for Powell's million-dollar striped bass, he will be wearing a climber's helmet, certain that Lake Powell owes him a change of luck.

    For the second year, Lake Powell Resorts and Marinas will be host to a fishing contest in May with more than $1 million in cash and other prizes for the incredibly lucky anglers who catch any of 25 specially tagged striped bass. The fish lottery starts May 1.

    One of the stripers will be worth $1 million to the angler who catches it. The other 24 tagged stripers can be redeemed for a bass boat or paid vacations to Alaska and other places.

    The contest aims to whip up some fishing pressure against striped bass, which have overpopulated the lake. Lake Powell Resorts and Marinas won't complain if the contest also whips up some tourist dollars. No one caught last year's $1 million striper, but three anglers did catch tagged stripers worth paid vacations.

    Never mind catching the million-dollar fish yourself. Statistically, the chance that anyone will catch it is about the same as the chance of the Internal Revenue Service saying it caught a mistake and wants to refund $1 million to every taxpayer.

    Consider some of the odds: The targeted striped bass will be swimming somewhere in a desert canyon reservoir nearly 200 miles long (only Lake Mead is larger in the United States), under more than 161,000 surface acres. It could be out in open water or up one of 96 major side canyons. If it is feeding somewhere near Lake Powell's 1,960 miles of shoreline, you'll have it made; that's only slightly longer than the U.S. Pacific Coast, not counting Alaska and Hawaii.

    Fortunately, Powell's stripers are spawning and behaving somewhat predictably, which should eliminate much searching for stripers in general. Wayne Gustaveson, Lake Powell biologist for the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources, says surface water temperatures are ranging from 57 to 65 degrees. That range also precipitates smallmouth and largemouth bass spawning.

    When stripers are in a spawning mood, they are attracted to current, particularly Powell's dam outflow and power plant intake. Some anglers fishing anchovy baits 40 feet deep from boats near the dam last week
    reported catching 30 fish a trip.

    Up-canyon, the stripers have been schooling in the inflowing currents of the Colorado and San Juan rivers. Gustaveson recommends trolling along the mud lines.

    Always eager to share information that might help fishermen trim the abundance of stripers, he also offers the following tips for anchovy bait fishermen when stripers are selective in heavily fished areas: Use light line or less visible line, Gustaveson says. Line thinner than 8-pound test seems to catch more fish. Use a hook small enough that it can be completely hidden in a small chunk of anchovy; more fish are caught on small baits than large ones.

    Gustaveson urges anglers to keep their limit of six smallmouth bass, as well as all stripers they catch. He says 83 percent of smallmouths caught are released, which has resulted in too many bass; smallmouths are beginning to stunt.

    For contest details, or (800) 945-5253.

    If you go, watch for the guy wearing the helmet. Lake Powell owes him a big one.

(Contact Ed Dentry of the Rocky Mountain News at






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