One of my Dad’s favorite places to fish was Lake Powell. My brother Rick and I used to accompany him on long weekends to that beautiful lake. Glen Keith from Dad’s office would also come join us. You might recall, he had a problem with night vision. When the sun would start going down, he would have to use a flash light to get around. Something about the rods and cones not right.
I remember when they first started filling it up after they completed the Glenn Canyon Dam in 1963. We would put our boat in at the Wahweap Marina and cruise for miles to find a place where we could actually get out and explore or just for shore leave if you know what I mean. Its sheer canyon wall rose 1000 feet straight up. To find a place to camp on the lake was a challenge in itself.
These early trips to Lake Powell were fishing bonanzas. We all were required to have not only an Arizona fishing license, but also a Utah license because much of Lake Powell was located in Utah. The big advantage for us was with two licenses we were each catch two limits of trout and bass. We were mostly fishing for trout and but there was an abundance of both fishes. Trout were found in the deep, colder water while the bass preferred the warmer, shallower waters.
We enjoyed setting up camp in the brand new camping area near the Wahweap Marina. There wasn’t much shade yet, but the newly planted trees gave promise for future camping. But the sparking clean restrooms were most appreciated.
Our favorite fishing spot was up near the Glenn Canyon Dam. We would spend much of the day trolling at the base of the sheer canyon walls until we came to the floatation barrier that keeps boaters away from the dam’s face which could be a dangerous place at times. At that point we would drift in these deeper waters and allow our lures and baits sink lower until we catch something. Then we would try to find the same level again.
On this trip we had one of Dad’s company’s electronic thermometers us plus Keith’s fish locator that he made from a “do it yourself” electrical kit by “Heathkit” It was a mail order house that put together kits for TVs Stereos, short wave radios, etc. Keith was into electrical gadgets. He rigged up the electronic thermometer with 100 feet of cable attached to its probe so that it could give us the water temperature readings down deep. The theory was to find the location and depth of the fish with the fish locator and then drop the temperature probe cable that had black electrical tape markers every five feet. If there were fish at 50 feet by reading the water temperature, we could tell if it was trout or bass. Then would know what bait to use. The theory worked great and we caught a lot of fish with this system.
Keith liked fishing for trout with waterdogs which was what we normally like to use for bass. These little critters are actually called salamanders and are like a fat, slippery lizard without scales. Keith’s theory was to put an 8 inch long waterdog on his hook and catch a killer, 36 inch trout. That never did work out but pulling in that lunker bait may have been almost as much as a thrill of pulling in a small trout. Sometimes bigger is not better. Anyway, we did catch a lot of fish.
Our most successful fishing was at night. After we had our evening dinner back at the campsite, we would clean up the dishes and tidy up the Wagner camp kitchen. This was dad’s shop made unit that he should have patented. Years later Coleman came out with one similar to his, but a little smaller.
For me, night fishing wasn’t that exciting. It was a great social event exchanging fishing and hunting stories, but the technology we had with us and the fact the Keith had night blindness didn’t work out too well for me.
We knew the trout were schooling about thirty five feet down. The trick was to get the bait to that level and then wait for a strike. Everyone in the boat had open face spin casting reels except Keith. He had an Ambassador 5000 that was more like the old hand me down, old fashion level wind reels Rick & I got from dad when he moved up to spinning reels. Our rigs were so old that they even had solid metal poles while all the new rods were made of fiberglass. But that is another story for another time.
With our Coleman lantern hanging above us on a Geri-rigged aluminum pole, we baited our lines and started to fish. To get to the proper depth of thirty five feet, we all back our spinning reels off one turn and then measured that length of line. Dad and Ricks reels would put out twelve inches of line for every slow, full hand crank backwards. My favorite, miniature ultra light rig was only nine inches per backward crank turn. That would allow Dad and Rick get to the proper depth before I could get there. The greater problem for me was Keith’s Ambassador 5000 with a heavy weight on the end of the line would peel out two feet of line with every completed pass of the line leveler from left to right and back to left. So while we are counting our slow, backward turns, Keith would mutter •two, four, six, eight”, and continue to thirty-four feet and the one more pass to thirty-five feet. At thirty-five feet, he would stop for a minute while we all were still counting our reels down. Then he would hook a fish and say “Cliff, I think I got one!” Dad would then say “Boys, pull in your lines so Keith can land his fish!” We would all get out lines in and since I was sitting closest to Keith, I manned the net and helped Keith get his fish in the boat. Dad and Rick would start backing off their reels while I unhooked Keith’s fish and re-baited his line. Dad and Rick had theirs lines heading back down when I would drop Keith’s baited hook in the water. If they were lucky, they could be down near the fish before Keith started back down. After a brief search, I would find Keith’s fish and put it on the stringer and then put it overboard, back into the water to keep the fish alive and fresh. By the time I got my line back into the water, I would hear Keith say •thirty-two, thirty-four and Thirty-five.” After a moment of silence, he would say “Cliff, I think I got one!” Dad would say “Boys, pull in your lines ……”. You know the rest. Well, I didn’t get much fishing time. Then to add insult to injury, Dad said •Larry, since you’re not catching many fish, I think we will let Keith catch some of your limit.” Well, that’s the way it went the rest of our night fishing experience. Maybe that’s why I enjoy spin and fly fishing from creek side or lake shorelines. If I’m going to be in a watercraft, I would like to be in a canoe. But Keith was Dad’s good friend and I was glade he could enjoy night fishing even with his lack of night vision.
Getting back to camp after hours of night fishing was a problem for all of us. We had a bright spotlight rigged up on the bow of the boat that could detach for handheld use with a coiled power cord. It worked great most of the time in open waters but where we were would be traveling through the steep canyon walls we couldn’t set the passage way because of the seer cliffs looked solid in all directions. It would be like going through a maze and not being able to see an opening to the left or to the right until you were standing right in front of it. It made for slow going, but once your break out into Wahweap Bay getting back to the landing was easy. The bad news was that Rick and I would have to clean all the fish, most of which we didn’t catch. Well, it’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Rick and I were getting quite good at it.
The next trip to Lake Powell, it was just Dad, Rick and I. This time instead of camping near the marina, we loaded up the boat with all the camping gear and headed through the narrows of Navajo Canyon into Gunsight Bay. It got its name from two peaks on a butte that resembled a ·v· type gun sight. This butte was called; you guessed it, Gunsight Butte. We found a sandy beach area near the mouth of a cove just across the bay from Gunsight Butte. With this great landmark, it was easy to find our way back to camp even late at night. Each morning we would start out fishing this cove right after breakfast from shore. After an hour or so we would head out, trolling our way to several likely spots to catch some bass, but trout could also be in these waters when the water temperatures are right. Half of the day would be spent trolling and half spent drifting or anchored for still fishing. We would head for shore a couple times during the day to use the natural facilities and do a little shore fishing. I enjoyed shore fishing the best and this also gave you a change to do a little exploring.
Late that afternoon we headed back to camp. The bad news was that we didn’t catch any fish. The good news was that Rick and I didn’t have to clean any fish! That night Dad was going to cook up a giant can of Dinty Moore Stew complete with buttered bread and a cold glass of milk. Dad would also serve up some pear halves with Oreo cookies for desert. Tasted pretty darn good, especially out in the fresh air of the wilderness camp. Dad would make a little camp coffee for himself and hot chocolate for Rick and me.
After dinner was over and the camp cleaned up, Dad positioned his favorite canvas directors’ chair in the back of the boat that was tied up to a small bush on the shore with the bow line. He and Rick were rigged up to catch some cat fish using stinky shrimp, chicken livers, dough balls or a combination of them all. Rick was fishing off the point that formed the mouth of the cove. I was lying in my sleeping bag, as I was not much in for night fishing. I heard Rick getting all excited about something. It turned out as he was heading to the point with bare feet; he stepped over a small stick on the sandy path. He thought it looked odd or saw some movement. So he turned around to take a closer look with the lantern shinning directly on it. When you carry a Coleman lantern around, there isn’t much light shinning under it due to the shadow cast by it fuel reservoir. As Rick bent over for a closer look he shouted that it was a snake, a rattle snake. In fact it was a side winder. It slithered off the trail leaving an “s” pattern in the sandy surface of the path. When the sand got deeper on the side of the trail it stopped and then with a wiggle and a shake. submerged out of sight. The only thing you could see was its little eyes on top of what looks like horns sticking out the top of its head. This is how it lays in wait for its prey to come by and then it strikes. It does not rattle before it strikes like many other rattlesnakes do. Rick rocked it to sleep so he wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. I didn’t forget about it though.
I went back to sleep. but this time with my sleeping bag scrunched over my head to close the top opening. The wind was picking up and whipping the branches of the scrub bushes around. One was rubbing the back of the tent making a soothing sound. It may have been more like a distraction taking away the thoughts of the sidewinder.
It seemed like I just dozed off when I heard dad yell out my name. I quickly got up and looked out of the tent. There was Dad in the back of the boat trying to start the small trolling motor. The large motor had the battery run down and the backup battery was not connected yet. Rick was sitting on the bow of the boat with the anchor rope in his hand. He evidently had snagged his fishing line and wanted to push the boat out. away from the shore to get it loose and not wake up Dad snoozing in his chair. Dad felt the boat rock when Rick jumped on the bow after pushing off. Fortunately they were being blown parallel. to the shore line. I quickly slipped on my tennis shoes without taking time to tie them. I started to run down the sidewinder path with only a flashlight I snatched from the camp table as I went by. Rick stood up on the bow and threw rope toward me. It fell about five feet short of my grasp. He retrieved the now wet rope, coiled it up and gave it another heave. This would be his last shot of getting it to me. This time it shot over my head and slapped me on the face as it fell. The weight of the water gave it a much better flight. I grabbed on to it, stopped and stopped the boats motion toward the middle of the lake and then pulled it as hard as I could back toward shore with the wind working against me. Dad sat down in his chair and said “Rick, don’t you ever do that again!” Rick picked up his rod. reeled in his line that was now free, then jumped off of the bow and onto the shore. We pulled the boat back up to the camp and tied it up to the bush. I went back to bed while Dad and Rick continued to fish.
The next day, we had high winds all day. We fished close to the shore lines and up into several coves around Gunsight Bay. One thing that people do not realize, is with the size of Lake Powell, the wind creates white caps and swells similar to the ocean. To get back to our camp from the other side of the bay, Rick and I would take turns driving the boat with our head sticking out of the unbuttoned section of the canvas top. The splashes from the bow of the boat slamming down on the water after cresting a wave would be picked up by the wind and driven into our exposed faces. We would try to maneuver the boat to drop down easily, but that wasn’t always possible. On time while Rick was driving. we slammed down so hand that it broke the rivets out of Dads stadium boat seat. Smaller boats than ours would be a risk of swamping. We finally made it back to camp and fished the few coves close to our camp without any more misadventure.
Dad sure loved fishing here at Lake Powell. Some people were unhappy about the dam being built and will be for years to come. If it wasn’t for the dam backing up into all these canyons, very few people would be able to come here and see the sights. Rainbow Bridge is a magnificent sight to see, but with out boat it would take a lot of gas to get there. They are talking about putting a refueling station there to make it more accessible to smaller boats. The big cabin cruisers have no problem getting there and back on less than a tank of gas. Great Uncle Adam has a boat that sleeps twenty-one. He has invited us to up sometime when he is up here, but that never worked out.