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Monday, October 20, 2008

Exploring Lake Powell's Remote San Juan Arm

Lake Powell is perfect right now - ideal for boating, skiing, fishing and exploring.

I know because I just returned from a long weekend on the lake. My group explored the lower part Lake Powell's San Juan arm and had a great trip. I wish I could have stayed longer.

The weather was delightful, warm but not hot. The water was cool but not cold. People were skiing and wakeboarding and playing in the water.

These nice conditions should hold for at least another week. A small storm front is expected to push through tonight but not cause much commotion. Air temperatures will be cool Wednesday - you may want a jacket - but the area should warm up again for the weekend.

We launched at Bullfrog and headed directly downlake to the mouth of the San Juan - about 40 miles away. We set up camp on a sandy beach in Wilson Creek Canyon and fished and explored the lake in that area.

Smallmouth bass fishing was superb. All of the coves in Wilson Creek held fish. We caught so many we lost count. Most were small but a few were very nice as smallmouth go.

We hoped to stumble upon a striper "boil," but that didn't happen. Stripers are fierce predators that prey on small shad. During late summer and fall, groups of stripers surround and press a school the tiny shad, pinning them against canyon walls and against the water's surface. Shad literally leap from the water, stripers in hot pursuit, making the water appear to boil.

When you find a boil, you boat to within casting distance and then work shad-imitating lures through the feeding fish. Stripers often attack your lures, smacking it until you hook one. It can be fast, exciting fishing.

The San Juan arm is the most remote part of the lake. By boat, the mouth of the San Juan is about 40 miles from Bullfrog and about 57 miles from Wahweap. The San Juan arm itself runs for about 50 miles and there are no services or fuel stops anywhere along the way or at its end.

The nearest gas is at Dangling Rope Marina, located about 15 miles downlake from the mouth of the San Juan, as you head toward Wahweap.

I explored the canyons into the Neskahi area before deciding I had to turn back or risk running out of gas. Altogether, I boated about 120 miles on about 28 gallons of gas. I still had 5 gallons in reserved for emergencies.

The weather was calm throughout our trip. The water was glassy, even during the middle of the afternoon when it often becomes choppy. Had I faced a headwind, I may have needed that 5 gallon reserve and then some.

There were almost no other boats on the San Juan arm. There were a couple houseboats just inside the San Juan, and another group camped on a beach about 5 miles from where we were in Wilson Creek. When the sun went down we sat by a campfire and marveled at the quietude. Miles from the nearest humans, there was not a sight or sound to disrupt the solitude.

The entire length of Lake Powell is scenic and the San Juan arm is no exception. I think the area around Piute Canyon is particular beautiful. The lake there is rimmed by sheer rust-colored cliffs with mounds and pinnacles adding variety. It has all of the classic features I associate with Lake Powell.

During morning and evening hours, when the sun's light takes on a golden gleam, the scenery was astounding.

Why go to the trouble to explore the San Juan arm? Here are some of my reasons:
- Because it is beautiful.
- Because it offers some of the best fishing on the lake.
- Because the solitude is amazing.
- And because few people can say they have been there.

I explored the upper San Juan arm several years ago, launching a small, cartop boat at Piute Farms. Now I can honestly say I'm explored every part of the big lake.

Maybe I'm bragging, but it's a good feeling.

- Dave Webb


  • At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dave, Thank you I enjoyed reading that,a few years ago we enjoyed a cruise on Lake Powell,nothing remote at all like your trip but nevertheless it was great. I live between Ireland and England (mostly in England now) we have some lovely lakes and rivers but nothing so grand as in your country.Thanks again,Teresa.


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