Expedition St. Croix Part Two: The Wonder of Lake Powell

Whoa there, cowboy! If you haven't read Part One, check it out first. For Part Three, head this way.

“Three hundred feet,” he says. “This channel is 300 feet deep.”

Jim Edwards peers into the twilight. The wind flaps through his greying mustache as our small, white sport boat accelerates. A hundred yards ahead, his son Jarrett is piloting a course to St. Croix’s base camp. We’re told camp is out there—somewhere—in the desert darkness. We’re also told that, 300 feet deep or not, our sport boats are navigating through a vast, fortress-like canyon whose rocky parapets still rise from the floor ready to impale unwary vessels in the night.

It’s a comforting thought.

Even with the threat of sudden destruction, twilight on Lake Powell is a surreal sight to behold. The “mountains” we left behind at Wahweap quickly become mole hills as we progress deeper into the wilderness of the lake. Glen Canyon, as this place was largely known before the creation of a 710-foot tall dam near Page, was often described as one of the most unique, beautiful places on Earth. Filled with mesmerizing sandstone slot canyons, the unbridled flow of the Colorado River and the untold treasures of lost, ancient civilizations, the flooding of Glen Canyon is to many one of the great man-made disasters of the 20th century.

But not all is lost. Even skating 300 feet above the canyon floor, you can feel the ancientness of this place; the wonder is captivating, and it distracts you from the very real danger of a desert shipwreck.

It distracts you until an enormous rock flies past the port side of your boat. Then, you remember that you’re in what amounts to a warm weather Titanic, and the sooner you reach camp—whether that’s a cartel cache or a couple of marooned houseboats full of fishing tackle—the better.

About 30 minutes into our voyage, after the sun is long gone, I begin to think deeply about those sandstone icebergs. For some reason N2DEEP’s classic 1990’s hip-hop hit “Back to the Hotel” blares through my brain. Several times, we nearly lose sight of Jim’s son in the lead boat. But the elder Edwards holds steady. And eventually, we see the nearing flicker of electricity.

It is camp. A real camp. Complete with a bonfire, steaks and at least enough booze to get us through a night. St. Croix has enlisted six of the hulking house boats to serve as base for our expedition—they’re already beached as our sport boats slide up.

The Edwards family did not disappoint.

Photo Bomb: Shorty the Sport Boat

The mission here is fishin’, lest we forget. And despite a night of revelry (writers go hard when they make it through sort-of life threatening situations), a full squad of angling aficionados are buzzing around camp as a new day dawns.

[divider]a Rod and a Rainbow Road[/divider]

Veteran outdoor guru Jim Edlund is the first person I bump into on the beach. “It’s like waking up in Star Wars,” I tell him. Edlund nods. We make for the breakfast boat, to find the droids we are looking for receive assignments for a flotilla of nearby fishing boats. For now, Edlund and I will part ways—I’m headed to an awaiting Ranger captained by Page native and local tournament angler Kip Bennett. Bennett, like Edwards, is an ace on this water. He knows Lake Powell like the back of his hand, and before the day is out, he promises to show St. Croix VP of Brand Management Jeff Schluter and I some of his secrets.

The three of us climb on board and set off into the lake—this time, during the day.

Bennett has a full compliment of battle tested St. Croix Rods on deck. “I don’t fish with anything but St. Croix,” he says. Schluter and I each have a pair of the new St. Croix Legend Elite rods, as well as the recently introduced Avid X. I’ve set the Avid X up with a new Abu Garcia REVO SX, which absolutely screams. This, in my mind, will be the giant killer.

The Avid X will spend much of this trip rigged up to Z-Man Chatterbaits and swim jigs.

Sadly, a man does not catch fish on Chatterbaits and swim jigs alone. With that logic in mind, I rig up one of the Legend Elites (available, St. Croix says, just after ICAST), with a Pflueger Patriarch XT spinning reel and Texas rig for some Senko action—’cause, ya know, when in doubt, do nothing. Bennett will later recommend I swap my Senko for some sort of sinking swim bait, but it’s essentially the same concept.

Our trio sets out through the sweeping canyons in search of a special foray: trapped tumbleweed piles in the cracks and crevices of this giant lake’s narrow, slot canyons. In all of this vastness, that is where Bennett says we will find the largemouth bass. “Smallmouth are everywhere,” he says, “But the big ones hide out in here. It’s the only shade.”

As the Ranger comes off plain and begins to creep into one of the slots, Schluter waxes poetic on the new Legend Elite rods. At the moment, we are all three using them as push-poles along the sides of what might be an 8-foot wide canyon. Even here, the water is 100-feet deep. (It is, in fact, the terminus of the canyon used in the cover photo of this story.)

Push-pole quality confirmed, Schluter tells us that these rods really are a big deal. Development time, he says, takes several years. And it’s part of his job to sweat the details. Everything from grips to the composition of the rod—the hook holder, guides, reel seats, finish and handle—even the type of paint, is meticulously tested and thought out. Schluter has been with St. Croix for three decades. These rods, he says, are some of the best.

A school of gizzard shad soar beneath the boat. These giant shad will fool you into thinking a bass is lying in wait. Only their double-tailed profile gives them away after a quick glance.

The crystal clear waters of Lake Powell are full of teases. The tumbleweeds? They don’t appear to be full of largemouth today.

Smallies, though, abound. And we spend much of the next few hours hoisting them in from shallow rock beds on the edges of cliffs. The weather is a little funky, and with the fish cruising around—but not stuck to—beds, it’s the Avid X and swim jig (green pumpkin) that have the edge in aggravating the bass enough to bite.

The scenery is breathtaking. The fishing strong. The YouTube video overly dramatic. But Kip Bennett is not done showing us around his home water. “We’re so close,” he says. “If you come this close and don’t see it, I haven’t done you justice.”

“Sometimes,” he says, “You have to put down the pole.”

With the Ranger planed-up and cruising again on the lake, Bennett shoots us into a mirage—a channel in a canyon wall that at first glance, doesn’t appear to be there at all. Into this world we roll.

It seems, basically, to be a very wide slot canyon. But it’s not going to a tumbleweed.

It’s going to Rainbow Bridge National Monument, a wonder of the natural world.

At the toes of 10,000-foot Navajo Mountain, Rainbow Bridge is a geological relic from the Triassic and Jurassic Periods. It is one of the largest natural arches in the world, and it’s directly accessible from Lake Powell via an almost clandestine National Parks Service dock at the end of this canyon.

Schluter and I have no idea what we’re getting into.

Bennett cruises up to the dock; we disembark.

The mile-long trail up to Rainbow Bridge used to be shorter. The bridge itself spans the same channel we cruised up to dock at. “I remember when the water used to go under the Bridge,” Bennett says. “But you’ve got to hike there now.”

Schluter and I don’t mind. Step-by-step, the red sand under our feet gives way to views of a spectacular valley. Sun-scorched cliffs line both sides of the trail. We all guess them to be at least a thousand feet tall. High above, the tiny speck of a golden eagle can barely be seen against their backdrop. And then, we round the bend.

The bridge comes into view.

schulterrainbowbridgeTo call it monolithic is an understatement. Schluter, in the above photo, is at least 75 yards from its base. Rainbow Bridge is reportedly so large that a Boeing 747 can fit its wings underneath.

Beneath such majesty, at a place the Navajo and ancient civilizations before them hold sacred, catching a couple of fish seems unimportant. However, if you sit a few minutes and watch, you realize that catching a few fish becomes even more important. To be out and see these places—the lake, the canyons, the bridge—that is the gift fishermen enjoy around the globe.

Fishing is, at it’s soul, about nature. And as you’ll see next week, the Legend Elite and Avid X have a few more gifts to give.

Back at camp, Schluter, Bennett and I grab a beer. Tomorrow, it’s into the jaws of the San Juan River. And something sinister lurks beneath….

You're reading Part Two of a Three Part Series following FTR's expedition to get up-close with the new St. Croix Rods. To continue reading, check out Part Three here.