What you'll need to have an enjoyable fishing trip in Alberta
Whether you’re planning your first fishing trip to Alberta, looking to better dial-in your own kit for this summer, or simply reading this because you have a pathological obsession with all things fly-fishing; either way, I hope this article will remind you of simpler times spent on the water. The times you and your friends would stand in freestone streams in your shorts, casting foam dry flies through the day and caddis late into the warm summer evening. Those worry-free summer days seem so far away as I once again don my waders over thermal layers and wool socks to go swing flies from an ice shelf on the mighty Bow River. Though I find it hard not to reminisce of wet wading on those scorching July days, and while the current reality of winter in Alberta is much less hospitable, it will help to satisfy my own pathological obsession!
Through an understanding of how dramatically different your fishing experience can be from season to season in Alberta, you can plan your fishing trips accordingly. By adopting a 3 or even 4 season fishing calendar, not only will you maximize the amount of water open to fishing, you will likely have some great explorations and get to spend time on the water with fewer people around. Even during our summer months, it is still important to be prepared just in case Alberta thinks you need a little humbling in the form of high winds, mosquitos, bears, heavy rain, or even snow at higher altitudes. To be ready for the elements and whatever mother nature may throw at you, make sure to pack:
Alberta Sportfishing License
Purchase your fishing license ahead of time at: albertarelm.com. Print it off and sign it and you’ll be all set once you arrive.
Waders are usually unnecessary during the summer months; however, they can save you from catching a chill on those cooler days and it would be unwise to travel to Alberta without them for this reason. Hopefully the weather will be warm and the water so inviting that you won't have any use for them, but as a precautionary measure they should be included on your packing list.
As was alluded to with waders, it's always a good idea to include plenty of warm clothes. Having the following items just makes good sense: moisture-wicking base layer, insulating mid layer, rain-proof shell, toque, thermal socks, and light gloves/mitts.
If you are primarily targeting trout, and (somehow!) only able to bring one rod, a 9ft 5wt is your best option. Alberta has many smaller freestone streams and spring creeks that are perfectly suited for 3 and 4 weights not to mention larger rivers (such as the Bow) where 6 and 7 weights are used to cast large streamers and indicator rigs. Often overlooked by traveling anglers is the excellent spring pike fishing on many lakes and reservoirs in the province. To target these (often large, up to 20+lbs) toothy critters, 8 and 9 weight rods are often employed, depending on fly size and wind. An 8wt is also ideal for targeting our provincial fish; the bull trout! If trout Spey is your game, packing a 4wt or 5wt micro Spey is ideal for most trout, but fishing a 6wt Spey rod is still a blast and will help turn-over some gnarly flies. Whatever your plans, having an arsenal of rods in various weights and lengths will allow you to remain versatile no matter the conditions as you will have the option to throw a wide range of flies in various sizes.
Although you won't be able to travel by plane with insect repellent in aerosol canisters, the nightmare scenario is being on the water without it when the biting insects are hungry. Keep a small (sub 100ml) plastic squeeze bottle in your kit as backup and if possible pick-up an aerosol canister upon arrival. Having an effective repellent, along with long sleeves and a buff/sun balaclava will allow you to withstand mosquitos happy-hour while you're waiting for that spring creek brown to cycle back into a reachable position.
If you are planning on venturing into the backcountry, it is essential that you educate yourself on how to respond when encountering a bear. Carrying a can of bear spray on your hip can help provide peace of mind and could also save your life when you're miles from your vehicle.
Carrying a packable water filter (such as a LifeStraw) is a great accessory to have while hiking along some of Alberta's mountain streams. A filter permits you constant access to fresh water without weighing down your pack with multiple bottles. We are lucky to have many cold, clear streams of glacial origin in Alberta's high country. Besides a filter and bottle, the only other vessel you'll need to carry is your flask!
Don't limit your ability to tie on small dries (or big stoneflies!) when darkness begins to fall. Some of the best fishing can occur just before or after dark, so be prepared for this by equipping yourself with a headlamp during your evening sessions. If you’re into fishing at night, a headlamp with a red light will help preserve your night vision as your eyes will not have to readjust to low light conditions as when using standard white light lamps.
Having polarized sunglasses is absolutely essential for all fishing and can be a real game-changer when you're sight fishing. Not only do they cut glare from the water’s surface, allowing you to see into the water and spot fish and structure, they protect your eyes from errant flies/hooks that may come your way do to sudden gusts of wind.
Hat & Sunscreen
These are always a good idea to have especially if you are a bit of a sun-worshipper and don’t particularly like the idea of wearing long sleeve, long pant sun wear not to mention sun gloves and buff. Scorching summer days can leave you with a nasty sunburn or even heat stroke.
Ever fished a Bow River Bugger? If you, for some unfortunate reason have never clinched one of these incredibly simple fly patterns onto your leader, then now is the time to start. Even if it’s simply for the sake of posterity, any travelling angler should give the Bow River Bugger a shot. Fish this unweighted, deer hair fly with either a floating line and a couple split shots or a nice long sink tip and you’re bound to be impressed by its outright fishiness.
If you wish to target bull trout, be sure to bring very large streamers. Otherwise, your typical assortment of dries, nymphs and streamers should do for much of Alberta’s trout fishing.
I could certainly go more further into detail about the endless minutiae of fly fishing gear. However, I think it goes without saying that you need to bring your tippet spools (a wide variety at that), leaders, nippers, pliers, fish-safe net, boots, etc. Being prepared can set you up for success on the river and make for more great memories with your favorite people. If you are looking for more information on where to start planning your own fishing trip in Alberta, check out our recent blog post on Planning your own Alberta D.I.Y. Fly-Fishing Trip.