The 2023 mountain season ends on an icy note as winter shows up unannounced. Construction crews in Cochrane leave their (skid) mark on the Bow River. Whats up with K-Country? Flows remain low across the board. Brown trout are gettin' busy.
ES1 Angling Advisory in place.
A light dusting sits on the front range during a brisk fall day in Southern Alberta.
Warm temperatures during the first three weeks of October lulled many naive newcomers and seasoned Albertans alike into a false sense of security as Mother Nature suddenly went WWE Smackdown and threw a freezing ice storm suplex off the top rope. Temps have remained subzero ever since and only the dumb and/or brave will venture out of the house with a fly rod in hand. Sometimes the dumb ones catch all the fish though. The last weekend of the mountain stream season is upon us. It's your last chance to nail that 20" cutthroat or maybe the 40" Bull that's ghosted you repeatedly.
Water levels are very low everywhere, the Bow has been trickling out of Ghost dam at around 50 cms. Brown trout are stacked on redds spawning so give extra care to wading over shallow sections. Before the cold snap Waterboatmen were catching trout and the streamer/leech bite was hot. We may see temperatures rise to fishing weather for the last couple days of the '23 mountain stream season.
30-50 cms this week. Not much juice in the ditch.
Thankfully Ghost is about 90% full.
These guys will eat just about anything.
Tips For The Bow River
- It seems that we may have been robbed of the last little bit of Autumn. Insect life will drop off dramatically now. Focus on sub-surface fishing.
- Mackinnon's Flats boat launch access ends on Nov. 1 for the season, gate will be locked until April 15.
- Brown trout are in mid-spawn. Trout will use their tails to clean a patch of river on which to deposit their eggs. These nests are called "redds" and should be avoided.
- While it's not illegal to target fish on redds, it's unethical and highly frowned upon. If you are seen fishing to trout on redds you will get called out.
- Try to walk upstream of these redds if you do encounter them while wading.
- Territorial browns guarding redds will kill sculpins on sight. Now is the time to swing heavy sculpin patterns into deep buckets and troughs behind drop offs.
- If we experience warm weather in November we may see BWO's, Boatmen, and October caddis again.
- Fish may rise in cold weather, likely to midges or midge emergers. Fish a small dry fly you can still see, trailed by a tiny midge emerger or nymph on fine tippet.
Flies For The Bow
Pheasant Tail TB, #16-18
Tungsten Jig Assassin, #16-18
Prince Bead, #14-18
Jig San Juan Worm, #10
Perdigon Red Ruby, #16-18
A Sh**ty Situation On The Bow
A classic scene, the colors of Autumn in Calgary.
Lucky anglers on the Bow River were treated to the sights and smells of untreated sewage as construction crews in Cochrane inadvertently ruptured a wastewater pipe adjacent to the river. You can be sure these guys were elite; a team of highly trained & skilled operators, and painstaking care was taken to avoid damaging the riverbank while attempting work near the waste pipe junction. Unfortunately, the little accident will leave a stain on the contractor's reputation that may be hard to launder.
The October 21st incident near Hwy 22 and Griffin Road was likely unavoidable, as at least one guy on the crew must be able to read in order to understand those Call Before You Dig signs. Word that a surge of bacterial horrors was making its way downstream spread like norovirus on a twelve storey cruise ship. City of Calgary officials pleaded with citizens to avoid the stinking waters on Sunday the 22nd as anglers flushed their fishing plans and pulled drift boats off the river in anticipation of the coming log jam.
Potty-mouthed Cochrane officials described "a significant amount" of raw human waste entering the Bow, leaving a hot streak of shame all the way to Carseland. Complications from the brown tide resulted in a dramatic loss of water from local reservoirs followed by a tightening of water restrictions. At a time of serious drought in our province, and staring down the barrel of another forecasted dry winter, this gross incontinence is especially concerning.
Every crappy situation has its silver lining, and in this case petty outdoors enthusiasts can take a little consolation knowing that Spray Lake Sawmills - the architects of the massive clearcut ready to decimate the beloved Highwood River in Kananaskis - were forced to temporarily shut 'er down.
No word on whether the spill has been fully sealed off yet. I think a certain drilling company owes an apology to every trout in the Bow River, because that must have been a rough weekend underwater.
What About The Highwood, Anyway?
If you haven't heard yet, over 1100 hectares of prime wilderness habitat in Kananaskis along the Highwood River are slated for destruction by clearcut logging throughout 2023-24 by Spray Lake Sawmills based out of Cochrane.
This area is located in one of the most beautiful and popular outdoor recreation areas in the country. It is an international magnet for tourism and an invaluable wildlife habitat. It is also an important spawning ground for native Bull Trout & Westslope Cutthroat. For decades, K-country was maintained and administered by the provincial government, paid for by taxes, and available for all citizens to access at no additional cost. In 2021, the government introduced the Kananaskis Conservation Pass, a pay-to-play scheme which requires all vehicles stopping in Kananaskis to purchase a parking pass. This pass costs either $15 per day or $90 per year per personal vehicle. Fees from the pass are meant to contribute to conservation in Kananaskis. Spray Lakes Sawmills is not required to pay anything to conduct logging operations in this area.
"By purchasing a pass you're helping keep this special part of Alberta beautiful and protected for generations to come." - alberta.ca
Bull trout & Westslope cutties are listed as Threatened Species under the federal Species at Risk Act. Because of this designation, special rules apply regarding how industry can operate in the areas that contain important habitat for these fish. They are very susceptible to the effects of silt and sediment in the water, suffocating their eggs or filling in cracks in which the eggs would sit. Clear cut logging dramatically increases the potential for sediment to enter rivers as rainfall strips away soil once held by roots, making landslide danger much higher.
The Species at Risk Act
(SARA) indenitfies "Critical Habitat" for threatened species like Bull Trout such as in the 2020 Bull Trout Recovery Plan. Critical Habitat is defined under SARA as “the habitat that is necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed wildlife species and that is identified as the species' critical habitat in the recovery strategy or in an action plan for the species.” A "Critical Habitat Order" says industry cannot undertake actions that cause “the destruction of any part of the critical habitat of the Bull Trout that is identified in the recovery strategy for the species." This includes setbacks of minimum 30m on either side of a streambed. This identified Critical Habitat can be found in documents like the 2020 Bull Trout Recovery Strategy.
SARA is interpreted and enforced by the federal Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO). If industry wants to pursue operations in an area where Critical Habitat is found, the company must apply for a permit to do from DFO. The problem is that due to a loophole in the way DFO defines the area containing Critical Habitat, industry is permitted to use a "bounding box" to identify on their own an area that may contain "Potential Critical Habitat" and then apply for a permit. If the company finds no Critical Habitat, they don't apply for a permit. In practice this leaves industry to self police and this is what led Spray Lake Sawmills to brazenly begin construction with zero permits or even environmental assessments. Even though the government has designated pretty much the whole Highwood to be Critical Habitat, this loophole allows a massive clearcut to slip through.
Our free and wild open spaces are a large part of our identity as Albertans. By allowing them to be degraded gradually for the profit of a few, we risk losing what makes us who we are. All users take something for ourselves from these places, but in general we try to limit the damage we do through best practices and attempt to leave them in good shape for everybody else. In my opinion, use of the land stops being okay when one user group starts taking much more than others, and altering the land in a non-repairable way for the benefit of only themselves.
Most of us can agree that we are not willing to go without toilet paper and two-by-fours, so the wood needs to come from somewhere. This is not an appropriate area to harvest in however, because of excessive impact on existing user groups. In a time of exploding population in Alberta, citizens will demand outdoor spaces in which to recreate. Removing prime wilderness habitat near Calgary, and long term tourism revenue with it, for the benefit of foreign shareholders is not the interest of Albertans. There's got to be a better answer than to clear cut something we should all be proud to protect and call our own.
The popular area of Kananaskis on the chopping block. Image via kcountryclearcut.ca
Critical Bull trout habitat along the Highwood River - figure from 2020 Bull Trout Recovery Strategy
Adult Bull Trout population density pre-1950's vs. today. Let's hang on to what we have left. - figure from 2020 Bull Trout Recovery Strategy
If you don't agree with the plan to log this area in our very own backyard paradise, you can Take A Stand For Kananaskis by sending a pre-written letter to the Alberta government here, or write your own.
Cam, castin' to cutties. Um, it's a little low...
Hungry shadows in the green juice.
A cute little Boatman biter.
Central Alberta streamside signage.
A beauty day at the top of the Rockies.
The Bow on a yellow and grey October day.
Getting up there.