Winter Bites Back!
(& you thought it was over...)
It's not spring until the end of July, so quit whining about it.
If you consider yourself a four season fly angler, then you know there's a satisfaction that can be achieved only by landing a fish in the winter while having absolutely no feeling in your hands. Now that the weather here in Southern Alberta is back to normal (cold) after a warm February, there's still a chance to get out there and lose all sensation in your fingers while enjoying a nice day on the water. There are many anglers new to the area these days, and they will all learn like the road-salt stained locals have that winter ends on its own terms here. March is always a wildcard in these parts and can be relatively mild by mid-month, or we get dragged back into the cryo chamber and lit up with blizzards into April. Just be glad overnight temperatures are only -20C and not colder. Thankfully fly fishing on the Bow has been good when we get the weather for it, so dust the Dorito crumbs off your "gaming outfit" and grab the waders.
Winter always gives you something new to look at when you're sick of staring at the bobber.
Snowpack has been light this year so what has fallen recently is certainly welcome, by the powder fiends and the fish alike. The Bow is still running low & clear, coming out of Bearspaw Reservoir and into the city at under 40 cms, well below average. Ghost Reservoir is still nearly 90% full, we'll see if TransAlta opens that up in a few months and starts emptying it in anticipation of heavy spring rains like last year. We managed to avoid spring flooding and had mostly enough water in our streams and rivers until a dry autumn set in. Let's hope for the best this season!
Low on the Bow.
Hopefully late season snowpack turns those lines upward.
A decent stockpile.
All my homies love Bow River chromies.
The ever changing nature of the Bow is sometimes even more apparent in the winter, as accessible water morphs with each daily fluctuation in temperature and each freeze-thaw cycle. What was a rock-solid ice ledge giving you access to nymph a deep hole a few days ago is looking sketchier than the dudes hanging out at the C-Train station today. Lots of thick ice retreated during February's warm spell, opening sections of river that are normally still fully frozen over at this time of year. There were a few cheeky sections of the Bow in the city that were starting to disrobe their winter wear and almost became scantily clad, but have caught a chill once more and modestly covered up. Your best bet is still downstream of downtown.
Warm weather in February seemed to spur fish and other animals into unseasonable friskiness, with rainbow trout fighting like Cowboys patrons during Stampede and throwing caution out the window to chase down articulated streamers. An area of Kananaskis was closed mid-month due to an early season Grizzly encounter. Even the porcupines came out to grumpily bumble around for a bit and educate a pooch or two. In addition, this angler hasn't been the only one to notice what may well be early rainbow trout redds in likely areas.
The trout haven't seemed to notice that it's cold again, and have been reliably crushing flies even when daytime temperatures are only hovering around 0C. Streamers and nymphing are the modes of choice. Occasionally the winter fisher gets a dry fly day on midges, but that has yet to be seen by the author this winter despite strong hatches. Maybe you've gotten lucky.
Blue skies and a fresh coat of snow on the banks of the Bow.
On The Bow
- Remember that Alberta fishing licenses expire at the end of March. The My Wild Alberta app is your one stop shop to renew or get your first license. You'll need your WIN (Wildlife Identification Number) to purchase a license.
- Berg Alert! Silent But Deadly - and not just in your waders. Make a habit of glancing upstream often when you notice calving ice shelves. You don't want to get taken out at the knee from behind, then pasted across the run like a crappy band poster.
- Streamer day on foot with the sink tip on a single hander? Have a big breakfast and be ready to cover ground. By all means swing flies through likely runs, but be ready to spend a big portion of the day looking for soft water, seams, island junctions on the downstream end, etc. and systematically pick them apart. Personal rafts make this easier.
- Smaller articulated streamers like a Kreelex Minnow or Galloup's Laser Legal are a great choice for a day of prospecting as they are designed to shed water and be easy to cast repeatedly while still representing a substantial meal.
- Try using a product like Stanley's Ice Off Paste from Loon to keep ice from forming in your guides if it's cold out. Vaseline also works.
- It's still a bit too early for much insect life to emerge, with the exception of midges. Have your box ready & stocked for the bug debut - Waterboatmen, BWO's, and Western March Browns are all on the horizon.
- Leeches. Trout always eat leeches. Through the ice on a frozen lake, or swung across the Bow, they are always hot. Anything from a 30"+ Bull to a 6" Brookie will go after them.
- The Dirty Worm.
- Falling in is no joke. Bring at least an extra insulated jacket. Extra hat, gloves, and a microfiber pack towel are smart too. Hypothermia can happen even on a sunny day with warm air temps. Cam discovered this the hard way. Throwing that all in a waterproof submersible bag is a good idea.
- Be careful when creeping around/under those ice shelves. It's easy to step through a snow covered crack up on the high bank and twist a knee, and you really don't want to put yourself under a hanging ledge on a warm day.
Aquatic mammal, displaying winter adaptation.
Big attitude from this young streamer eater.
- Many ES2 Rivers & Streams in Central Alberta open on April 1st. This is a great opportunity to do some early season fishing somewhere other than the Bow, but remember that open season doesn't equal ice-free. Be prepared to get skunked and/or burn some gas in the pursuit of fishable water.
- No one fishes the Elbow, right?
- The southern end of the province has also seen wintery weather, but there's open water down there too.
- Consider carrying bear spray in wilderness areas, as there have already been Grizzly encounters this year.
Calm winter day on the Bow. It started howling wind relentlessly just seconds later.
Theo's Melting Pot Midge, #20
Stillborn Midge, Black #20
Hi-Vis Midge #18-20
Ritt's ARF Midge Adult, #20
Griffith's Gnat, #18-20
Jake's CDC Squirrel Leech, #6-8
Muddler Minnow, #6-8
RIO's TB Sparkle Donkey, #14-16
RIO's French Dip, Purple #14-18
Jig Wonky Worm, Pink #10
Ice Cream Cone Chironomid, White/Red #20
Jig Perdigon, Natural/Orange #16
Bow Valley moonscape.
Lesson learned? Not a chance, mate.
Life's too short to stay indoors!