The Season Emerges
Now keep that rain coming!
Alberta's Bow River on a beautiful & smoke free day.
For better or worse, it's the spring that thought it was summer here in Southern Alberta. We've largely skipped the pleasantries and gone directly to sweaty season and runoff as May has already seen multiple 30 C days, much warmer & earlier than the blanket hugging Netflix watchers of this land are accustomed to.
Early season dry fly fishers were treated to reliable evenings waving the midge around to browns happy to have the house to themselves while the rainbows were all out of town. Bow River rainbow spawners made a good showing and traveled exceptionally far up tributaries. Bow River fishing quality has decreased with the high water but the seasoned angler can conjure monsters out of swollen side channels and muddy back bays like some kind of wet and shabby wizard. Lake fishing has treated anglers well, whether chasing pike or trout. It's streamer season, so apologize to your rotator cuff in advance and strap on the big boy sink tip.
Unfortunately the hot weather has unleashed the specter of wildfire on the landscape, with smoke an unwelcome but nearly constant companion with us these last couple of weeks. 63 active fires are burning across the top two-thirds of the province today, with 521 wildfires recorded so far this year. We wish the best to those all those thousands of our fellow Albertans who have been affected by more than just smoke. Both the provincial and federal governments have pledged to fund-match every single dollar donated to Canadian Red Cross wildfire recovery efforts. You can donate here:
The smoke may have cleared in Calgary but there's a lot still happening up north. Pray for rain.
A light snowpack this winter has left the land parched. Recent rains have served to mitigate the fire risk ever so slightly, but more rain is needed in volume, especially in the Calgary Forest Area. The early spring landscape seemed confused, not entirely sure what to do either way. Green buds took a peek out of bone dry branches and then emerged full force into leaves with the optimism and frenzy of a high school grad party but the ground had little moisture to offer the thirsty new arrivals. The colors and crunchy brush on the banks and on the sparse foothills felt more like fall never left. Maybe Southern Alberta could be a stand in for Utah or Colorado as the backdrop in a Tarantino-DiCaprio survival western where they make his teeth look very dirty, and he'll have to kill a cougar with his bare hands.
The Bow, she's come up!
Runoff is here and it's two weeks early, just like your mother-in-law and the opposite of last spring. The Bow has bumped sharply in the last two weeks up to 230 cms, down to 224 as of Thursday May 25th. TransAlta began drawing down the water level at Ghost Reservoir earlier this spring in the annual anticipation of heavy rains, which we did experience last year. Sitting at 50% capacity, it's nearing the proposed fill level at which they will ideally start holding water back. Seems as though they are leaving a bit more water in the doggy dish this year as the June rains aren't guaranteed, and there ain't much snow left on that front range of the Rockies. Runoff might be a concise affair this year. Glenmore Reservoir is being drawn down too, but more slowly and is sitting pretty at nearly 64%. The Highwood looks a little less like a melted Peter's Drive In chocolate shake, but it's definitely still spitting dirty dishwater that at least seems to keep to its own side on the south of the river where it enters the Bow.
When orange touches blue they let it fill up again.
The secret is finally out - Calgary, and Southern Alberta in general is a great place to live, and it sure seems like the rest of the planet has cottoned on. Even folks from the rarefied airs of Vancouver and Toronto who once sniffed their noses at Alberta have pulled up the tent stakes from their red-hot real estate markets to come repeat the process over here ("We just bought a cozy 6 bedroom to WFH and ski in Canmore"). Over 40,000 people moved to Calgary in 2022, with another 110,000+ expected to arrive by 2027 (more than the population of Red Deer). We're in a downright frenzy of construction to house everybody, and it's possible to find oneself making spey casts in the middle of a construction zone these days. The pace of development is such that even locals accustomed to the perpetual boom and bust cycles which giveth and taketh away are sometimes left bewildered as familiar landscapes change overnight. Nearly everywhere you look these days, construction is occurring, has occurred, or is slated to begin.
Elliott with a silvery streamer eater.
One of these projects of special interest to anglers especially is the recently approved Ricardo Ranch development, a large subdivision slated to be built on the north bank of the Bow near Policeman's Flats. This ecologically sensitive 570-hectare area is divided into 3 communities: Seton Ridge, Logan Landing and Nostalgia. Logan Landing has been approved specifically. Voted in 12-2 by city council, 2000+ homes will go in with a minimum 50 meter building setback including considerations for the nearby Blue Heron rookery. Whatever your stance on development in Southern Alberta there's no doubt that the Bow and it's fishery will be altered forever, once again.
Elliott & Cam pounding the banks downstream of the future Ricardo Ranch development on a sunny Bow River Sunday.
Patiently waiting to bust out after a long dry winter.
Many newcomers to Alberta undoubtedly means new anglers, and many of these anglers will be accustomed to the rules and regulations of their home waters. Here at the shop, we've noticed an uptick in anglers requesting bait and inquiring about catch limits, especially regarding the Bow. A conversation then occurs that often results in a little bit of shock to discover that the Bow is bait-free, scent-free, and maintains a permanent zero catch limit. Almost all anglers are more than willing to comply once they discover the rules, but unfortunately there are likely many more who haven't the grace or wherewithal to inquire about the regs in the first place. Ultimately, it is the individual angler's responsibility to know and adhere to the rules.
In recent weeks we've heard several reports of illegally kept fish on the Bow and elsewhere. The Bow River is a catch and release sport fishery, and poaching is a crime against every Albertan, regardless of whether they are an angler or not. Fishing generates income for hardworking people outside of the immediate fly fishing industry, too. Small towns and their service economies especially. The Alberta Conservation Association funds a program which issues generous cash rewards if a call results in a conviction.
You might catch more flies with honey than vinegar though, and it pays to be friendly and act as an ambassador of the sport when you encounter someone who may be new to the city, province, country or are otherwise unaware of the regulations. A smile, a few kind words, or even a fly given to a stranger can encourage an angler to come to the light. Certainly don't put yourself in harm's way, but if laws are being broken then it's time to call it in. The Bow is an amazing recreational resource, and we would like to keep it that way for all, regardless of where they come from.
You can also dial 310-0000 toll-free and ask to be directed to your nearest Fish and Wildlife office.
The Bow creeping onto the banks.
On The Bow
- High water is here and fish have moved to the safety of the banks. No need for hero casts to the middle of the river from the bank with the nymph rig.
- Caddis are very reliably present now, but fish are yet to settle into their surface feeding routines. Fish are slowly warming up to the idea with sporadic, splashy emerger takes. Soon the trout and the caddis will align with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker.
- Avoid fishing rising water if possible, as fish seem to turn off the bite. If you arrived home to a ransacked house, you might skip dinner too. Try to fish on the drop.
- Fish a visible but low riding caddis dry trailed by a plain looking emerger.
- BWO mayflies are active in the AM, PM, and during cloud cover or rain.
- In stained or muddy water fish darker and larger streamers.
- Fish a heavy sink tip line with streamers on a 6 or 7 weight. 10-18 feet long, S5-S7 sink rate.
- Size up leaders and tippet in heavy and stained water. You'll lose less flies to debris and fish are not as leader shy.
- Pound the banks when fishing streamers (especially from a boat), but don't forget to move off the bank and fish drop offs too.
- Strip fast & aggressively once your streamer lands to provoke vicious takes, but don't forget to vary your retrieve with changes in tempo, strip length, and position of the rod. Pause, pop, twitch & strip, baby!
- Rainbow trout are starting to drop back into the mainstem from spawning tributaries and will be resuming their regular scheduled programming.
- Runoff is an excellent time to bust out the trout spey rod and swing some flies. Now you can bomb some 80+ footers out there. Ironically, many takes will still come at the end of the swing, just feet off the bank.
Somewhere in here is a two-and-a-half foot long brown silently sipping size 20 BWO's.
- Mountain stream opener is June 16th. You'll have to wait a just a bit longer to go chase those cutties.
- Versatile anglers will head to stillwaters when the rivers get too high & dirty.
- A balanced leech is often your best pal when fishing lakes.
- Don't forget self-release indicators for subsurface stillwater fishing.
- Don't leave home without the bear spray when heading into the woods as bears are out and active, especially in Kananaskis.
- Keep some large Grey Drake patterns in the box if you fish the small brown trout streams as hatches can be prolific.
- Small, slow moving streams in Central Alberta become choked with weeds and algae as the season warms. Fish them now, when runoff conditions allow.
- Pike season opened on May 8th in Alberta. While water is warming, fish are still relatively shallow. Target them in 8-12 feet near transitions and drop offs.
- Anglers have reported best results with large streamers in colors red & white, chartreuse, and orange.
BWO eaters taking a break in between trips to the buffet.