Fishing Report - Early Summer

10 Year Anniversary, Strange Days

The rain arrived just in time to pay tribute to the 2013 flood that changed the game. The fishing is hot & so is the water. Opener has cutty crazed anglers heading for the hills. How long before the heat puts a freeze on the action?

 Francis finds a little golden dolphin in the juice.
It's early and despite heavy fluctuations in river flows this week, Golden Stones are starting to get poppin' like Stampede kettle corn here in Southern Alberta. Runoff was a trickle and had anglers eyeing the water levels & temperatures with suspicion, bracing for the grim prospect of little to no precipation in June. Thankfully the skies opened on June 14, and the rain came down (in addition to ten confirmed tornadoes). The June monsoons were manna from heaven, helping to put a damper on raging forest fires and giving desperate farmers and ranchers a chance at non-zero returns. What a difference from this time last year, when we were encouraging anglers to stay the heck out of the water as a deluge of snowmelt threatened flooding and filled the turbid chocolate water with dangerous debris.

The Bow River and downtown Calgary, June 2013. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

Drowned cruiser in Sunnyside, June 2013. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

Nearly 10 years to the day, the precipitation paid a fitting but puny tribute to the 2013 Alberta Floods, the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history (until Fort McMurray burned). Leaving us with $5 billion worth of damage and a landscape forever changed by the convergence of an immovable storm with seasonal runoff, the effects are still being felt today in many ways. The Bow river widened and shallowed, changing the habitat and populations of fish. Some natural banks continue to erode with seasonal freeze and thaw cycles, while others have been replaced altogether with rip rap. A trip to the mountain streams can reveal evidence of water pushing debris against tree trunks above head high, or even downed trees thrown and stuck against craggy canyon walls like wet paper towel balls on the boy's room ceiling. The power and ferocity of those floods was a sight to behold, and those days of chaos and downtown canoeing seem like a distant fever dream. Flood mitigation efforts continue with the construction of the controversial Springbank off-stream reservoir project, a dry reservoir along the Elbow River, intended to protect Calgary from future flooding risk. Plans for reservoir expansion upstream are currently undergoing feasibility studies to be delivered at the end of this year. Three possible locations are under consideration, and include the following options:
  • Morley: A new reservoir between Seebe and Morley, on Stoney Nakoda Nations reserve lands.
  • Relocated Ghost Dam: An expansion of the existing Ghost Reservoir.
  • Glenbow East: A new reservoir between Cochrane and the Bearspaw Dam at the western edge of Calgary.
The 2013 floods were a major milestone in the history of the city & province, and the echoes of change will be felt for generations to come.
The Bow, it’s August by the first of July.
The current yearly graph of the Bow River mimics the same average seasonal rise and fall that we see each year, just earlier and way more condensed indicating much shorter runoff duration. The first of July usually coincides with peak runoff, however that peak was 4-5 weeks early this year. Now that our water regulators have slowed the flow from 141 cubic meters per second to around 90 cms between June 22-29, we've got August water at the end of June. At least, this lower water means that they are attempting to fill Ghost Reservoir once again after opening the floodgates over the last couple weeks at the sight of a few thunderstorms. They have increased the proposed fill level to around 60% capacity. 
Isolated thunderstorms are doing their part to assist the long climb back to capacity.

Hot Water

Any rain is good rain. Massive thunderheads will add a spike to the graph here and there, sweeping slowly across the foothills like glaciers of the sky, building in size and sending down localized drenchings. These storms give us temporary relief from the heat, but overall here in Fish Management Zone ES1 the water is too warm, with afternoon readings at Carseland Weir approaching and sometimes hitting the danger zone at 20C/70F. Brace yourselves, mandatory angling restrictions are coming. Some mountain streams in ES2 are running colder, let's hope this remains the case.

As for fishing conditions on the Bow, it’s nuts. Fishing has been good as hell, big numbers coming off boats and well-fed, strong fighting fish are coming to net on streamers. Rainbows are lining up to slurp the leech like day drunk Stampede goers downing iced margaritas. Get ready for some line burns because somebody has been showing these things bonefish videos and they’re madder than a bull in the chute once hooked. Browns are making big plays on sparkle minnow tandem rigs left & right, running yards of river to sack the QB then throwing down pit bull head shakes in the end zone deep under the boat.

It’s all up in the air now that fishing restrictions are near to rollin’ up on us just like that guy in the white Beemer with full tint windows who pulls left out of the supplement shop parking lot, and across your lane with little warning. That is to say, we all knew it was likely to happen but it’s still shocking nonetheless. A comprehensive breakdown of what criteria triggers angling restrictions can be found at the My Wild Alberta site. Basically between the dates July 1 - August 31, the government agency known as Alberta Environment and Protected Areas (EPA) will trigger a minimum 14 day period when fishing is NOT allowed from 2:00 PM - 12:00 AM, if two things happen:

  • When water temperatures exceed 20°C/70F for three or more consecutive days and,
  • when flows in the Bow River are below the 25th water flow percentile for 4 or more days at that time of year as measured at the Carseland monitoring station.

Mad Max: Plastic Hatch - it’s coming. Never turn your back on the river in the city section. If you do, a giant inflatable flamingo party raft with 9 chicks on a bachelorette from Lethbridge will sneak up on you. Although they will be yelling and blasting music, the approach will be silent, just like a rogue wave. It’s a phenomenon that has something to do with the way the sound of Nickelback carries across water when played through a bluetooth speaker. Once you see them, it will be too late. 

Tips For The Bow River

  • Try to minimize fight time by using heavier tippet, make sure to pinch barbs, get them in the net quick, then get 'em back in the drink quick. 
  • Be on the water as early as you can on hot days for the next two or so weeks to catch the premiere bug event on the Bow, the Golden Stonefly hatch.
  • Keep an eye on water temperatures - stop fishing when it hits 19C/66F.
  • Fish a visible but low riding caddis dry trailed by a plain looking emerger. 
  • Fish stoneflies tight to the banks.
  • When fishing stonefly patterns, don't go light on tackle. Strap on a 2X leader & 3X for a dropper, no finer. These are big bugs, Bow River fish are currently healthy, and are fighting like Americans in Wal-Mart.
  • Rain and overcast weather will spur large hatches of PMD's, Sulphurs, and Drakes.
  • Get yer’ dang leech out and wave that sucker! Fish are smacking those things. Whether single, trailing a bigger fly, trolled, or hanging under a buoyant dry, there's (almost) no wrong way to fish the leech.  
  • Fish will move off the banks and into more oxygenated water as the summer rolls on and temperatures rise. Try targeting drop offs and mid river bars. This is especially true for streamers. 
  • Strip hard once your streamers land to remove slack from the line, pause, then start your retrieve.
  • Don’t be afraid to fish a double dry rig if the fish are hitting up top and there are multiple hatches underway.
  • It's easy to completely overlook rising fish in evening light. Sit on the bank for a while and train your eyes to detect any movement on the water that deviates from the norm. Fish eating caddis emergers will often make small splashes. 

Tips For Other Waters

  • Mountain streams are open (for now) until October 31st and early season results are encouraging. Let’s hope temperatures stay in the comfort zone.
  • With angling restrictions nearly certain for ES1, ES2 will see a swell in fishing pressure. Do it right out there folks, and let’s leave a few lips on the cutties this year. Treat those fish gently.
  • Lake season is well underway and the veteran stillwater fisher will chase the Traveling Sedge hatch from waterbody to waterbody…
  • Water temperatures in the mountains can remain chilly and thus restricting the dry fly bite until midday, when things warm up to 55f and winged insects start hatching. It's not always necessary to hit the stream at dawn.
  • Don't be without a selection of green drake patterns for the mountains. 
  • Bulls might not flee the pool at the first sight of you or your poorly presented rabbit zonker like a brown would, but they will stop eating. You still gotta be hoping to get a hit within the first three casts when fishing for mostly stationary bulls, or your chances of interesting them decrease quickly.
  • Keep bear attractants safe in the truck, and clean up your garbage.
  • Pack the bear spray when heading into the woods as bears are out and active, especially in Kananaskis.

Flies For The Bow


 Even a golden stone can appreciate Winston green.

‘Squantch sighting.

    Bow River ripper!

Hide under dad’s butt.

The Drake, a little alien visitor.

 High country crusher on a windy morning.Green stream.  


Good luck & pray for rain!

1 comment

  • Parry Foskett

    Great blog! Funny with good info. Any chance for a float trip on Monday 07/31?

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.