Fishing Report - Mid to Late Winter

Hot or Not So Much

Despite a wild temperature variance of nearly 60C in just three weeks, winter fishing has been steady as she goes! Some rare good news on the K-Country logging controversy. Now how about some dang snow?

-40C on the Bow in downtown Calgary.

This angler was heard complaining about the lack of wintery weather here in Southern Alberta, and Mother Nature responded with some good old fashioned kill-ya-quick kinda cold in January. Temperatures dipped to near -40, giving ice a fighting chance to stretch bank to bank on many sections of the Bow. Fish got a well deserved break as anglers got reacquainted with the Great Indoors, on account of the outside air being hazardous to living. With a bit of luck, a few transplants noped out and were frightened back to the balmy shores of the Lower Mainland (half kidding).

This was abruptly followed by a Pineapple Express of warm air carried by the jet stream directly across the Pacific, blasting us with air temperatures near +20, causing Calgarians to consider packing both beachwear & polar expedition gear for any length of time outdoors, just to keep all the bases covered. Maybe the guy downtown yelling at the sky in a Hawaiian shirt and a floor length parka was on to something after all!

Since then, things have been a bit more normal temperature wise, and anglers have taken to winter fishing with a passion whenever weather permits. Midges have been hatching in prolific numbers, but subsurface tactics remain the breadwinner. Streamer fishing has been the ticket to trophy fish for those willing to deal with a frozen stripping hand.

Winter finally showed up in January.  

Water levels in rivers and many reservoirs around Southern Alberta are still extremely low, such as the St. Mary's Reservoir which is sitting at a measly 11% of capacity, or the Oldman Reservoir, currently sitting just under 30% capacity. Luckily Ghost Lake is still mostly full, and we're going to need every last drop. The Bow is flowing out of Ghost at around 35-37 cubic meters per second, low but steady.

Unless you are in some kind of self imposed media exile (good for you) or you don't like using your eyes much, you'll know that water is in very, very short supply here. I won't go too far into detail with the doom & gloom (fly fishing is supposed to be fun), but know that between all levels of government, industry, agriculture, and various user groups, there are some uncomfortable conversations and outcomes looming on the horizon regarding water use allocations in our severely drought stricken province. And that's enough about that.   

Hold the line.

It's not all bad news in K-Country. 

In some rare good news for trout, wildlife, and all Albertans, foreign-owned West Fraser Timber Ltd. (formerly Spray Lakes Sawmills) has "paused" clear-cut logging operations in the upper Highwood River area of Kananaskis, while they "consult with stakeholders". Not a moment too soon, as recent tales of trucks loaded with K-Country timber secretly moved out on Highway 40 in the dead of night have had anglers, hunters, and other outdoor users increasingly worried. The implications of logging in these headwater areas go far beyond a few dead trout and some stinky hikers whining about ruined scenic views. Extreme precipitation events (See: 2013) dropping heavy rain onto parched clear-cut hillsides could cause large landslides, obliterating water quality downstream, affecting communities and livelihoods (including industry too). Name a more iconic industry in Alberta than cattle ranching, which certainly requires ready access to clean water to be viable. 

DNA testing commissioned by Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and funded by Bow River Trout Foundation showed the presence of at-risk fish species (Bull Trout) in creeks adjacent to planned clearcuts. West Fraser does not have the necessary Fisheries Act or Species at Risk Act permits to undertake (or build bridges) logging in areas where these species are present in critical habitat, and the federal Department of Fisheries & Oceans is investigating. Make no mistake about it, the construction of that bridge over troubled waters was a blatant, brazen, criminal act.

 Both the mayors of Okotoks and High River have sent letters to the provincial government in opposition of the logging, in addition to over 6600 letters from the public. Let's hope common sense prevails, and that West Fraser is not allowed to destroy headwaters in one of the crown jewels of our mountain recreation areas. Almost nobody who lives here wants to see this happen.

On The Bow River

  • Much of the Bow downstream of the city is ice free down the fairway and fishable where it counts.
  • Drift boat access is still limited though. Mckinnon Flats access road gate is set to open April 15th.
  • Watch your step on those high ice banks. look for hidden cracks where undercut ledges have collapsed and snow has covered the void. It's easy to drop a leg hip deep unexpectedly & it's a long walk back to the truck with a mangled knee. 
  • Midges are still the most significant insect hatch available for feeding trout. If you want to fish a midge hatch but don't want to nymph or commit to a dry fly setup, try swinging a midge nymph or soft hackle behind a leech on your streamer or microspey setup.
  • For streamers, if it ain't olive, just don't bother. We may be showing our confirmation bias, but green works for us. Many fine upstanding people are saying that brown or even natural colors work, but I don't believe them.
  • Watch the weight on those streamers, unless you are targeting deep buckets on your single-hander, or the faster runs on your swing rod. An S3 sink tip will still have you covered for most situations as it is low out there.
  • Vary your streamer retrieve speed. If fast and short strips don't entice a strike, slow it right down or try a mashup of both. Either way, get in the habit of using 1-2 assertive strips after a cast & mend to remove slack from the line, so you'll be ready to set the hook right away if you happened to land the fly directly in front of an interested fish.
  • Nymphing will always show better numbers, especially in wintertime, while streamer fishing produces fewer, bigger fish.
  • Alright, fine. Put the worm on, but don't brag about it. Even better, just don't talk about it. Go catch a dozen fish & beg the river gods for forgiveness.
  • Trout eat midges off the surface at dusk!
  • Poaching is an ever present problem and seems to be increasing with the population boom here. The catch limit on the Bow is 0 fish, all species. No bait, no scent, no exceptions. Alberta Report A Poacher line 1-800-642-3800. Get paid for calling in poachers & doing the right thing.

Flies For The Bow


Palomino Midge, Tan, #18-20

Griffith's Gnat, Peacock, #16-20

RS2 CDC, Gray or Black, #18-20

Hi-Vis Parachute Midge, #20

Ritt's ARF Midge Adult, Black, #18-20


Tungsten Jig Squirrel Leech, Olive, #10

Squirrely Little Bugger, #8

Tungsten Jig Squirrel Leech, Black, #10

Galloup's Mini Peanut Envy, Olive or Brown, #6 

BH Wooly Bugger, Olive #6-10


Red Striped Zebra Nymph, #14-16

RIO's TB Worm Farm, Red, Pink, or Brown, #12

Tungsten Jig Perdigon, Fire, #14-18

RIO's Red Assassin, Any Color, #12-16

BH Pheasant Tail, #14-18

Photo Roundup 

 Putting the down jacket to the test during the cold snap.  

Snow molars on the Bow.

One of many cookies in the tin.

Cam sayin' bye to a blue steel streamer biter.

Nice to see at least a little snow on these peaks.

Trevor G. keeps the leech box stocked and on lock year-round.

Barnesy schwings up a butter bar on his Microspey Air 2 2109.

Whiting Farms American Hackle articulated sculpin, #2

It's a party with a billion of your closest pals! Just like the Costco parking lot on a Sunday.

Keep your peepers peeled for troot snoots.

Steamy means the water is warm, right?

We need total coverage!

Early morning in the frozen city.

Do you speak Australian? Cuz that chin is way down under! What in the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant is this?

Pray for snow, sleet, or even pissing rain!


  • Francis Ethier

    Great river report!
    Loved “For streamers, if it ain’t olive, just don’t bother.”

  • Paul Williams

    Great photos, thanks! Also, thanks to all of you for providing an informative update & for spreading the word about K-Country logging. Must protect our headwaters and give Mr Trout a voice!! Ha! Tight lines.

  • Michael Welch

    Thanks for the update

  • Sean Parsons

    That was a great read and had lots of great information. I have learned alot in a short amount of time.

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