Fishing Report - Winter

Winter, or Whatever This Is

Warning! The following fishing report contains graphic images that may be frightening to children & limp-wristed city slickers.

Ice doing its damnedest to cover Alberta’s Bow River.

So far, it's the winter that wasn't, here in Southern Alberta. By now we've all noticed the snow MIA, dudes wearing beach slides with basketball shorts to the grocery store, and the general lack of any cold. All at a time when we should be going Hunger Games over the last bag of sidewalk salt at Canadian Tire while shivering under layers of fleece & down.

Fogged-up glasses, faucet noses, yellow snow; all those traditional Calgary winter side effects that are starting to feel a bit nostalgic are missing. At least you can still easily disappear a half-litre of lotion into your desiccated jerky hands just like the good old days, and static electricity is free. Winter weather in Canada is supposed to miserably bad, not miserably nice.

The Bow got a little bump into 2024 from from a heavy rain.
December just wasn't winter as we know it around here, and it's shaping up to be another concerning year for water levels with the Bow at its lowest since record keeping began in 1911 and no relief in sight as El Niño parches the West. The Bow has been flowing at around 35-40 cms per second through the city section, and Ghost reservoir is still holding 90% full. The most significant amount of precipitation here lately came in the form of rain, heavy & late on New Years Eve, giving the land a modest drink. It's not much, but we'll take it. 
It'll be a tough spring here and also farther downstream in places like Saskatchewan which relies on the Bow to fill Lake Diefenbaker with water for much of the population. Alberta's environment minister & energy regulators have started beating the drum in recent weeks, warning municipalities, O&G, and agriculture industry that things will be very tight water-wise this year. We're sure to see tightening of water use restrictions and many tough conversations had. Let's hope the the fish & other creatures that rely on our river ecosystems are considered in these conversations by the powers that be.
The Bow coming out of Bearspaw in between 35-40 cms.
Recent warm weather has also had tragic human consequences in some cases across the country such as on this past Christmas Day, when a Calgary man lost his life after falling through thin ice on the Bow near Morley. Be careful out there. 
  Drought conditions in Canada as of Nov. 30/23. Graph courtesy Calgary Herald/Postmedia.
It's not all bad news - make hay while the sun is shining, why don't we, and take advantage of the excellent off season fishing conditions we find ourselves amidst. It may be bittersweet, but it's a banner year for winter fishing on the Bow. Rainbows are clamoring to hit the leech & that dang ol' worm like foreign homebuyers hitting up the MLS listings. That is to say, frequently & with no hesitation. They're even doing pushups on midge emergers well into the evening light and a frisky dry fly angler wouldn't be out of pocket to strap a 4 weight to the pack, just in case the same set of shoulders breaks the surface more than a couple of times. Browns in the net have been more scarce for this angler lately, and they have been observed taking advantage of the warm weather; digging redds as late as December 15th. Maybe it will be another great early season dry fly year in 2024, as was the case in 2023.
Looks like the worm is set to turn this week with the arrival of some more seasonally appropriate temperatures into the -20s that will shut down the fishing for a while, and let's hope for more than a few centimeters of snow with it.

Dressed to impress in pink chrome for the NYE ball on the Bow.

On The Bow River

  • Midge time. Hatches are often and sustained through the warm hours of the day. Fish are keyed in.
  • Thin profile and sparse patterns, whether nymph, dry, or streamer. Trout can see your fly just fine in the low water and subdued patterns will be enough entice them. Focus on quality presentations.
  • Flashy sparkle minnow types are still great to trail a plain looking fish-catcher behind, although most strikes will be on the trailer. 
  • You may show up to the river and encounter slushy conditions that make fishing tricky if not impossible. Before giving up on the day, remember that if temps are warming, slush will often disperse to fishable levels as the day progresses. Go for a walk and try to wait it out, but if it's not clearing by 2-3 PM, you may be out of luck.
  • Ice is slowly accumulating in thin sheets on the banks but should be about 5' thick in some places, and is usually frozen over in the city by now. Use extreme caution walking on ice sheets next to running water as stability changes often. Alberta Environment & Parks recommends staying off ice thinner than 10cm/4" when on foot. 
  • Dry fly action is definitely happening. Fish are rising reliably on warmer days, sometimes posting up at a lie and hitting pushups like during strong summer hatches. Fish have even been observed rising through slush to get delicious midge snacks.
  • A 6-weight is often your best daily driver through winter months on the Bow if you're fishing a single hander. However, a 5 will give you the ability to switch up to a small dry fly setup and retain enough sensitivity to fish it properly if they start rising consistently. 
  • Scan the banks during strong midge hatches to determine the size of washed up shucks (they look like rice krispies). Try fishing chironomid nymph patterns #12-14 in addition to the very small stuff.
  • Try fishing these larger chironomids #10-14 in red variations as a thin winter bloodworm imitation. 
  • Low water conditions make it challenging to weight your nymph rig correctly as very shallow runs transition into very slow moving buckets. Try a #8-12 jig nymph or leech as your first fly on a 7.5-9' 2X leader, then an unweighted nymph on 2-4' of 3X fluorocarbon as your terminal tackle off the eye of the jig.
  • Jig nymphs will reduce snagging bottom in very low conditions. Master the micro-loop knot for maximum movement of your flies. 
  • Invest in a NZ strike indicator system using sheep's wool and ditch the foam bobber. It's easier to cast, more sensitive and does a better job of detecting dainty winter takes. Pair it with Fly Agra to keep it up all day, mate!
  • Poachers are a continuing problem on the Bow, which has a zero catch limit year round. Call it in if you see someone keeping or transporting fish with as much information you can reasonably supply & get your sweet snitch money! 
  • Alberta Report A Poacher Line: 1800-642-3800
  • Be mindful of your fish handling. Use a net with a rubber bag, try to land fish quickly, minimize handling time & exposure to cold air, and consider picking up a hook release tool to make getting your fly back real easy for everyone's benefit.
  • The two-hand angler will have a nice time fishing a S3 tip on floating or intermediate heads as standard operating procedure, with a S6 or S7 in the bag to drop flies into deep buckets if need be. A single beadhead or unweighted leech is often all you need.  

Flies For The Bow


RIO's Red Assassin, #12-16

Rowley's Holo Worm, #12

Double Rib Chironomid, #18

RIO's Hangin' With My Chromies, Red, #12-14 

Photo Roundup

Die with a smile in the Bow Valley.

Straight up balmy out there. Balmy!

Leech eater.

Very old bones see the light of day once again on the banks of the Bow.

Frozen trigonometry.

A poacher left his calling card every 50 feet or so on his way down the run.Must be the season of the midge.

♪ Makin' my way, downtown... ♫ 

Time your cast, then mend your way through the slushbergs to claim your prize!

"I had a rough childhood. We had to crawl out of primordial ooze across the exoskeletons of our brothers & sisters who came before us. Many perished." 

All smiles as 2023 comes to a close on the Bow. 

Pray for snow, rain, sleet, or even hail!

1 comment

  • Jamie Lacroix

    Fine example of wordsmithery. I even laughed a few times. Well done.

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