Fishing the Bow River

There were some east slopes cutthroat trout and bull trout residing in the river as Calgary developed into a city. The rainbows were, by good fortune, put in the Bow River back in the twenties. These former Mcleod river (California) stocks were on their way to Banff National Park when an train accident occurred delaying them from being stocked in the park lakes. The ultimate desiccation of the trout was prevented when someone suggested releasing the cargo of trout into the river, the Bow River. A few years later a British gentleman released brown trout into the river.


Both species survived many decades in the river and have become the dominant residents. Flowing through Calgary the river provides water for the citizens. Several reservoirs were constructed along its flow during the forties. Industries were established in Calgary and they required water and labor.

The oil boom and support manufacturing caused Calgary to expand and grow into a major center of almost 750,000 population. The Bow River developed as a result of Calgary’s growth. In the early years untreated sewage had been released in the river changing its character from freestone to almost chalk stream. With the artificial enrichment and nutrients the grasses grew and create a place for new and fertile bio mass development attracting insects and allowing the fish to achieve rapid growth.

Environmental concerns forced the city fathers to protect the river from industry and pollution and the result has been improved sewage treatment and careful monitoring of all industrial areas and the establishment of the storm drain marking program called the Yellow Fish Road.

Dry Fly Fishing

To catch a trout on a dry fly is the most exciting method of angling. To have either your concentration shattered by the explosion of a trout on your fly or to have your fly sucked down in a swirl or to see it disappear in a wink — all make your heart race. To be fast to a hard running and high jumping rainbow or to the bull-headed power of a brown all the while using tippet too light and a dry fly tied on too small and delicate a hook. To feel the power of the river rushing against your legs as you regain your footing from the initial strike. Rod held high you try to ease yourself and the trout into easy flowing water where you can net and release your catch. The exhilaration and euphoria you must feel after the hours of searching for rising trout and then trying to match the hatch. Were they feeding on Caddis or Pale Morning Duns? Were the little Yellow Sally’s on the water? Maybe you were there in the fall when the Tricos, the Blue Winged Olives, the October Caddis or backswimmers were the trouts main diet.

The dry fly fishing can be very spectcular or it could be very slow. The activity is dependent upon the weather conditions and especially the wind. The Caddis fishing picks up towards the end of June and runs through to mid July. During this time you may experience rapid fluctuations in temperature, wind and rain. The end of July and through all of August and into September you can have hopper fishing. I prefer to use #10 or #12 Hoppers early on and increase the size to #4’s and #6’s by the end of August. The Trico’s will hatch early each day during most of August and into September. On cooler days the Blue Winged Olives may emerge and I will use patterns size #18 to #22.

The guides and myself enjoy dry fly fishing as much as anybody would, and when the opportunity presents itself, often fish together. A few years ago Environmental Protection opened the season during April/May to permit ‘Catch and Release’ angling. We jumped at the chance to fish that time frame. The fishing was great and the dry fly angling was incredible. We had angler days of between 20 and 30 trout, all good size. The flies used were attractor patterns such as the Bivisible, Renegade, Adams and Royal Wulff, size #12 – #16. The fishing continued until the spring rains hit in June. During the fall we can also experience great dry fly fishing. When an Arctic cold front drops low into Alberta the Blue Winged Olives start hatching in great abundance. The normally cautiuous large trout will move into the shallow seams along the edge of the river on the overcast days. Best approached with caution and stealth an angler will have a good chance at seeing or even catching a trophy trout. The angling pressure is not as great in the fall as most sportsman are thinking of big game, bird game and waterfowling. Alberta offers many other dry fly fishing challenges and we will be glad to take you on a walk wade trip to any of the other streams and rivers that you may have heard about.

Nymph Fishing

Nymph fishing has a reputation for being the most difficult method of angling with a fly rod. Up stream casting a short line and using a weighted rig that you have to carefully watch the end of the fly line for any unnatural movement — set the hook.

With all my efforts I could not get the feel for it, that is until Harry Thomas arrived as a client. Harry fished hard and caught lots of trout when none of the others could buy a strike. Harry introduced me to the San Juan Worm and a strike indicator. Now indicator nymph fishing was not new to me as I has fished with Dave Whitlock on the Madison R. in Montana while he was experimenting with indicator nymph fishing. He was very successful. Dave was using a piece of orange fly line as his indicator . I could not see his indicator on the water. Harry’s indicator was much larger. The bright indicator was easy to follow and any strike was easy to detect. The resulting hook-ups will renew the excitement on slow days. The sad thing is that people are using this method more and more but learning less because they spend all their time watching the fuzz ball instead of the water.

During the entire season nymph fishing can be employed when the dry fly activity is limited. The Bow River is very rich with aquatic life. Large populations of caddis, mayflies, stoneflies, midges, leach, and others permit the angler to offer an entire menu to the trout. The nymph pattern selected has to be fished deep and slow in order to be effective. Strike detection may require the use of an indicator such as: corky, yarn, sleeve of fly line or bright foam stick-on. The size and style of indicator is dependent upon the weight of the fly. A heavily weighted fly will drag down a small indicator making it impossible to see. I recommend long leaders when nymphing and either weighted patterns or adding lead weight to the leader. I am a firm believer of the big fly, big fish theory but I also enjoy watching someone show what they have experienced on their home waters and having it work on the Bow River. I have met several anglers over the years who prefer to fish very small nymphs in order to catch trout out of heavily fished streams.

When fishing a nymph special attention has to paid to the water, seams, color changes and cover. While wading in the stream continous casting to likely holes and reputition. When one cast fails try 20 or 30 or more. When nymphing do not try to fish the whole stream on each cast, pick a small area and put more casts through it before moving up.

Fishing Streamers

When I get the chance to stand up in the front of the drift boat I love casting a weighted streamer up against the bank. It is more work and can be exhausting in a pleasant way. The challenge is getting the fly in to all the fishy spots while the boat is moving with the current. You have to let the fly sink down into the pocket and then tease the fly back to the surface enticing the trout into striking the pattern. The action can either be fast and very explosive or very subtle.

Fishing deep down and dirty using Hi- Speed Hi-D lines, short leaders and weighted fly patterns is a lot of work but you may catch the biggest trout of your life. As you learn more about streamer fishing you learn more about reading the water. You will learn to detect the difference between hanging up on a stick or a rock or you will feel the linbe dragging through the moss. Your casting techniques will have to improve allowing you to physically be able to endure throughout your stay. You will wade out only far enough to allow the fly to swing into living wate where a trout may follow and eat the fly. Cast as far as comfortable in an upstream direction, mend the line to prevent the fly from swinging too fast. Follow the lines progress wiht the rod tip mending occasionally. Keep your rod tip low in anticipation of a strike. When the fly has reached the end of its swing let it rest before stripping in enough line to recast. Step down stream a pace or tow and then repeat the proceedure. You should fish through the run until you wish to rest. I have enjoyed this method of angling over the years and have caught some very large trout. It also keeps me in shape for the steelhead trip that I like to go on each fall.