Graham Mole is a self-confessed fly fishing addict. In the UK, he is a columnist covering the world famous chalk streams there for a national fishing magazine. He is also author of “a recent fishing book with the cringing title of A Multitude of Fins….” He just got back via Air Transat from his ninth trip to Alberta and the glorious Bow river…
Just imagine….having the choice of literally hundreds of places to go fishing. And all for free…and some of those spots holding fish of 15lbs….
No, it’s not heaven, but for those lucky enough to get there it can come pretty close…..
It’s the area of the Canadian Rocky Mountains which has no less than 700 lakes, rivers and streams. It spans both sides of the continental divide from the US boundary in the south to the north of Alberta’s Jasper National Park. And getting there is no problem. You simply fly into Calgary and head west – just as the settlers did in the past.
The pull of the Rockies
I’ve fished around the Rockies a few times now and what’s fascinating for the visiting angler is the sheer variety of species on hand. Alberta alone can boast 54 native species, with the giant bull trout the daddy of them all. They’ll even chase and try to eat a fish already on your line – even the memory’s a heart-stopper…
One river almost above all that dominates the scene is the Bow that ends up roaring its way through Calgary itself. You can fish from its banks for nothing, just as long as you’ve paid for your provincial fishing licence. But the best way to really get in amongst the action is to visit one of the many tackle shops, where the advice is free and the equipment is tried and tested and tailored to the local conditions. One such example in Calgary is the Fish Tales Fly Shop – www.fishtales.co . Another is the one run by the Orvis company where I once asked the owner what the fishing was like. His reply?
“The fishing was great but the catching was not so good.”
Mostly the fishing method is fly fishing and while some of the names of the artificial flies might raise an eyebrow – a Bow River bugger? – you can rely on it that they work.
Wood is good, foam is home
There’s also totally expert advice available while on the river itself, and the way to get that is to contact one of the specialist guides. Each with their own boat, they drift you down the river, continually advising and giving tips on how best to fish. And it’s not just the Bow.
Over in British Columbia I still remember a classic day drifting down the river Elk at Fernie. The guide here, Becky Clark, certainly knew what she was talking about. Though it was my first day on that river she had the guide’s mantra -“wood is good”, “foam is home”- all of which told me which likely spots I should be aiming my fly at. It worked and I ended up the proud captor of half a dozen gloriously fit rainbow trout which are native to the area, as are the West Slope cutthroat trout.
It was while trying to get one of those into my net that a huge dark shape started chasing it. It was the bull trout, a species native to the area and going on 15lbs. It never got my fish and to this day I still can’t work out whether that was good or bad luck. Had I caught it I’d have had to return it to the water – that’s the rule over there because it’s officially at risk. But could I really have done that without having at least a picture to back up my boast? Not at all sure…
A catch for bears
What I am sure about is that if you’re out in the back country there is one problem which takes some managing – bears. As one local fishing writer put it, “Bears love fish as much as or more than fishermen do and it’s virtually impossible to prevent encounters.”
His solution ranges from, “If confronted do not antagonise the bear. Keep calm and try to assess the situation” to “If all else fails just play dead.” Right…
The only advice I’d offer is to have an armed guide for company or, at the very, very least some bear spray. I did fish once with a First Nations guide who unloaded his truck and took out a gun.
“Why?” I asked.
He replied, “It’s for when the bears come.”
Not “if” but “when”… He then departed for a favourite prayer spot, leaving me alone – but also praying…
Fishing around for a hot spot
Apart from the tackle shops and the guides there’s a massive amount of information online. Normally the routine for fishing in this region will be to fly to, say, Calgary and head off towards the Rockies. But the good fishing isn’t just around Calgary…if you’ve done that already and then tried the Rockies as well, how about trying Vancouver?
There you have the bonus of salmon of several types that can be sought out on the sea. If you ever wanted bragging rights then surely that must be a top contender. And while anglers world wide have a reputation for exaggeration, fishing in Canada might just remove the need… Just think – anglers not boasting any more and all thanks to getting there being so simple.