Getting Started - Week 2: Alberta Trout Species and Popular Water Systems

Getting Started - Week 2: Alberta Trout Species and Popular Water Systems

 This week on Getting Started - Fly Fishing for Trout on Southern Alberta Rivers we will be looking at the Trout Species of Alberta and highlighting some of the popular rivers to fish in the area. Let’s start by looking at the Trout species of Alberta.

Rainbow Trout - While Rainbows are native to Alberta, they are native to only the Athabasca and Peace River systems. The Rainbows in the Bow river are a McCloud River strain from Southern California and were introduced around the 1920s. The defining characteristic of an adult Rainbow Trout is a red lateral stripe from the gills to the tail. Rainbows fight hard when hooked, often jumping multiple times, making them one of the most exciting fish species to catch.

Suggested River: The Blue Ribbon section of the Bow

Brown Trout - Browns are not native to Alberta and were also introduced around the 1920s. The defining characteristic of adult Brown Trout are brown spots with pale halos, with none appearing on the tail. Browns, especially large ones, are cautious night time feeders which makes targeting them challenging, a challenge many are eager to take on.

Suggested River: The Blue Ribbon section of the Bow

Bull Trout - Bulls are native to Alberta and in fact are our provincial fish. The defining characteristic of adult Bull Trout are white edges on its fins and a large head compared to its body. Bull Trout are an at risk species in Alberta, with a 0 keep limit across the province. Aggressive and territorial, you will often see a Bull Trout follow a smaller Cutthroat Trout you have hooked right up to the net.

Suggested River: The Lower Oldman

Cutthroat Trout - Cutthroat are native to Alberta as well, although in some locations non-native strains are stocked. The defining characteristic of adult Cutthroat Trout are bright red markings just below the jaw line. Cutthroat aggressively feed on insects on the surface of the water, which make them a favorite target for anglers looking to catch fish on dry flies.

Suggested River: The Upper Oldman

Brook Trout - Brookies are not native to Alberta and were introduced around the 1900s. The defining characteristic of adult Brook Trout are a dark olive back with a lighter olive marble pattern. During spawning the bellies of Brook Trout turn bright red and the red spots with blue halos around them that speckle the body become more pronounced.

Suggested River: Cataract Creek

Golden, Tiger and Lake Trout - Golden and Tiger Trout are found in still water here in Alberta so we won’t dive too deep into them. Golden and Tiger Trout are two of the most picturesque fish species out there. If you ever have an opportunity to fish for them you should, although they can be quite a challenge to find and catch.

Lake Trout are also a still water Trout species and can get quite large.They can be found in some Alpine lakes on the western slopes of Alberta.

That takes care of Alberta Trout Species, now let’s look at where you can catch some of the beautiful fish.

 We will start with the Blue Ribbon Bow which is a world class fishery located in southern Calgary. The Blue Ribbon Bow is a wide and deep prairie river that continues south and east far past the Calgary city limits into farm and reserve land. While still in the city the majority of the Blue Ribbon section of the Bow is either bird sanctuary or provincial park and quite scenic. Whitetail and Mule Deer, Eagles, Grouse, Hawks, Waterfowl, and migratory birds can all be commonly seen on a float down the bow. One section is even believed to have been used as a Buffalo Jump.

 The Bow has features that will appeal to a wide range of fly anglers and techniques. High steep banks with lots of subsurface structure are great for casting streamers against, 20” Browns and Rainbows hiding in one foot of riffly water are best approached using a dry dropper setup. Deep nymphing is great while walk and wading, but deadly when done out of a drift boat when experienced rowers can prolong drifts by matching the drift boat to the speed of your indicator.

 The Oldman is a lot more like a traditional Trout stream and is fantastic for walk and wade fishing. Located about 2 hours south of Calgary, the old man repeatedly switches from falls to deep pool and back as it twists and turns it way down the foothills.

 While the Bow is know for Browns and Rainbows, the Oldman is famous for Cutthroat and Bull Trout. Large streamers are great for targeting Bull Trout, while Cutthroat prefer dry flies.

 There are many other great water systems in Alberta, and we have completely left out still water fishing which is amazing in its own right. The two rivers I mentioned are where most folks start and will give you a good taste of what Alberta fly fishing has to offer. Once you have experienced both of these river don’t be afraid to explore new waters.

 That’s it for this week, next week will discuss options for an entry level fly rod set-up as well as provide some suggestions for a selection of flies that will get you on the right track to land some of the amazing fish species we spoke about today. Tight Lines!

Greg Speers