World Class Fly Fishing on the Bow River in Alberta, Canada
The Bow River is an Eastern Rocky Mountain River that begins at Bow Lake near Banff. The Lake is fed by Bow Glacier and the runoff from the snowpack is rich in nutrients. All that food supports an amazing range of sports fish and a long list of Trout - Rainbows, Bulls, and Browns being the bigger of the lot. The Bow River is dynamic and runs through Banff National Park, past Banff and down the slow of the Rockies through Calgary. The Bow River is divided into the Upper and Lower Bow Rivers and the fishing changes based on where you go as do the species of fish available. In this blog, we explore the best of the Bow River and the world class fishing it offers.
The biggest Trout here are the Rainbow Trout and the Brown Trout, though there are Bull Trout here that make both look small. Above Calgary, you find amazing fishing for the smaller species of Trout, while below Calgary you tend to find the majority of Rainbows and Browns. That is not to say you will not find Browns or Rainbows above Calgary, they are there and the local legend speaks of a spot above Calgary where you can tease the big Bull Trout out of the lazy holes - by big we mean in the 20 - 30 pound range.
Brook Trout and Cutthroat Trout are another species of great interest for fly fishermen and you find these above Calgary in the smaller sections and hike-in fishing spots. In addition to Trout, you can hit Walleye and Nothern Pike. In the upper alpine areas, you can find beautiful lakes that are rich with Trout and Northern Pike. These quiet places are home to Lake Trout.
The Upper Bow River
We are talking the Eastern Slope of the Rocky Mountains and the river here is cascading. Unlike the lower Bow River, the fishing here is more determined in that you walk in, wade the shallows, or maybe fly "up" to the Lakes. There is plenty of fishing here and it is all good. This is the area where you find the smaller species of trout - Brook Trout, etc. It is also a quieter spot with a wild touch that somehow sits at the heart of fly fishing. The lower Bow River has some 2,500 Trout per mile and the fishers and guides tend to congregate here. That leaves the Upper Bow River to those who love the more relaxed fishing experience - it is no less intense, just not as crowded.
The Upper Bow is floatable and with an experienced guide, you can certainly find adventure. Many of the best spots require a short hike.
One of the best features of the Bow River - besides the fishing - is that you can fly right to Banff or Calgary and be fishing the same day you land.
Generally, May through October is the fishing season here. However, the spawning runs differ from species and a well-informed guide can put you on the big Trophy Fish.
May, the rainbows are headed up small creeks and spawning but the first half of the month makes good Trophy Brown Trout fishing. The weather here is changing and May can be cold and rainy or dry. June is the rainy month in the high altitudes and that means the Bow River is rough, full of turbidity, and the fish are hunkered down because of the faster currents. Generally, this is not a great time to fish the bow. By late June and early July, the melt and rain have slowed and the river begins to return to its former self. You can target trout -generally - after the rainy season abates - but that specific time is going to differ each year. If you have booked a guide, talk to them about the local weather and the river's conditions. Booking a guided Trout trip at the wrong time will leave you disappointed.
July begins the hatch as the water warms enough that the aquatic insects emerge and transform into terrestrial fliers. It is this change that really marks the beginning of the Trophy Trout fishing on the Bow. Sure, you can target trophies before July - The Brown Trout are easy in May when the Rainbows are Spawning - but the urgency of all fish in the river increases as the food supply multiplies. This is also the essence that is Fly Fishing.
As the water slows and the turbidity decreases the fishing returns to normal. The big fish are moving out into the fishing corridor where they can forage for insects and food.
By August the heat has set in and that makes for a wonderful time to fish. The insect activity is peaking and that means evening and mornings become active feeding times for the fish. Fish understand this cycle and as the smaller flies - mayflies, stoneflies, etc - give way to the bigger insects, the Trout adjust. The dry fly attracts a lot of attention because the fish are looking for food on the surface.
By September the seasons are merging and you see the signs of fall begin. This also signals the fish to change their behavior too. Fall spawning is not so far away and the fish are preparing for that event. September is a great time to float the Bow. By October the season is winding down as the cooler weather is taking its toll on the insects, the fishing again changes.
August is probably the best month to fish the Bow River, though honestly, the perfect time depends on the location and the species involved.
Excellent Fly Fishing for All Experience Levels
Overall, the Bow River offers something - and then some - for everyone. If you are short on time and still want to hit the Trophy Trout, then the Lower Bow is Perfect. If you are here to fish for the whole week and you want to sample the River, then you won't be disappointed. The best tip is to talk to your guide or interview a few of them. Some serve the entire river while others focus only on the Lower Bow River.