Time: 10:00AM – 7:00PM
Location: Downstream from Calgary
I began fishing in my early thirties, and my passion for this wonderful sport endured for over thirty years. In the early years I read everything I could, and I subscribed to numerous periodicals. Even now I receive six magazines, and although I struggle to keep pace with their arrival, I continue to read and educate myself. As with technology, I fear becoming outdated, and reading is an excellent means to stay current.
Over the years I devoured numerous articles that described fishing in the Bow River in Alberta. The descriptions sounded almost mythical to my eager ears, and the thought of visiting Alberta to cast a line in the blue hued river that tumbles from its source in Banff National Park struck me as a vague fantasy. Yet here I was at the Out Fly Fishing shop in Calgary on Friday morning, August 25, 2017.
When I decided to book a day of guided fishing on the Bow River, I contacted one of my Instagram connections and asked for a recommendation. She suggested a guide who also worked for Out Fly Fishing; however, he was already booked on August 25, so he suggested that I contact the shop and seek another guide.
Jane graciously allotted me a day of fishing on our return trip to Colorado from Jasper, and I stood at the counter and purchased my one day non-resident fishing license. Once this necessary detail was completed, I met my guide for the day, Mike, and he ushered me to his SUV and drift boat. Mike and I exchanged initial greetings, and I was admittedly a bit concerned over my assigned mentor, as Mike was obviously older than me. Could this elderly gentleman handle the physical requirements of rowing a drift boat while at the same time knotting my flies and directing my casts? I decided to trust the shop and defer any judgments.
We drove south from Calgary for thirty minutes, until we reached a nice gradually sloping boat launch site, and while I waited, Mike backed his trailer in the water and shoved the boat into the river. Huge swarms of tricos hovered over the edge of the river right in front of me, and I walked among them to inspect their size. They were tiny. I estimated that an exact imitation would require a size 26 or 28 hook. When I pointed them out to Mike, he informed me that in all likelihood we would not attempt to match the trico hatch.
I was equipped with my Sage One five weight rod, and before we launched, Mike tied a size 10 foam hopper to my line along with a bright red annelid worm as a dropper. I expected a terrestrial on top, but I was surprised by the worm. According to Mike the river was quite low for late August, although it struck me as a very substantial river compared to my usual destinations in Colorado. Unlike the upper Bow, the color of the river was greenish blue as it rushed over round white river rocks. The terrain along the river was mostly flat prairie farmland, although the gradient dropped enough to create a nice mix of pools and long flowing runs and glides.
By the time we drove to the river, launched the boat and rigged the rod it was ten o’clock, and now my day began in earnest. The first hour was a period of adjustment, as I followed Mike’s guidance, and I gradually grew to understand his verbal commands. This in turn enabled me to cast to the places that Mike knew, through many years of experience, would most likely produce trout. The first hour did not produce any fish, although I felt as if I made some expert casts and executed long drag free drifts.
In hour number two the fishing began to heat up. Mike and I began to work as a more cohesive team. We moved farther from the launch point, and the air temperature warmed the water. Fish began to rise in the slow moving pools, and I suspected they picked off tricos, but the feeding was not the regular gulping, that I associated with trico hatches. It quickly became clear that the trico eaters were tiny fish, and I did not commit my time and money to a day of casting for dinks on the Bow River.
We drifted through a nice run of moderate depth, where several currents merged below some gravel bars, and here I connected with three small rainbow trout in the nine to eleven inch range. At least I was catching fish, but the size was obviously disappointing. These fish relished the bright red worm, and this discovery relaxed my concerns about fishing a red worm in low late summer water conditions. I usually associate worm fishing with the high discolored conditions of spring.
My trust of Mike was gradually increasing, but then he pulled the boat up on a gradual bank and instructed me to walk the grassy slope with him. We proceeded to take a few steps, and then we paused to gaze into the slow moving band of water ten to fifteen feet beyond our positions. We repeated this over and over until we spooked two substantial rainbows that responded by slowly swimming out of view to the deeper current. I began to question whether this slow process was wasting my valuable guide trip time, but after covering thirty yards, we spotted another sizable trout, as it slowly cruised downstream above us. We froze instantly, and the fish made a one hundred and eighty degree turn and faced upstream. This was what Mike was looking for, and he instructed me to step down from the three foot bank and cast.
I stripped out line and began to cast and lengthened the distance with each forward thrust. I was feeling quite a bit of self inflicted pressure, and I was certain that I would flub this unexpected sight fishing opportunity. Finally I judged that my distance was sufficient, so I released the line and allowed it to glide through the rod guides, while I held my breath. The hopper shot out straight and then plunked down in the river, and the worm dropper followed with a small splash, but I now realized that my cast came up short. I was admonishing myself for failing my first significant casting test of the day, when the large underwater form turned around. Apparently the sound of the hopper caught its attention, and it slowly swam toward the terrestrial, and after traveling two feet it turned its head. Mike shouted, “hit it”, and I did so and felt a strong connection with the targeted fish. I was shocked to realize, that the trout snatched the trailing annelid!
The rainbow trout instantly went into escape mode, and I allowed it complete three or four high speed dashes, while line peeled off my new Battenkill disk drag reel. I was quite pleased over my decision to upgrade the reel that held my five weight line prior to the trip. Eventually the rainbow began to tire, and at this point I realized that Mike left the net back in the boat. This fact did not faze Mike, as he waded into the river, and instructed me on how to guide the fish within his reach, whereupon he confidently grasped it and positioned it for a few photos. Mike estimated that the rainbow trout measured twenty inches, and it exhibited a fine width. The entire episode was extremely visual, and a state of euphoria settled over me, until we were back in the boat.
We continued our journey down the Bow River, and after another thirty minutes elapsed, we drifted through an area where a nice deep run cascaded within five feet of the north bank. I made a cast to the bank and allowed the hopper to bob along the seam next to the rocky shoreline. Suddenly a large form emerged, and the back of a rainbow trout humped above the surface, and then the mouth of the hungry stream dweller crashed down on the grasshopper. I was attentive and instantly raised my rod, and I was excited to feel a connection with another substantial fish.
Once again a battle ensued, and fortunately I withstood the various escape antics and guided another twenty inch rainbow trout into Mike’s waiting net. I pinched myself to make sure that landing two twenty inch rainbow trout on the Bow River within one hour was not a delirious dream. The first significant trout was a textbook sight fishing scenario, and now I witnessed an aggressive take of a large surface hopper imitation. Although rainbow number two equaled the earlier prize in length, it did not possess the same bulk. Mike and I exchanged high fives and continued our journey down the Bow River.
I wish I could report that twenty inch fish continued to nestle in Mike’s net during the remainder of our float, but that was not the case. I was not disappointed, however, as the catch rate continued at a reasonable rate, and my focus was sustained by the expectation of connecting with another large fish. We paused and ate our lunches at 1:30, and between two o’clock and seven o’clock I managed to steer eleven more rainbow trout into the large long handled net. Three of these fish were powerful rainbows in the fourteen to fifteen inch range, and they acquitted themselves well with leaps, dives and sudden bursts in their attempts to shed my hook. Another fish measured in the seventeen inch range, but it was lean and undernourished, and Mike speculated that it was diseased in some way.
The remainder of the catch were spunky rainbows in the nine to twelve inch range, and I lifted these to the boat quickly in order to pursue bigger targets. Of course success was not always a given, and I also hooked and lost four or five trout that in all likelihood fell into the fifteen to twenty inch size slot. A twenty plus fish day was a possibility, but long distance releases are an expected part of the game.
Over the course of the day I learned that the best water was characterized by the seams and deep runs where multiple currents merged. Also productive were stretches of moderate current and depth along rocky shorelines. In these places I cast ahead of the boat within a few feet of the bank, and Mike matched the drift of the boat with the speed of the fly enabling very long drifts. Slow moving deep pools were unproductive, and by the afternoon we rowed through them quickly to seek the locations that matched the productive areas described above.
What a fun day! I landed seventeen trout including two twenty inch fish and four in the fourteen to seventeen inch range. All the larger fish were persistent fighters, and they forced me to employ my best fish fighting skills. The catch rate subsided during the last hour or two, but between 11AM and 5PM it was relatively steady.
And what about my concerns with Mike? He took longer to knot fluorocarbon than the average guide, and his hearing was a bit impaired, but he more than compensated through his vast knowledge of the river. I developed an understanding of Mike’s verbal directions, and my confidence in his guidance blossomed. He clearly knew the river and how to maneuver the boat and positioned me for my best chance for success. After thirty years of dreaming about the Bow River of Alberta, I actually spent a day drifting along its spectacular waters and managed to land some quality fish. What a day.
Fish Landed: 17