Just west of the city of Calgary, the Bow River flows fast between the Ghost Dam and Bearspaw Dam, a freestone section with dramatic seasonal water flow fluctuations. In the fall, as shown in the photograph to the right, the water levels drop with limited percipitation in the watershed, and flows from the mountains and tributaries also very low. The Jumpingpound Strain of rainbow trout calls this reach its home, and in recent years the fishery has collapsed, but now signs of recovery are building!
The rainbow trout are making an incredible comeback, yet the numbers are still low. I call it incredible, because all of the influences that added up to the near demise of our beloved highbred rainbows, didn't stop the remarkable survival story that is now underway! The combination of a dramatic change in our flow regime, coming out of the Ghost Dam, plus the well known disaster of both whirling disease and didymoe, plus what ever else. The impacts of environmental change on our trout fishery is still an unpersued science in our area!
The purpose of this page and more is that the river deserves to be monitored and this information can then be shared to spread the word of the trout that live in this reach of the Bow River. I will try to update this topic occasionally, so you can check in from time to time. An annoucement of changes to the site are always posted, so this will be what you watch for.
The brown trout has established a place of dominance in the river, since the rainbow trout and whitefish population crash in recent years.
The Jumpingpound Creek stain of rainbow trout is also found in the Bearspaw Dam, which provides the larger trout for the fly fisher, in the river as well.
Occasionally, you will hook into an Eastern Brook Trout, and some tend to be on the larger size of the scale, probably because they are too big for the small creeks that they came from or most likely just migrants.
There has always been little pockets of cutthroat trout on the Bow River in the Ghost to Bearspaw reach. Some anglers have hooked into some real beauties!
The local reach of the Bow River will always be on my list of fly fishing destinations, mainly because it is close to home, but also, I do like to keep track of the state of the fishery, so that I can share this information with you readers. It is always a good idea to have a good bit of history of the local fishery, as evidence used it the river or stream's future protection. Never loose hope, as long as there are people interested in helping keep the local trout fishery alive and well, there is some hope! It is when we loose hope and become skeptics that the trout fisheries die a slow death.
The collapse of both the rainbow trout and whitefish populations in the past ten or so years, has been devastating to our local trout sport fishery. Recovery has been the topic of conversations for a few years now, and fortunately, it is happening in a slow but very postive way! This was verified in a fly fishing trip that I personally experienced the other day, on October 7th, 2021. I will share my story with you to give you an idea of what is happening in the river right now.
Every good story starts with a hook, well my story starts with an old friend; my first fly rod. About a month ago, I was cleaning and organizing when I dug out my first fly rod that I ever owned. It was a fiberglass rod of an unknown make, because my earlier work of rebuilding the rod had removed any trace on the butt section of the fiberglass, which most likely had evidence of the original manufacturing identification at one time, but that branding was now gone forever. It was not an expensive fly rod, but it had wonderful action. At one time, in my younger years, I had considered this fly rod an extension of my own right hand, because it was in that hand for a very long period of time!
In any case, when the dust was removed from that wonderful magic wand, I decided at that point in time, I would fish this old friend before the snow flew this fall. The day of the 7th of October rolled around, and prior to my sudden impulse to go fly fishing, there was no previous plan or even thought regarding the matter, I just knew that I had to get onto the water for this perfect, warm and calm fall day.
The old fly rod had previously been dressed out with a new fly reel and line that I just happen to have on hand, so the tool was ready for its return to the river. When I rebuilt the rod, I had embelished the old fiberglass with a few new coats of polyurethane varnish, over a a fresh coat of black paint, its original color coating. The cork handle had recieved some filler, with a finish sanding to complete the job. It looks pretty colorful and sparkley. What was I thinking? In any case, the rod did handle the new line very well, as a few practise casts were always in order, prior to any foray into the wilds, to pursue the wild trout.
After suiting up in chest waders and grabbing all of my well prepared gear, I was out the door and off to the river. My first fly had already been tied on the new leader and it was ready for a stream side dressing of floatant and a wish and a prayer before the first cast. On my destination plan, there were a few boulder sites that I had put in the Bow River, here in the town of Cochrane, back in 1989 and again in 1996. With the lower flows, I was really looking forward to casting dry flies over the complex currents and vortexes of the large rocks that were used in the program, all of them were 4 to 6 ton boulders, so they were pretty significant structure for a freestone river, like our reach of the Bow River.
As a matter of fact, you can see some of the very large boulders in the river channel, in the photograph used at the top of this page. This kind of structure can really work like a trout magnet, so fly fishing over the rocks is a real joy for me personally. The type of line mends that you need to use, to get that longer drag free drift, is very challenging, but I like that a lot!
The weather could not have been more perfect for my first outting on the Bow River, since the early spring. It was late enough into the fall that you can fish midday, when the trout are more active in the cold fall flows of the Bow River. Now that is fly fishing heaven! I may not get out as much as I once did, but when I do, sometimes, it is the best thing that could happen to me in a very long time! Dry fly fishing in a downstream direction, what an easy ride, when you are wading the river. The current helps you on your way, was you carefully navigate the shallows of the river.
When wading, I like the chest waders in the river. Most of the wading is done shallow, so if you ever slip, you won't get as wet in chest waders. The didymoe is very slippery these days, and I don't use felt sole, but rather a wading boot rock gripping tread. The cleat soles are the next purchase that I will make for my Korkers wading boots. The water seldom gets too far above my thigh on this reach of the Bow River, where the faster flowing water keeps the trout in a little closer to the shore in some spots, so casting from the bank is a better idea on some stretches.
The fly pattern that I had tied on at home was quick to produce the first small trout, which just happen to be a rainbow trout of approximately 5 inches. This was great, it immediately confirmed the presence of some 4 to 5 inch trout in the river, and the first to take my hook was a JP rainbow trout. This presence of juvenile rainbow trout is the foundation of tomorrows rainbow trout population, so I was really pleased to let that little trout rocket off into the rapids, when it was released. The bullet head wood ant had done its job, so I was really pleased with that quick action!
This fun little dry fly has brought me plenty of pleasure in late season, clear water. It floats like a cork and the trout love it!
The Rio Grande King family of dry flies are probably the most famous of the trude style of white wing, late season dry flies.
Sometimes just the hackle color can make a world of difference, when it comes to late season clear flowing trout streams.
The coachman trude is another really old classic, but sometimes those old classics are overlooked. This pattern is fun to tie as well.
I was first introduced to the Black Trude by fly fishing guide, " Buck Buckenroth" , of the Jackson Hole reach of the Snake River, Wyomy. It is a killer "Fall" pattern!
I had prepared a selection of dry fly patterns to fish with, on the outting of October 7th. I usually do this in anticipation of a big event, such as fly fishing with my first fly rod or when other excuses can be manifested into use. Just preparation stuff, which is a bigger part of my whole fly fishing experience these days! The selection included some proven fall dry fly patterns that personal experience gives you as a gift of time, when you build up many falls of dry fly fishing on familiar waters. They could all be fished with the highest level of confidence. However, even if one of them catches trout on any given day, I do like to give all of them a shot, just to find out who is the winner of the day!
It sure felt good to finally get to the water, after my walk to the river, and then find an eager trout so willing to eat my bullet head dry fly, in a short period of time. The trout was small, but very well recieved and then released! As I waded the waters downstream, the comfortable mix of clothing and dry gear reminded me of what life is really all about!
The smaller rainbow trout were a reliable distraction and in my travels that day, I did manage to catch a few larger rainbow trout in the 8 to 10 inch size range. This was the best dry fly fishing for rainbow trout on this reach of the Bow River that I have experienced in some time. Last year, in the early fall, I also had a good day fishing hoppers, but the signs of rainbow trout recovery have now been elevated up a level, in my own personal experience.
It was really special fishing with that old fiberglass rod, it has a slower, more magical action that is preferred by many dry fly fishers. In the past, I would also fly fishing my cane rods, but that can wear you out a lot faster on a serious fly fishing day, so the fiberglass is about as far back in tradition that I personally would like to go, these days! No need to wear out this old guy just yet!
It was a really memorable day, and I won't soon forget the magic of all things that transpired on my long overdo fly fishing outing , on my favourite reach of the Bow River, in our area at least!
The boulder sites from the two projects completed by Bow Valley Habitat Development, on this reach of the Bow River, were designed to provide both low and high flow habitats for trout and mountain whitefish. They have proven their worth in the years since the projects were completed. Please check out the video assessment which was completed in years following the boulder project completion.
The video tells the true story
Check out this great video