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After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood

 

In June of 2013 Southern Alberta suffered one of the largest natural disaster in Canadian history in the form of river and stream flooding never seen before. Once the waters subsided and anglers returned to the rivers and streams they were confronted with changes ranging from minimal to drastic. Rivers and streams had widened in spots, narrowed in others, and in many cases totally changed course. Many waters remained unreachable due to road closures, and if you could get to the stream, getting to the water was a challenge due to log jams. Many anglers simply did not fish thinking that there was no point, certainly the fish would have all been swept away or left stranded on dry land as the streams dropped. Anglers that fished the Bow after the waters subsided in the fall of 2013 knew that the fish were still there in good numbers and were indeed very healthy, but the small stream anglers who fished the Highwood, Livingstone and Oldman area streams were still uncertain of what lay ahead. Anglers were also concerned about the insect life and how the scouring of the river beds and banks would affect the insect populations.

The Bow River in flood, June 2013

The Bow River in flood, June 2013

As spring of 2014 arrived it seemed like everyone in Calgary and area were holding their breath, waiting for runoff with fingers crossed. Pre-runoff fishing on the Bow had been good, although access was limited due to the Caresland boat launch being closed and the road to McKinnon Flats being washed out. A very cool and wet spring added to everyone's anxiety, hatches were delayed by weeks and anglers were holding their collective breaths waiting for the snow pack to melt and make its way down the foothills, through the city and out into the prairies. Well runoff came and went at normal or below normal levels, the cool wet spring probably help stretch it out over a longer period of time and everyone could finally exhale.

Anglers enjoy an early season float on 
the Bow

Anglers enjoy an early season float on the Bow

Anglers hit the Bow in numbers and the fishing while ranging from so-so to great, depending on the angler, the day of the week and the stretch of water fished. One thing was for certain the fish were there and healthy, the bugs, while a little late were also present and in good numbers. The stonefly fishing May and June was great and anglers took advantage of great nymph fishing during the day and dry fly action at night and early morning was outstanding. In mid June I was at the boat launch at 5:00 am hoping to catch the last few hours of the spectacular dry fly fishing I had been hearing about. I was feeling pretty smug driving to the launch, thinking that I would be the "early bird that got the worm", well three empty boat trailers, three others launching, and more coming as we launched deflated me a little, but the fishing was good on big dry stoneflies until about 8:oo am and after that we couldn't buy a fish so the early launch was a good idea. With the access at Caresland now open anglers are now able to fish the lower end and reports have been good so far. Lots of bugs and plenty of fish being caught on dries, nymphs and streamers.

A healthy Bow River rainbow

A healthy Bow River rainbow

The east slopes streams that southern Alberta fly fishers frequent, the Highwood, Livingstone and Oldman open to fishing on June 16th, but are usually unfishable until late June or early July and 2014 was no exception. My first trip of the season was to the Livingstone, one of the most popular of the east slope streams. The trip was much of what I had expected, some of my favourite runs and pools were the same, many had changed or were gone altogether and there were some new spots full of promise. The big question was were there fish, and how did they fair the flood waters and the changes in their habitat? We caught fish all day, most were in good shape, and the new spots contained fish which had obviously moved from old locals to new in order to survive and carry on. There were sections that needed another year or two of runoff to establish their course, they were braided and spread out over wide flood plains, changed from one channel to four or five small channels too shallow and straight to provide trout habitat. The fish we caught were healthy and we saw several species of insects as well as terrestrials which add to the trout's diet. As with all the streams I fished in 2014 it was amazing to observe where the high water mark was and imagine the water volume that had run through it, hard to believe that anything could survive such an onslaught and survive.

A Livingstone River cutthroat

A Livingstone River cutthroat

One of my favourite places to fish has always been the Highwood river in Kananskis country, deep corner pools full of cutthroat trout , with the occasional big Bull trout thrown in for excitement. The highway west of Longview runs along the Highwood and many accesses into the canyon section are available to the angler, but the "Billy Goat" required for these sections has long gone from these old bones so I have preferred to travel into K Country and fish the stream in the Cat Creek area. The usual scenario was to park in the Cat Creek day use area, walk twenty minutes by trail upstream and start fishing at what we called the home pool. The Cat Creek day use area was one of many damaged by the flood and has not been repaired so I parked off the Highway and walked in along what was left of the road. The Highwood looked very good right at the day use area so I decided to forgo the usual 20minute hike and start. Getting to the water proved to be more of a challenge than anticipated and I was well upstream of the of the day use area before I even reached the water. Like many other streams the Highwood had changed dramatically, some places for the better, many for the worse. I caught several cutthroats along this stretch, most fat and deathly, and a couple that were a bit on the skinny side. There were plenty of bugs around, Yellow Sally stoneflies, caddis and the odd mayfly along with some flying ants, providing the trout plenty of nourishment. My heart sank when I reached the area just downstream of the home pool, the river was coming in from the left having cut through the trees and upstream where it should have been was a pond of standing water. I walked up to the pool and looked into a dry hole where the pool once was. It was obvious as to why this was a great pool, deep with rock ledges protruding into it, plenty of places for the trout to hide. The river had cut straight through the bush a couple hundred yards upstream instead of making a left. I walked up to where it exited the old channel and followed it downstream, the "new" section of stream lacked much for structure yet, it was mainly straight, deep and fast. Maybe by next year it will have developed into a nice stretch or maybe the river will push some gravel and trees into the corner and once again flow through the home pool.

New habitat on the Highwood

New habitat on the Highwood

Trips to two of my favourite small streams, the Oldman and the Livingstone also had changes, though not as drastic. Some runs and pools had changed or were gone but many remained the same and fishing has been very good this year. The forestry trunk road and some secondary roads leading to it are undergoing repair work still and closures change almost daily, it pays to check before heading out.

Some areas will take awhile to return 
to a natural state

Some areas will take awhile to return to a natural state

Floods affect rivers and streams in many different ways, it will be many years before we know the total affect on the southern Alberta streams. The streambed were scoured clean, perhaps a good thing, the insects seemed to have fared well and are back in good numbers. How badly were the smaller fish affected, was the rainbow spawning that takes place in the spring destroyed? In the meantime it's time to get out and explore and relearn the "new" Bow or your favourite small trout stream.

The fish are still there, get out and 
relearn the trout streams of Alberta

The fish are still there, get out and relearn the trout streams of Alberta




Previous Fishing Articles

(1) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood

(2) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(3) Hawg Holes

(4) Saltwater Salmon

(5) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

(6) Down a Lazy River –
A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan

(7) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead

(8) IN SEARCH OF SPECKLED FOOTBALLS

(9) FISHING CANADA'S PRAIRIE CITIES

(10) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(11) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(12) Fall Walleye

(13) Wet Flies

(14) Versatility the Key to Success

(15) Grayling of the Boreal

(16) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(17) Size Matters

(18) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(19) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(20) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(21) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(22) The Point Of It All

(23) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day

(24) Fall Fly Fishing

(25) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(26) Big River, Big Fish

(27) Bottom Bonanza

(28) Fishing Small Flies

(29) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(30) Four Seasons of the Bow

(31) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot

(32) GEARING UP FOR SMALL STREAM TROUT

(33) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

(34) Don’t Leave Home Without Them –
10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box

(35) Edge Walleye

(36) FLY FISHING STRATEGIES FOR HIGH WATER

(37) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(38) Four Corners – Four Waters

(39) Chasing Pothole Trout

(40) Springtime Stoneflies

(41) The Torrents of Spring

(42) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(43) Bust Them With Bait

(44) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(45) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(46) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(47) Terrestrials

(48) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(49) Rocky Mountain High

(50) Reading the clues

(51) Where the Trout Are
The art of locating feeding trout
in rivers and streams.

(52) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin

(53) Fly Fishing 101

(54) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod

(55) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(56) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(57) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

(58) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital

(59) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(60) Trust Your Electronics

(61) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(62) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(63) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(64) Walleye can be Humbling

(65) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed

(66) Winter Flyfishing

(67) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(68) Hot Fall Pike Action

(69) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down

(70) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(71) Frequently Asked Questions

(72) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(73) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(74) Deep Water Perch

(75) Post Spawn Brookies

(76) A Fisher's Life

(77) The River's Last Stand

(78) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(79) Coho on the Coast

(80) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(81) Summer in the Mountains

(82) Peak Walleye Season

(83) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(84) Last Ice Rainbows

(85) The Burbot Event

(86) Tackle Matching

(87) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(88) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(89) The Lure of Brook Trout

(90) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(91) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

(92) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies

(93) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(94) The Vesatile Plug

(95) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout

(96) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(97) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(98) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(99) Daily Fish Migrations

(100) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(101) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

(102) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing

(103) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(104) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(105) The Fun in Ultra Light

(106) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(107) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(108) Never Stop Learning

(109) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(110) Jigging through the Ice

(111) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(112) Rainbows on Ice

(113) The Season of Ice Begins

(114) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(115) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(116) Facts On Cats

(117) West Coast Adventure

(118) June Walleye Frenzy

(119) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

(120) "First Fish of the Year - Pothole Rainbows and Browns"

(121) "Northern Exposure"

(122) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish

(123) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(124) Man Overboard