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Old Man River

 

I cut my fly-fishing teeth more than 30 years ago on the Bow River, downstream of Calgary. Under the tutelage of my friend and mentor, Perry McCormick. I learned the rudiments of reading water, selecting flies and tactics, casting, fighting and landing fish on a fly rod. Those early days on the Bow kick-started one of the great joys of my life, casting flies to trout on streams and rivers across Alberta and beyond. These days, I think of fishing the Bow much like I think of a home-cooked turkey dinner. I could never handle it as a steady diet, but I’d miss it terribly if I didn’t get a taste or two each and every year. In fact, all these years later, there’s never been a year that Perry and I haven’t shared a day or two on the Bow.

Perry McCormick with a hefty brown trout

Perry McCormick with a hefty brown trout

The Bow really came into its own as a blue-ribbon Trout stream through the 70s and early 80s, when such Alberta fly-fishing luminaries as Russ Thornberry, Jim McLennan and Barry White fished it regularly. As word spread of the world-class fishing available, a guiding industry erupted and well-known and/or well-heeled fly-fishers from around the world were visiting to see what all the fuss was about. The legend of the Bow had emerged.

In the early days, much of that fuss centered around the notion that 20 + Rainbow and Brown Trout were eager to rise to dry flies. It likely wasn’t any truer then than it is today. Certainly, many large fish are caught every year on dries, but the bread and butter of fishing the Bow has always revolved around fishing streamers and nymphs.

20 + Brown trout are a regular occurrence on the Bow

20 + Brown trout are a regular occurrence on the Bow

There’s no disputing the Bow is well-deserved of the accolades it’s received. All you have to do is check out the number of drift boats floating on a daily basis between the city and Carseland to know that its reputation is intact. It’s an issue of pure biomass. The City of Calgary releases significant amounts of organics into the river and the downstream result is abundant plant growth that harbours untold numbers of invertebrates. The insects and other small life forms that are the basis of a trout’s diet. With all that food at their disposal, it’s little wonder that trout populations have blossomed.

To be sure, the Bow isn’t infallible. Periodic flood events have a nasty habit of changing the river’s course, wiping away bank and instream habitat, and even age-classes of young fish, all while providing the necessary task of revitalizing the river. Even in the poor years, the Bow manages to sustain a meaningful recreational fishery. In 30+ years of fishing with Perry, I’ve never been shut out on the Bow for even a single day.

The author with a typical rainbow from the Bow

The author with a typical rainbow from the Bow

To those who haven’t had the luxury of fishing the Bow under the guidance of an experienced Bow River angler, the river can be an intimidating piece of water. Where to start? And how? Even those who find fish with little difficulty on smaller rivers and streams can be awed by the sheer scale of the Bow. It’s really no different than any other trout stream, however, if you break the river down into bite-sized pieces. Trout on the Bow have the same basic requirements as those on small streams, namely oxygenated water, cover to escape the current and a reliable food source. For the most part, you can assume that the third essential is the least of your worries; there’s no shortage of trout food in the river. Except for the warmest parts of the summer in the hottest years, which unfortunately we’ve witnessed recently, the river is fairly well oxygenated, at least to the point that it’s not limiting to trout. So whether you’re floating the river or walking and wading, all you really need to do is focus on finding suitable holding water.

Casting streamers or hopper patterns along grassy banks is a proven successful tactic on the Bow

Casting streamers or hopper patterns along grassy banks is a proven successful tactic on the Bow

The Bow’s banks offer the greatest escape and holding cover for trout, so you can’t go wrong if you fish only the river’s margins. Focus on the water along steep, grassy banks and on the outside turns of natural bends; where the water is deepest, trout are sure to be found. In fact, if you did nothing but cast streamers along likely sections of the bank day in and day out, you’d catch more than your share of fish. The trick is to get your streamer down in the water column, so experienced Bow anglers weight their streamers and/or leaders, or fish with sink-tip lines. Pound the banks often and long enough and some of the Bow’s magnificent Trout are sure to reveal themselves.

Nymphing the side channel riffles will nearly always produce fish

Nymphing the side channel riffles will nearly always produce fish

Good nymphing water isn’t as plentiful, but there’s no shortage of it on the Bow. While some prefer fast sinking lines and short leaders, the vast majority of Bow nymph anglers opt for a floating line, a strike indicator, a 7 ½ - 9-foot leader, and a weighted fly. You can fish this rig blind on nearly any stretch of the Bow, but it’s most productive where you can accurately predict the lie of a fish. Best waters include any of the numerous side channels, along current seams, through the choppy water where the flow picks up speed rounding an island, or anywhere there’s a natural depression in the river bottom. In all instances, the secret to success is the same. You have to get your nymph to the bottom wherever you think a trout may lie. That means casting upstream of where you suspect a trout to be, giving your fly time to sink to the bottom about the time it passes over a fish.

A fine Bow River rainbow trout comes to the net

A fine Bow River rainbow trout comes to the net

Just so there’s no misunderstanding, dry fly fishing is alive and well on the Bow, although it can be hit and miss. Casting dries blind is not a particularly effective tactic most days, but spot-and-stalk casting to rising fish can produce spectacular results. Let’s face it, having a broad-shouldered Trout rise to your fly is the epitome of fly-fishing excitement. Thirty years after I first fished the Bow, it remains a favourite. If you’ve never fished this remarkably productive river, you owe it to yourself to do so.


Previous Fishing Articles

(1) Old Man River

(2) The Pink Salmon of the Squamish River

(3) Small stream BT fishing

(4) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started

(5) In The Walleye Zone

(6) Zoo Trout

(7) Fly Selection for Beginners

(8) Fly Fisher's Christmas

(9) New Waters

(10) Big Bad Burbot

(11) Looking Back

(12) Out of Africa

(13) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams

(14) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish

(15) The Browns of Autumn

(16) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons

(17) Walleye Town

(18) River Fun - One Bite At A Time

(19) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers

(20) Going With The Flow

(21) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman

(22) Swinging The Fences

(23) A View From The Aerie

(24) Dixieland Delight

(25) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts

(26) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon

(27) Montana's Cool Missouri

(28) Pretty Is As Pretty Does

(29) Toothy Critters

(30) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake

(31) Top Ten Flies

(32) Northern Exposure

(33) Home Water Lessons

(34) Chicken Of The Sea

(35) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish

(36) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

(37) Keep It Up!

(38) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

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

(40) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(41) Hawg Holes

(42) Saltwater Salmon

(43) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

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

(45) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead

(46) IN SEARCH OF SPECKLED FOOTBALLS

(47) FISHING CANADA'S PRAIRIE CITIES

(48) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(49) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(50) Fall Walleye

(51) Wet Flies

(52) Versatility the Key to Success

(53) Grayling of the Boreal

(54) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(55) Size Matters

(56) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(57) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(58) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(59) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(60) The Point Of It All

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

(62) Fall Fly Fishing

(63) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(64) Big River, Big Fish

(65) Bottom Bonanza

(66) Fishing Small Flies

(67) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(68) Four Seasons of the Bow

(69) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot

(70) GEARING UP FOR SMALL STREAM TROUT

(71) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

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

(73) Edge Walleye

(74) FLY FISHING STRATEGIES FOR HIGH WATER

(75) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(76) Four Corners – Four Waters

(77) Chasing Pothole Trout

(78) Springtime Stoneflies

(79) The Torrents of Spring

(80) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(81) Bust Them With Bait

(82) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(83) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(84) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(85) Terrestrials

(86) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(87) Rocky Mountain High

(88) Reading the clues

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

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

(91) Fly Fishing 101

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

(93) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(94) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(95) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

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

(97) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(98) Trust Your Electronics

(99) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(100) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(101) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(102) Walleye can be Humbling

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

(104) Winter Flyfishing

(105) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(106) Hot Fall Pike Action

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

(108) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(109) Frequently Asked Questions

(110) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(111) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(112) Deep Water Perch

(113) Post Spawn Brookies

(114) A Fisher's Life

(115) The River's Last Stand

(116) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(117) Coho on the Coast

(118) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(119) Summer in the Mountains

(120) Peak Walleye Season

(121) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(122) Last Ice Rainbows

(123) The Burbot Event

(124) Tackle Matching

(125) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(126) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(127) The Lure of Brook Trout

(128) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(129) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

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

(131) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(132) The Vesatile Plug

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

(134) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(135) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(136) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(137) Daily Fish Migrations

(138) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(139) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

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

(141) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(142) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(143) The Fun in Ultra Light

(144) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(145) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(146) Never Stop Learning

(147) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(148) Jigging through the Ice

(149) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(150) Rainbows on Ice

(151) The Season of Ice Begins

(152) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(153) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(154) Facts On Cats

(155) West Coast Adventure

(156) June Walleye Frenzy

(157) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

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

(159) "Northern Exposure"

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

(161) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(162) Man Overboard