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Hot Strategies for the Cold Months


Once the cold weather strikes – and angling action goes from horizontal to vertical – many western fishers pack up their gear, put up their feet, hunker down and dream about the clear streams, prolific fly hatches and the darling buds of May.
Can’t blame them. Ice angling requires an existential personality to cast your fate down an eight-inch hole. What will be will be. Zipping yourself inside a black-out ice fishing tent, to the non-believer, makes the ethos of ice-angling even more unfathomable.
Personally I love it. But there are others, I suspect who would much rather watch ice freeze then spend an afternoon on a wind swept lake waiting and hoping for something, anything, to swim past their bait.
But it doesn’t have to be “go vertical or go hibernate”. Even in the heart of the winter deep freeze there are angling niches and fishing opportunities where you can wet a line and have an excellent chance of catching fish.
Here are four ways to beat a retreat to the winter time blues.

An Athabasca River winter bull trout


The rivers that emerge from below bottom draw dams have created cold water fisheries all over North America that didn’t exist before the intervention of engineers.
Of course, damming free flowing rivers produces some harmful and destructive consequences. But they have also provided angling opportunities that weren’t there previously.
Because the water in a reservoir is stratified, with the coldest at the bottom, dam discharges have extended trout fisheries far out onto the prairies where they historically didn’t exist.
In winter the opposite effect occurs where the water released from the bottom of a dam is actually “warmer” than the atmospheric temperature which can result in open water conditions for several kilometers below the dam.
And where there’s open water there’s angling.
One of Alberta’s best “tailwaters” is the Bow River in and below the City of Calgary where the warming effect of several upstream hydro-projects has created constant winter flows and ice free conditions that allow anglers to stay on the water virtually year round flyfishing for the Bow’s super-sized rainbow and brown trout.
The Oldman River below the Three Rivers Dam is also coming into it’s own as mid-winter open water hot spot with the added bonus of angling for bull trout.
Another open water opportunity is the Red Deer River below the Dickson Dam. Although one of the RDR’s mercurial brown trout is occasionally caught, the target species is mountain white fish which stage in the riffles below the discharge.
Tailwater winter angling is usually confined to dead drifting nymphs under a strike indicator with enough weight attached to keep the lures riding in the strike zone along the bottom.

The Bow River is one of Alberta’s premier winter fisheries. This mountain whitefish was caught on an open water section near Canmore

Mountain Rivers

Somebody unfamiliar with the peculiarities of western living may be perplexed to realize that traditionally the warmest places in winter are what are under normal circumstances consider the most severe and inhospitable around. Our mountains.
Well in Alberta and eastern B.C. normal doesn’t live here. And when the flatland is locked down in snow and the rivers are iced-over until April, mountain rivers can be running free and are often in their best condition.
All because of the soothing effect of the warm mountain wind called the Chinook.
Chinooks, of course, can penetrate well out onto the flatland offering balmy days of cold weather angling. But in the mountains were they are at their finest.
The Crowsnest River is probably Alberta’s best winter mountain river (it’s not too shabby in the summertime too) because it not only gets blasted by Chinooks, it rises in a large lake by the Alberta/B.C. border and runs relatively ice-free for its entire length.
As well as providing winter angling for its famous rainbow trout, anglers can also expect to catch brown trout and mountain whitefish.
An added bonus on the Crow, a particularly long warm spell which can trigger a midge hatch with the possibility of providing some dry fly action.
Hopping the border to the East Kootenay side anglers will find open water winter action on the famous Elk River and its tributaries. Here the target species is cutthroat trout.
The upper Bow in the Canmore area outside of Banff National Park is also a Chinook-caressed mountain river that’s kept open most of the winter months. Both brown trout and rockies are the target species here.
Another mountain river that may actually fish better in the winter is the Athabasca in Jasper National Park. In summer when the hot July and August sun burns down on Atha-B’s headwater glaciers, the river runs a mile wide and dish water gray. But in winter it shrinks down to an intimate trout stream, crystal clear and easily accessible. That’s when a diehard group of anglers probe the Athabasca’s deep, blue-water pools for the west’s top cold water predator, the bull trout.
Both hardware and big streamer flies are effective ways to angle for Athabasca winter bullies in the warm breeze wafting down the broad valley. And even if the action is getting a little slow, all you have to revive your day is to look up. Awesome.

Crowsnest River remains open and fishable throughout most of the winter

Power Plants

Like hydro projects, coal fired power stations can also create the conditions for fine fishery when all other lakes are tight with ice. Hot water discharges from thermal power plants create ice-free zones around these operations.
Alberta’s most famous power plant fishery, unfortunately, is no more after the last unit at Trans-Alta Utilities Wabamun facility went dark in the spring of 2010. Ending a wonderful era when winter anglers could catch pike that regularly went into the double figures both on spin cast equipment and fly gear.
Wabamun is no more but the fishery that ATCO Power has created from its Battle River power station discharges south of Forestburg endures. Again creating a large expanse of open water that is available to shore anglers and those who venture out on float tubes and pontoon boats.
The Battle River Reservoir fish are generally smaller than the Wabamun hogs but on fly tackle they can also be a challenge.

Crowsnest River remains open and fishable throughout most of the winter

Cash Your Points

Probably the ultimate and most compelling way of tackling the challenge of winter angling is to leave the world of frost in your rear view mirror. Nothing beats the winter blues, than cashing in your flier points and catching a charter south on a winter vacation.
The flats of Cuba and Belize, the outer islands of the Bahamas or Mexico’s Ascencion Bay offer great escape angling for bonefish, permit and tarpon where fly rods, dazzling flats and exotic flies like Gotchas and Crazy Charlies are the name of the game. Gear fishing for reef species is also available and can be combined with standard fun-in-the-sun activities for other family members.

Pack your angling blues away and head for the Carribean for some warm climate cold weather action

There’s only one cure for the winter time blues. And that’s to go fishing.

Previous Fishing Articles
(1) It’s OK to Be Little Bitty
(2) Exploring Tundra Waters
(3) The Jewel at First Ice
(4) Fly Fishing Bucket List
(5) Guided or DIY?
(6) Pond Power
(7) Caddisflies
(8) In the Good Old Summertime
(9) A Southern Escape
(10) Springtime in Alberta - Can Thrill You to the Bone
(11) Sunny Day Rainbows
(12) New "Fishing" Year Resolutions
(13) Five Fine Places to Find Trout
(14) Catfishing Revisited
(15) Discover Squamish, an Outdoor Playground
(16) Falling for Cutthroat
(17) New Water and Old Friends
(18) My McLeod
(19) Temperature and Trout
(20) On the Road Again
(21) Tips That Will Make You a More Successful Fly-Fisherman
(22) 5 Ways to Catch Your Trout
(23) The Difference Maker - Reading Trout Stream Waters
(24) Rollin’ on the River
(25) Windy Day Pike
(26) Cures for Cabin Fever
(27) Snowbirding with a Fishing Rod
(28) Alberta’s Spring Creek Browns - Blessings and Curses
(29) A day on our foothill streams
(30) Fly Fishing Crowded Waters
(31) Fly Leaders
(32) In the Zone
(33) Learners Permit
(34) Flies of Summer
(35) Selecting the Right Boat
(36) The Italian Job
(37) Making a difference
(38) Pass the Salt
(39) Hopper Time - Fly-fishing’s Second Season
(40) Pike on the Fly - Fishing New Waters
(41) Fall brings the big walleye out
(42) Hoppertunity Time
(43) Becoming a Better Dry Fly Angler
(44) Make Your Own Fishing Adventure
(45) Early Season Fly Fishing
(46) Walleye Logic
(47) Fly Fishing in the Desert
(48) Grammy’s Fish
(49) Top 10 Trout Lures
(50) All I Want for Christmas – Neil Waugh's Yule Tide Fishing Gifts Wish List
(51) Muskies - The Ultimate Predator
(52) What to expect when fishing the West Coast
(53) Tips & Tricks for Fall Fly Fishing
(54) There’s No Place Like Home
(55) A Golden Opportunity
(56) The Observational Trout Fisherman
(57) Un-matching the Hatch
(58) Alberta Super Bugs
(59) Glass is Back
(60) The Bull Trout of the Athabasca
(61) Speed Kills
(62) Entering the Twilight Zone
(63) Old Man River
(64) The Pink Salmon of the Squamish River
(65) Small stream BT fishing
(66) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started
(67) In The Walleye Zone
(68) Zoo Trout
(69) Fly Selection for Beginners
(70) Fly Fisher's Christmas
(71) New Waters
(72) Big Bad Burbot
(73) Looking Back
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(75) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams
(76) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish
(77) The Browns of Autumn
(78) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons
(79) Walleye Town
(80) River Fun - One Bite At A Time
(81) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers
(82) Going With The Flow
(83) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman
(84) Swinging The Fences
(85) A View From The Aerie
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(87) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts
(88) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon
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(90) Pretty Is As Pretty Does
(91) Toothy Critters
(92) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake
(93) Top Ten Flies
(94) Northern Exposure
(95) Home Water Lessons
(96) Chicken Of The Sea
(97) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish
(98) Deep In The Heart Of Texas
(99) Keep It Up!
(100) River Fishing for Fall Walleye
(101) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the 2013 flood
(102) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity
(103) Hawg Holes
(104) Saltwater Salmon
(105) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing
(106) Down a Lazy River - A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan
(107) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead
(110) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver
(111) Canada's "Other" Salmon
(112) Fall Walleye
(113) Wet Flies
(114) Versatility the Key to Success
(115) Grayling of the Boreal
(116) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish
(117) Size Matters
(118) Fly Fishing Small Streams
(119) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time
(120) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel
(121) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas
(122) The Point Of It All
(123) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day
(124) Fall Fly Fishing
(125) Personal Pontoon Boats 101
(126) Big River, Big Fish
(127) Bottom Bonanza
(128) Fishing Small Flies
(129) So Many Choices, So Little Time
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(131) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot
(133) Trout Hunting New Zealand style
(134) Don’t Leave Home Without Them – 10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box
(135) Edge Walleye
(137) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge
(138) Four Corners – Four Waters
(139) Chasing Pothole Trout
(140) Springtime Stoneflies
(141) The Torrents of Spring
(142) Drift Boat Fly Fishing
(143) Bust Them With Bait
(144) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book
(145) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months
(146) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout
(147) Terrestrials
(148) Fly In For Fishing Fun
(149) Rocky Mountain High
(150) Reading the clues
(151) Where the Trout Are The art of locating feeding trout in rivers and streams.
(152) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin
(153) Fly Fishing 101
(154) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod
(155) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay
(156) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder
(157) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead
(158) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital
(159) Eliminating the Spook Factor
(160) Trust Your Electronics
(161) The Most Important Hatch of the Year
(162) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout
(163) Finding Success for Ice Trout
(164) Walleye can be Humbling
(165) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed
(166) Winter Flyfishing
(167) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Fishing Gem
(168) Hot Fall Pike Action
(169) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down
(170) Reading Trout Stream Waters
(171) Frequently Asked Questions
(172) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout
(173) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice
(174) Deep Water Perch
(175) Post Spawn Brookies
(176) A Fisher's Life
(177) The River's Last Stand
(178) The Big Ones Come out at Night
(179) Coho on the Coast
(180) Chasing and Catching Halibut
(181) Summer in the Mountains
(182) Peak Walleye Season
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(193) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan
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(197) Good Fishing at Last Ice
(198) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations
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(200) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn
(201) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star
(202) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing
(203) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing
(204) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser
(205) The Fun in Ultra Light
(206) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines
(207) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure
(208) Never Stop Learning
(209) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot
(210) Jigging through the Ice
(211) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline
(212) Rainbows on Ice
(213) The Season of Ice Begins
(214) Red Hot Fall Pike Action
(215) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman
(216) Facts On Cats
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(218) June Walleye Frenzy
(219) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories
(220) First Fish of the Year Pothole Rainbows and Browns
(221) Northern Exposure
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(224) Man Overboard
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