Sunday, September 21, 2014

Alberta Bound: floating the Bow River

Okay I know the title of the blog is fly-fish-bc, but I couldn't pass up an opportunity to float the Bow River south of Calgary, Alberta earlier this month.
I'd been planning on a trip to meet my good friend Randy in Calgary, and when he offered to book a trip on the Bow courtesy of Fish Tales fly shop I was only more than happy to accompany him.
We met our guide John early Sunday morning, and geared up and dropped the boat in at Policeman's Flats, a makeshift launch, that accommodated Calgary's many and varied fly-fishing outfits, and a small flotilla of drift boats.
Our guide was not slight by any stretch of the imagination. He stood about six-foot-five, a small mountain draped in a dark-blue Patagonia fly fishing shirt, waders and boots, with hands the size of a catcher's mitt, but he could tie on a #20 trico pattern in a blink of an eye, and cast a fly rod with wonderful grace and power, that reminded me of one of those giant slow turning windmills on the southern plains of the province. John was a good, thorough, jovial, and instructive guide, that did all that was expected and more. I liked him.
We set off at about 9:30 a.m., too early for any hatches, so I chucked a streamer pattern with a dropper beadhead hares ear nymph, and another smaller, #16 water-boatman. Casting three flies on one line was a first for me, hailing from B.C. where fly anglers are permitted to cast just a single fly, sans barb. But when in Rome.
It was slow to start, but the sun shone and the wind blew softly, and the midges were the first to stir. We stopped at a good run, casting into the seam of the tail out, when Randy hooked up with a large rainbow. Unlike my set up, Randy was rigged with a strike indicator and a combination of nymph and San Juan worm. The rainbow pulled hard and showed itself almost immediately, rolling its 20 inches over in the shallows then gunning for the middle of the river.
Now Randy is not an experienced fly angler, and unaccustomed to the fly reel he held on tight waiting for the line to be born away from the spool according to the dictates of a spinning reel's drag. Needless to say, the rod doubled, the line tightened, quivered slightly, then snapped.
 Well it was a learning experience, and the fishing would eventually heat up as the day progressed.
On one stretch of river, with deep over-hanging banks, we spotted a rainbow sipping flies off the surface. John quickly pulled the boat over and handed me a fly rod and tied on a #16 Adams. I watched the snout break through the surface film, I false cast a couple times then eased the fly into the zone, it settled and drifted towards me for about a foot, when the trout swirled around the fly, and the fish was on.
John reminded me of the 5X tippet so I cautiously played the trout, but as it ran downstream towards some fast water, I had to increase the pressure, until the trout slowed, turned and shot straight towards me. I frantically stripped line, until finally catching up to the trout. Eventually it relented, and after a quick measurement we released the 21-inch rainbow back into the stream to where it resumed its position against the bank and began feeding again.
In all we landed six trout, but lost a few more. I had one monster rainbow come unbuttoned after it attacked my hopper pattern. As I set the hook all I saw was the massive head and baleful eye of what had to be a 22-inch plus rainbow shoot out of the water and launch itself straight at me.
It was a perfect day, and a lot of fun. The drift ended at McKinnon Park, well into the evening. We tried to coax rising trout to dry flies, and Randy had one roll over his caddis pattern but did not stick.
I was surprised with the beauty of the Wild Rose landscape and despite suffering one of its worst floods in history last summer, the Bow is still an eminently productive and rewarding fishery.
Apparently there is an epic stonefly hatch in July, so I plan to return next summer for what my guide says is a truly transcendent experience.
For more information on fly fishing the Bow River contact Fish Tales Fly Shop toll free at 1-866-640-1273 or 403-640-1273.
Visit their website at