PBD Fish Reports
As I got back in the boat, I noticed that the water was starting to clear.
Visibility had improved to two to three feet. Things were looking up. I stuck
with the streamer for a while, primarily because of the big fish we saw landed at lunch, but it did not produce for me.
I asked Ken if nymphing would work. In my experience clearing water conditions sometimes generated an active nymph bite. Ken put a big stone fly nymph on. The first cast had not hit the water before a fish was on it. We landed a nice 16 inch brown. Not the monster we both hoped for, but my first Bow River brown. It also proved to be my last. The nymph experiment lasted a while longer with no success before I suggested that it was boring. Ken immediately switched me back to an adult stone, this pattern being one of his own designs. For the rest of the day we switched between the stone and the streamer depending on the water we encountered. I caught fish on both.
I have to say that I am happy to catch trout any way that works but, like most fishers, I prefer fishing the dries. That afternoon produced several memorable surface takes. The best one was under a fallen tree. Ken asked if I could cast under a hanging pine and behind a fallen one into a small pocked he was convinced held a nice trout. I gave it a shot. The dry landed a foot downstream from the tip of the fallen tree. It drifted less than a foot before a trout hurried from under the sunken branch and engulfed the fly. Good cast, wonderful take and a tough fight made this a special moment. Ken said that he had been trying to get someone to hit that spot for weeks but nobody could. I guess I was lucky.
Near the take out a riffle formed a huge backwater. Ken suggested I streamer fish it which I did with no success. However, I noticed a subtle rise up in some slack water. Ken rowed up to investigate. Sure enough, there were two or three fish rising in very slowly moving water. Handing me the stonefly rod, Ken set me up for the cast. My fist one landed a bit outside in slack water. No fish. The next just caught the corner of the slow moving seam and headed downstream. It made it about two feet. A slight bulge on the surface and my fly disappeared. Another wonderful fight with jumps and strong runs made me appreciate the strength of these rainbows, or should I call them steelbows. Ken proclaimed it another 20 incher. I was skeptical so we measured it. A full 20 inches plus. These rainbows have a more streamlined profile than typical so my guess of 18 inches was a bit off. Another rainbow on an elkhair caddis capped the day and we were at the McKinnon Flats take-out, a 24 km float lasting 10 hours.
All in all, it was a good day. I landed 12 rainbows between 18 and 20 inches and that one brown, most in the afternoon as the water cleared. I am sure I would have done better if it had not rained the night before.
As we drove back to the city, we discussed the effects of the flood. Clearly,
the stream bed has been changed substantially. This makes finding fish a bit more challenging. The bugs are still there and so are the rainbows. They seem not to have been effected by the flood. The big browns, however, do seem to have taken a hit. Ken said that before the flood, browns of 24 inches were a daily occurrence. He has seen only one so far this year. While previously a typical catch rate was two rainbows to one brown, after the flood the catch rate is five or more rainbows for every brown. Not that this is necessarily bad. Fierce fighting 20 inch rainbows should be good enough in themselves to keep the Bow a world class stream.
What will happen in the next few years is anybody’s guess but Ken’s hope is that in a couple of years the smaller browns he encounters now will grow to the monster size for which the Lower Bow is famous. Past history of other floods on the Bow suggest that they will.
Rainbows and browns were never formally stocked in the Bow. Stocking was left for lakes with the occasional “informal “ stream stocking in the early years. Rainbows and browns were introduced into the Bow by accident. In the early 1900’s a train derailed near Banff, spilling a load of steelhead fry bound for eastern lakes into the upper Bow. The result is a self-sustaining population of the toughest fighting rainbows I have ever encountered. As one web site puts it; “The legendary “Bow River Bullet” Rainbows consistently surprise anyone who hooks into one, with how hard they fight and how high they jump. These fish are freight trains – on steroids. Once an angler hooks into one, there is no disputing that these special trout have steelhead ancestry.”
The brown trout were another fortuitous accident. Quoting another web site; “Although they thrive today, brown are not native to the waters of the Bow. While haphazard, intermittent stocking efforts occurred throughout the early 1900's, it was only by accident that the brown trout population truly took hold. In 1925, a truck carrying brown trout intended for more distant Alberta streams broke down at the Carrot Creek bridge, upstream of Canmore. Faced with a tank-load of dying fish, the driver released 45,000 fry into the creek.Many fish survived, and today's blue ribbon brown trout fishery was underway.”
While these accidental introductions have created an outstanding fishery, they did devastate the native fish populations. West slope cutthroats and bull trout were native to the Bow as were white fish. The whitefish remain, but the cuts and bulls survive only in upper tributaries.
For a half hour I cast the dry to the bank with great anticipation. Nothing. Ken suggested I switch to the streamer. This produced nothing for the next half hour, then suddenly the fly stopped dead. I strip set the hook and was connected to a bolt of lightning. This fish went everywhere. Powerful runs were punctuated with mighty leaps as a substantial rainbow showed me why Ken prefers 6 wt rods. But my first Bow River rainbow was not going to be landed. One final jump and the line went slack. No matter, I had hooked the fish and saw it so a LDR was not a problem. It was three short hits later before I hooked my next rainbow. At first it dogged the bottom like a big brown. But then it jumped, flashing bright sides. Obviously, a rainbow. It fought just as hard as the first fish, slashing back and forth, jumping, and making the reel sing, before I got the upper hand and Ken slipped the net under it. A fine 18 inch chrome beauty rested in the bottom of the net. What tough fighting fish these rainbow are.
At one point Ken told me to watch the edge of the water carefully in a section of slow water. This is a prime area to find trout sipping the trico hatch. But no rises were evident, so off we went, continuing to strip the streamer. I cannot say that the fishing was good that mourning. Two fish on and one landed. But considering the brown water, it was not so bad. As we sat and enjoyed lunch, we saw another boat land a large trout on a streamer. Even from across the stream, I could see that it was a monster. High fives were exchanged and the happy fisher exclaimed that if he did not catch another fish all day, his trip was complete.
The internationally famous Bow River flows from the Rocky Mountains of Canada, past Calgary, and on to Hudson Bay. The Blue Ribbon portion of the Bow starts just downstream of Calgary. This section of the river has a reputation for producing huge browns. Where else, the web sites say, can you sight fish 24 inch browns sipping size 20 tricos almost every day. Photos of 24 inch plus browns are featured on all the guide web sites. A typical site claims that “Average size is from 15” – 22”, with fish in the mid-twenties caught every day.” The Bow’s reputation, it seems, is well deserved.
But something happened. In June 2013, the Bow was hit with a massive flood. Huge volumes of water reached high above the stream’s banks. The streets of Canmore and Calgary were under water. Fish were being rescued from back yards and parking lots. The stream was completely restructured. Cut banks were torn out and replaced with broad gravel bars. New channels were formed. Trees were uprooted and piled high on the banks. So, what has this flood done to the outstanding fishing in the lower Bow? I arrived in August, 2014 to find out.
While my guide Ken prepared the drift boat for launch at Policeman’s Flat, I wandered the shore at the put-in. Shortly, I was surrounded with a blizzard of Tricos. A welcome sight. But the water was high and brown from last night’s torrential rain. Visibility was little more than a foot. Fishing would be challenging, at least until the water cleared. Before we launched, Ken set up two rods. One had a streamer and a section of sink tip. The off color water was ideal for streamer fishing, Ken said. The second was tipped with a large adult stone fly. The stone fly hatch was still on and trout had been coming up to adults for the last several days. I started with the stone fly.
By Paul B Downing
While thinking about fishing the Bow, look at what is just to the west. The Canadian Rockies tower above the plains. We spent two weeks wondering over, around and through these beautiful mountains. Banff and Jasper are the cities central to this region. The Icefields Parkway lied between them. The first day of our trip, we ran out of superlatives and fell back to “WOW”. I highly recommend combining a trip into these outstanding mountains with your trip to the Bow.