Why Calgary is a Fly Fishing Paradise

Discover why Calgary is a fly fisherman’s paradise with local fly-fishing guide Brandon Healey.
Discover why Calgary is a fly fisherman’s paradise with local fly-fishing guide Brandon Healey.
Fly Fishing Guide

Why Calgary is a Fly Fishing Paradise

Discover why Calgary is a fly fisherman’s paradise with local fly-fishing guide Brandon Healey.

Calgary frequently gets a shadow cast over its fishing by the legendary lakes in BC and the prairies. What does Calgary have that other provinces don’t hold a candle to?

Fly-fishing.

When it comes to the coveted art of fly-fishing for big, beautiful trout, the Calgary area is paradise.

Typically fly-fishing is associated with Montana and the UK (where it originated), or some sweet leather hat that your grandpa made soup in. All of which are fair connections; hat soup is delicious. Unlike other places, the Calgary area has less fly-fishers, and thus less pressure on our rivers. With less people on our rivers, awe inspiring views, and truly forgotten places, our fly-fishing can be pretty spectacular.

Located on the east slope of the Canadian Rockies, Calgary has become, in many ways, the Missoula, Montana, of the North. Not familiar with Missoula? Well, Brad Pitt did a movie called “A River Runs Through It” there. That movie really popularized fly-fishing, especially in Montana. From personal experience, Missoula’s fly-fishing is good, but Calgary’s fly-fishing is spectacular.

Let me walk you through it, from the perspective of a fly-fishing guide, trout fanatic, and openly-biased Calgarian.

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The Bow River is renowned as one of the best freshwater trout rivers on the planet. Not to mention it flows through Calgary, which is full of awesome people. Yes, I am talking about you, you beauty!

You have not caught anything in the Bow yet? You are not alone. In the fly-fishing community we say 95% of the fish are caught by 5% of the fishermen (which doesn’t really feel like an exaggeration).

There is an art to a river that is worth hiring a guide to learn.

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Within a few hours drive of Calgary, you can find seemingly endless crystal clear rivers. We have some legendary two syllable river names like the Old Man, Crowsnest, Red Deer, Highwood, and Sheep (sorry, ran out of 2 syllable rivers).

I don’t really want to talk up the rivers much more, because fly-fishing is hard and you might get skunked if you are new. In fishing terms, getting skunked means you caught zero fish. This is possible, even on a great river. Fair warning, getting sprayed by a skunk is also called “getting skunked” and may subject you to ridicule from your buds as well.

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Reason #3: Public Land Use Zones and River Access

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If you are not from Canada, this will be a major perk. For us Canadians, we tend to take this for granted or we are totally unaware of how awesome this is. More or less, we can practically fish anywhere.

Of course you can not trespass on property, but if you are on the river, you are usually okay. Want to keep this amazing perk? Please pick up any garbage you find on the river, and keep ATVs away from the riverbank.

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Reason #5: Night Fishing

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This is practically unheard of outside of the fly-fishing community. The Bow River has massive stonefly hatches at night during certain periods of the year. For some fishermen/fisherladies, this triggers a yearly pilgrimage to the Bow.

Please be careful, casting sharp hooks at night can be dangerous. You may accidentally pierce your ear for free. Fair warning.

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Reason #6: Bull Trout

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Bull trout are Alberta’s official fish, and they are a true trophy fish. These fish are big, beautiful, and act like sharks. Since it is illegal to keep any, they can get massive. A fishing trip to the rivers around Calgary is not complete without landing one of these.

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Reason #7: Cutthroat Trout

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

#fbf to catching this hog. Getting eaten alive by bugs was worth netting this 22" hog of wild cutthroat goodness.

A post shared by Brandon Healey (Brando) (@topwaterflyfishing) on

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Native to Alberta, and very willing to eat pretty much anything, these fish are fun. I liken the behaviour of a cutthroat trout to my own behaviour at Thi Thi Vietnamese Subs in Calgary. Both the cutthroat trout and I will pretty much eat anything on the menu. 

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Reason #8: Culture

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Start em young. :-)

A post shared by Brandon Healey (Brando) (@topwaterflyfishing) on

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Fly-fishing culture is notoriously secretive. In Calgary, however, it is common that guides fish together (technically, they are competitors), and seasoned fly-fishers will regularly take a newbie under their wing for a day. There is a huge community of inclusive, positive fly-fishers emerging.

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Reason #9: Biodiversity

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Gorgeous little #brooketrout to start up the #flyfishing season! #alberta

A post shared by Brandon Healey (Brando) (@topwaterflyfishing) on

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When it comes to diversity of fish and rivers, the Calgary area has everything imaginable for hardcore or beginner fly-fishers. We have steep glacial streams, winding spring creeks, big prairie rivers, deep canyon tributaries, lakes, and huge tail-waters. These waterways are full of practically every type of trout pursued by anglers.

If you are just getting into fly-fishing, visit some small streams for countless hungry brook trout. If you are a fly-fishing Jedi, go prove yourself among the massive finicky brown trout that stalk our spring creeks. Feel like an adventure? Try catching one of each type of trout species in a single day (rainbow, brown, bull, cutthroat, brook).

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Reason #10: Catch & Release Regulations

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This may seem a bit odd for some folks, but catch and release fishing is a good thing. My own family does not understand the point of fishing without eating tasty fish. Simply put, if every fish caught was kept, we would have no fish in the Bow within a few years (really). Catch and release is practiced by every professional guide and outfitter in Alberta.

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These ten reasons are just a few of the many qualities that make Calgary a fisherman’s paradise.

Now go catch some fish!

Special thanks to Devon Scott (@altarflyfishing) for contributing to this article.

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By
Brandon Healey

Brandon Healey is a fly-fishing guide, member of the Angling Outfitters and Guides Association of Alberta (AOGAA), and a Calgary resident.