A Beginner’s Guide to Fly Fishing in Calgary

Fly Fishing 101
Fly Fishing 101
Fly Fishing 101

A Beginner’s Guide to Fly Fishing in Calgary

Start your fly fishing adventure in Calgary with these tips and tricks.

The Bow River runs directly through Calgary and has a reputation as one of the best trout streams in the world. Every year, people travel from all over the world to fly fish in these amazing waters. With such incredible opportunities, it can be tricky to know where to start. So we chatted with local fly fishing guides to learn more.

In this guide, expert fly fishers, Jake Halle (@troutmadness), Amber & Brendan Toner (@thebugparade), and Paula Shearer (@paulashearer), share advice on their favourite places to fish, what you can expect to catch, and why fly fishing in and around Calgary is an experience unlike any other.

 

Here are 7 tips for the best fly fishing in Calgary, Alberta:

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1. Start with a Guide

Whatever you’re looking for, hiring a guide can ensure a quality experience. Especially if you’re new to fly fishing, and even if you’re not, Calgary’s Bow River is long and complicated. A guide can take you carefully to hidden spots and pristine walk and wade locations. They’ll be able to enhance your skills, help you catch an epic amount of fish and make sure you’re comfortable before you go solo.

“If you’re visiting Calgary to fly fish, I would suggest booking a guided float with one of the reputable shops and allow them to share their knowledge while putting you onto ridiculously huge brown and rainbow trout.” - @troutmadness

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2. Consider the Season

It goes without saying that most any travel requires you to take a calendar into consideration. In addition to figuring out what works with your schedule, you’ll also need to think about when you’re most likely to catch more fish. While most experts recommend the summer months, the coloured waters of the Bow in late spring also mean you can outsmart bigger fish that might not be able to see your line.

Some guides, like @paulashearer, recommend fishing near Calgary from July to mid-October, with the guided fly fishing season kicking off at the beginning of May. Once July comes around, the water temperatures in our rivers rise a little as the water levels start to settle, and the fish start to get more active. Plus, July is also Stampede month.

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“Though it's fishable year-round, by far the best time to fish the Bow is in the summer months. The Winter and Spring months also offer good fishing on the Bow in the form of nymph or streamer fishing. It all depends on the kind of fly fishing you like to do and how you'd like to fish the river, whether by boat or by foot.” - @thebugparade

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3. Choose an Accessible Location

Not interested in venturing far from the city? No problem. Just downstream, the Bow River joins the Elbow River at Fort Calgary. The proximity of the river to downtown makes for a one-of-a-kind fly fishing experience, where you can wade into the water and still see the city skyline in the background.

 “The Elbow River is a good place to fish in the city; you can expect to catch Brown Trout right in downtown Calgary when fishing there. The surrounding areas of the city also play host to some really beautiful mountain rivers on the eastern slopes of the Rockies, where you can have the opportunity to catch species of trout native to Alberta, like Cutthroat and Bull Trout.” - @thebugparade

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4. Or Venture into Nature

In Alberta, the same province that includes Kananaskis Country, Banff National Park and Lake Louise, Calgary’s surroundings offer spectacular opportunities to experience the more wild side of fly fishing. The nutrient-rich Bow River, which spans 387 miles and merges in places with the Highwood and Elbow rivers, covers enough ground to allow space between anglers.

But with so many gorgeous, hidden gems to choose from, it can be a bit of a challenge knowing exactly what streams and lakes to fish in. Asking the locals in the area for recommendations is one of the best ways to find the place that’s best for you. Amber & Brendan Toner of @thebugparade, for example, recommend Fish Creek Provincial Park and the spot where Fish Creek meets the Bow River.

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“Beyond Bow River, I would suggest anyone coming to visit Calgary to head into the mountains to explore some of the beauty they have to offer. There are several hikes to lakes that not only offer spectacular views, but also have unbelievable fishing.” - @troutmadness

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5. Come Prepared

No matter where or when you go, and regardless of whether it’s your first time fly fishing or your fiftieth, regulations vary by region. So it’s always a good idea to research local regulations and obtain a fishing license well before your trip. Especially if you’re going to fish in Banff or another protected area, you’ll also need a Park Pass and a park-specific fishing permit.

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“First and foremost, when you are fly fishing anywhere, it’s incredibly important you not only buy your fishing license but that you make yourself well aware of the regulations for that particular river. The rivers in Calgary and the rivers surrounding it are all subject to closures for different times of year to accommodate the spawning cycle of different species of fish.” -@thebugparade

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6. Set Your Expectations

If you’re hoping to catch something in particular, the fly fishing in and around Calgary boasts a variety of fish. In 2009, the New York Times reported that the most common trout in Calgary, both Brown and Rainbow, were actually introduced to the Bow river in the 1920s. And today, you can expect to catch fish as big as 25 inches.

Meanwhile stillwater lakes and small streams have Cutthroat Trout that can be caught with a dry fly. But in order to catch a Pike or something different, you’ll need to head into the mountain streams or find a guide who can help you walk and wade.

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A favorite fish from this year. @redingtongear #findyourwater #flyfishing #nikon

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“The main species people catch out of the Bow River are Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout and Whitefish. The Rainbows and Browns vary in size from smaller sizes (10-12 inches) to much larger (25 inches and up).” - @thebugparade

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“July through August is one of the best times to fish at Bow River in Calgary. The stonefly hatch is going and the fish have come back from spawn. Their appetite will be full throttle and trout love nothing more than when the stones are out. Stoneflies typically hatch during the evening and warp in the morning.” - @troutmadness

In many locations, a lot of the fish are in ankle- to knee-deep water, so you can easily cast from the shore. Plus, flies like the Bead Head Pheasant Tail and Big Streamers have been known to work year-round.

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7. See Other Sights

Don’t limit yourself to the water. The beauty of fly fishing in Calgary is that it offers something for everyone. You can organize a trip to satisfy beginner and expert anglers alike, as well as those who are interested in other adventures. Calgary itself includes the Calgary Zoo, with a Botanical Garden and Prehistoric Park. While the Olympic Oval, Banff and Lake Louise offer their own unique, experiences.

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“Visitors could visit WinSport, the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller (it's a dinosaur museum), the Calgary Zoo, the TELUS Spark Science Centre and Heritage Park.” - @paulashearer

Sure, there’s nothing wrong with fishing all day, but Calgary is home to plenty of adventures and plenty of outdoor patios for a refreshing beverage so that you have a chance to let those waders dry. So get out here and wade into everything Calgary has to offer. 

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Have your own stories about fishing in and around Calgary? Make sure to share your stories and photos of your adventures with #CaptureCalgary when you get out there this summer. And remember, if you have any questions about travel planning, reach out to us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and we’ll be happy to help!

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