Our Man In Canada
May 20th, 2002

The Downtown Fly Fisher
Calgary, Part 3
The Upper Bow River

By Bruce Masterman

Main Attractions: The Elbow

Calgary's Elbow River is like a smaller version of the Bow. It's physically smaller, and the trout also tend not to be as big. But it shouldn't be overlooked, especially on those overcast days or magically summer evening when big brown trout wander out of their secret lairs and shed some of their natural wariness in pursuit of this great opportunity. The same techniques that work on Bow River browns also apply to their Elbow counterparts.

Below the Glenmore Reservoir, water levels in the Elbow fluctuate depending on how much water is being drawn from the reservoir. Flows downstream can be rather inconsistent. But when you hit it on the right days, the Elbow River can be pure dynamite. As noted, however, the browns are being increasingly forced to share their space with northern pike, which likely have migrated from the Glenmore Reservoir. A friend once told me about the time he was fighting a 14-inch brown - no slouch, really - in the Elbow close to downtown, when suddenly a 30-inch pike came out of nowhere and attacked it. The pike grabbed the trout sideways and started swimming away. But my friend held fast, and so did his leader. After a tug-of-war of about two minutes, the pike released the trout and swam away. The trout was landed and released. The next time my friend fished the Elbow, he went armed with a stouter fly rod and assortment of big pike flies.


If you can bring only one rod and reel outfit on your trout-fishing trip, make it a six-weight, with the reel equipped with spools of floating and sink-tip lines. Otherwise, if space isn't a problem, it's a good idea to pack two or three rods ranging from three to seven-weight. On the Bow River, where the current is strong and trout big-shouldered - and weed growth heavy late in the season - many fly fishers rig a six or seven-weight for streams and nymphs, and a four or five weight for delicate dry fly presentations. Leader length varies, from four to six feet for chucking streamers and nymphs, to nine to 15 feet when casting Size 22 Tricorythodes mayfly imitation to a 24-inch trout. Three to five weight rods are perfect for many smaller streams, lakes and beaver ponds in the nearby foothills and mountains, where you can expect to find west-slope cutthroats, Eastern brook trout, rainbows and bull trout. Although chest waders with good felt soles are recommended for the Bow River, fly fishers can easily fish smaller waters outside town with hip waders or, on a warm summer day, wading boots and shorts. Glenmore Reservoir, Carburn Park Ponds and subdivision trout lakes in Calgary can be fished from shore, a belly boat, conoe or oar-equipped car topper.

Guides and Access

Current Issue Canadian Fly Fisher
For first-time anglers, or if you only have a day or two to fish, it's a good idea to hire an experienced guide. The Bow has spawned a growing guiding industry in recent years. Most of the more reputable guides or companies can be contacted through local fly shops. Fly shops also are good sources of information regarding current hatches, successful patterns and where to go, at least generally speaking. Public access for walk-and-wade anglers downstream of Calgary is limited. Maps showing access points are available at most fly shops.

Walking-and-wading, or floating in a driftboat are both effective approaches on the Bow. You'll cover more water when drifting, but a wading angler can cover the water more thoroughly. All motorized boats are prohibited within Calgary city limits. Several local fly fishers regularly use jet boats downstream of Calgary, much to the chagrin of other anglers who prefer a quieter, wakeless experience. Jetboats also disturb wildlife along the river. On a good day, even within Calgary city limits, you can expect to see mule and white-tailed deer, beaver, ducks, and geese, bald eagles, and American white pelicans.

An impressive 330-kilometre network of paved urban pathways used for cycling walking and in-line skating connects the Elbow and Bow rivers in Calgary. The pathway system includes dozens of public parks and green spaces, providing free and easy access to a great deal of incredible trout water within the city. ~ Bruce Masterman

Credits: This article is from the Canadian Fly Fisher magazine. We appreciate use permission!

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