April 1, 2016 Fishing Forecast

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Welcome to another year of the Alberta Fishing Guide Fishing Forecast. As we start the year, one small adjustment. We’re going to do a more detailed Fishing Forecast the beginning and middle of each month and provide an update in between, as needed. This way we can all get out fishing and provide the big details every two weeks and provide fine tuning as needed.

Step 1: A note to both spin and fly anglers: while we obviously focus on certain tactics for certain species in these reports, we do remind you that our intention is to share where fish will be, how they’ll be feeding and acting – what their mood likely is. While we may get into some seemingly technical talk about gear fishing, there is a lot of information for fly anglers in “where” in a water to target pike (for example) and the general action and size of gear required. So too for spin anglers: just because we share fly fishing information doesn’t preclude you: read through the information and see how you can adjust what you’re doing. Casting spinner blades through a hatch of stoneflies will still work, but learning to adjust and use a slip bobber to imitate nymphing and learning a few fly patterns and how to drift fish could drive your success through the roof. 

Step 2: We remind all anglers that you need a new Fishing License! Stop in at your favorite shop and pick up a few new flies and lures as you do. 

Step 3: the 2016 Issue of the Alberta Fishing Guide is in stores now. We provide the all we do on line because of your support through your purchase of the magazine, thank you! 🙂 

April 1 marks the opening of many low elevation trout waters, such as central Alberta brown trout streams, the Oldman River below hwy 22, and several bull trout waters including the Clearwater, Red Deer above the Dickson Dam, N Saskatchewan R. Be sure to check your regulations – there simply is no excuse to not know the regulations if you are reading this. And please, if you do fish where it is open during the rainbow and cutthroat trout spawn (sections of the Crowsnest, Oldman, and Bow Rivers) keep an eye out for spawning redds. These are cleaned gravel areas dug out by trout as they lay eggs. They are extremely important to our populations and it’s best to give a 5m berth to avoid trampling of eggs.

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April 1 also marks the closure of several waters, including reaches of the Crowsnest River and our central – northern Alberta perch, pike, and walleye lakes (the south closed a couple weeks back). These spring spawners have most of Alberta’s warm water lakes closed through early to mid May. It’s a tough time of year but as always, the foundation of all angling is that spawning gives every lake a chance, so this is a great time of the year.

Our trout waters had a favourable winter once more. Low, consistent flows, warm temperatures, and little ice on many of our waters will likely mean decent trout condition as they were a year ago. This is a good thing and if we avoid monsoon-like rains in May-June could see some epic fishing in many trout waters with some very large trout caught this season. As we were reminded last year, enjoy the early season fishing as long as it lasts because with the lack of snow and soil moisture outside the foothills, the potential for severe drought persists. We’re hoping the government does follow through on their promise of defining the parameters and terms surrounding emergency stream closures coming out of last fall’s Fisheries Round Table Meeting. Hopefully these will be looked at and established before the season gets long but the fact that we’re talking about it already tells you just how dry things are looking on a few southern waters already. The good news is that most of our snow pack recording stations are showing normal values for streams and rivers of mountain source.

As always at that this time of the year, please be sure to have an honest assessment of the bull trout and brown trout you are catching in your stream. Remember that these fish spawned after the stream went to bed last fall and have essentially been biding their time under the ice with little to eat – certainly not any more than energy neutral through the winter. Many fish will be skinny and still appear quite dark as in-stream productivity has yet to kick in. The required energy to bounce-back to condition won’t return to our streams until early May. If you’re catching fish that look like the following brown trout, maybe leave that stream alone until early May. It’s a long season and what’s best for the trout sometimes isn’t what we want, but it’s the right thing to do for these browns and bulls in the short-term. Skinny fish are susceptible at this time of the year and the last thing we want to do is stress is to death before it has a chance to rebound to being a vibrant, healthy one a month from now.

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At present the brown trout streams are a mix of wide open and frozen, as they are every year. Generally the waters south of Caroline are ice-free, however, the heavily forested reaches remain frozen. It is worth a look into the Dogpound, Fallentimber, Raven, Stauffer, Little Red Deer. Prairie is always worth a go but it seems to fish a little slower each spring than the others. Of course, there are always exceptions.

One final note as you likely saw starting in the 2015 issue of the Alberta Fishing Guide: the old fence lines that used to provide easement access for anglers are mostly no longer. While the fencelines are still standing in most cases, the access is not, the agreements no longer in place. The land inside the fence is private and access must be obtained from the property owner in order to fish, lest you remain in the water at all times on your way up and downstream. This is practically impossible as we all know, so please be sure to ask for access no matter where you begin your fishing day.

Do note that water flows and levels will likely increase and visibility decrease this weekend with the forecast:
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Given all the above, our trout are solidly in wintering water, that is, water that the annual low-level cycle has forced them into (please see this article). Generally, look to water deeper than waist deep, that has a riffle leading in and a long, deep trough below. That description is essentially the classic wintering water in Alberta. The shallow runs and riffles and water less than waist deep likely had ice covering it not too long ago, ice that may have frozen to the rocks of the river. Winter forces trout to specific habitat and they’ll stay in this same water through to higher water levels of mid to late May when rain and mountain snow melt raises levels. On many streams you will find dozens of fish stacked into these runs at this time of the year. Given the clear water on many of our rivers and streams at the moment, fishing as you see in this video is possible. Sight-nymphing and streamer fishing can produce quite well this time of the year.

Down south, the dry fly fishing has begun as midges cluster in the shoreline seams. The Crowsnest and Oldman have been showing a few midge caught fish as of late and no doubt the blue-winged olives will start shortly. The early stonefly hatches (tiny winter black, late winter black, early brown stones) are about ready to draw good numbers of risers. Skwala stones are out but not rolling quite yet. All told, on warm, sunny, windy days expect a few fish to work the surface. Look to small black trudes in #14 to 22; Griffith’ Gnats #16 – 22; Stimulators (olive) #8. Of course, the afternoon dry fly period is always short this time of year (1 to 6pm generally) and you’re safest to work streamers and nymphs (below) through likely water.

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Jay Jones has an excellent article to lead the 2016 Alberta Fishing Guide Magazine. Be sure to pick up your copy to find out how to fish the Bow this time of the year.

The Bow River is now open from Bow Lake high up in Banff National Park (National Parks angling license required) downstream with the exceptions of the following reaches: Bearspaw Dam to WHD Weir; Carseland Weir to the downstream side of the Hwy 24 bridge; Bassano Dam downstream. “Inglewood Bird Sanctuary (SE12-24-1-W5) – All waters, including back and side channels within the Bird Sanctuary and not including the main channel of the Bow River – CLOSED.” 

Some good opportunities exist in the Park for the few bull trout per kilometer that are stuck in the low water of wintering pools. There aren’t many and they’ll be sluggish many days, but they are there. As you work downstream the reach about Canmore always produces some nice fish this time of year as it meanders and braids through the gap. The reach near Cochrane is always a timing game – try to hit it before the daily influx of flow for power generation. And of course, the reach through the city and beyond… well, that simply has been incredible the past year and we encourage everyone who has time to head out. There are simply some exceptional fish in the Bow and it is worth your time. As always, check your regulations as it’s not a food fishery – it’s a fishery for a city of a million people to enjoy and return the fish alive and well. The Bow has fished well most of the late winter – spring already in wintering runs (again, please see this short article). While the dry fly activity has yet to really kick into gear, some risers to midges are occurring and that will increase soon. The same skwala stones that are out on the Oldman and Crow are starting to show up on the Bow.

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Several southern trout lakes in the Crowsnest Pass are ice-free as well. The chironomid hatches are yet to begin but low and slow is producing some good fish. Suspend leech patterns and blood worms a foot off the bottom under an indicator along drop offs and you’ll likely find a few good trout. There is some open water through the Kananaskis Lakes. And the Oldman Reservoir has been ice-free more than a month. Of course, you’ll need to be careful of spring winds whipping up, so be careful. Some good fishing trolling Raps, buggers, bottom bouncers, and large streamers can produce rainbows 18 to 22″. They are there. Central Alberta lakes will be a couple of weeks before shedding ice. The news of winter-kills is coming, and will be extensive this year thanks to the shut-down of winter aeration programs. It will be ugly, brace yourself.

What to use:  Bead-head Prince, Pheasant-Tail, Hare’s Ear, Evil Weevil and Copper John. Streamer patterns, such as Woolly Buggers, Clouser Minnows, Zoo Cougars, and others, can be very effective this time of year. The key isn’t so much the fly pattern as where trout will be. Focus on the right water, the right depth, with a drag-free drift and you’ll catch trout – promise! Heck, even once the skwala stones really get rolling a #8 Elk Hair Sedge will work as well as any multi-segmented, triple winged pattern. Keep it simple for success.

We close with a head’s up that Vic Bergman is selling the Crowsnest Angler Fly Shop & Guiding Co, as well as the land the shop sits on and the adjacent parcel. It’s a gorgeous location in the Crowsnest Pass for someone who might be looking for a change of lifestyle. 🙂

Ok, we lied. There’s lots of chatter online amongst fly anglers getting all excited about chasing the early season skwala stonefly hatch and hoping to hit it at opening. While there may be a few skwalas out further south into the Oldman now and starting on the Bow, the hatch really doesn’t get rolling for a few weeks yet in a wide spread manner. We are a week or two ahead of last year conditions wise so it is likely we see risers earlier. Last year we shot and shared this video. While some adult skwalas were out earlier in the month the thrust of egg laying and dry fly fishing didn’t get rolling until at least mid month. This video was shot in April, certainly, but April 28. It gives us all something to look forward to, doesn’t it? 🙂   Soon enough.

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