That said, you’d best check your 2017 – 18 Angling Regulations because right now there are many spring closures on pike, perch, and walleye lakes, as well as many trout rivers and lakes. The ice is coming off southern waters and there are a couple of smaller lakes where you can fish, but check those regs carefully. Don’t get caught out on a closed water as it won’t help the fish nor your wallet.
The ice is slowly coming off a few trout waters. Both legally open and ice free reaches can be found on the Crowsnest (note its reach closure!), Oldman (immediately above and below the dam), Bow, Red Deer (above the dam only), Clearwater, N Saskatchewan, Athabasca Rivers and a few tributaries – though the vast majority of tributaries are closed for spring spawning. Many of our central Alberta brown trout waters are open as of April 1.
We watched the Upper Red Deer River gain popularity the past two springs. This was due to an unusually low, clear flow due to an early melt. As we’ve told folks, the Red Deer experiences a good, fishable spring about twice a decade. Enter this year’s snow pack. As soon as the ice sheds off the river you can expect the higher foothill melt to follow – and then take a look at that mountain snow pack. Yes, there will be windows of ok fishing, but don’t expect it to be anything resembling the 2 – 3 months that we had the last 2 springs. We’re solidly in the typical range this year, teetering on a longer, higher, murkier flow.
The same can be said as we work our way down the Eastern Slopes. Marmot Basin experienced near record March snowfall and Hinton – Edson certainly had quite the accumulation of snow through March. So there is a fair amount in the bush yet to melt, let alone the mountain pack.
Bow River mountain snowpack at right
Oldman River mountain snowpack at left.
Most of our flowing waters are flowing higher, more typical of the early to mid spring melt. Low elevation to mid-foothill snow melt has peaked south of Red Deer and those waters that only reach back to mid slope will soon begin to clear from their present tannin stains – many are quite dark at the moment. That said, this will keep hatches at bay a little longer this spring, especially given many tributaries are still frozen!
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.
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 brown trout at right, 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 it to death before it has a chance to rebound to being a vibrant, healthy one just a month from now.
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.
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 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.
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.
Have a great month of April!