Welcome to the May Long weekend and the first big Alberta Fishing Forecast of the year. After a protracted, cold, snowy, gloomy April and some of the same lingering into May, we find ourselves at a generally warm weather forecast. Life is good as most of our waters across the province are open – the noted exceptions are our high country originating cutthroat & rainbow trout waters. Pike, perch & walleye lakes are open province-wide but check your regulations and know what you can and can’t do, when & where.
As we haven’t been able to get a new Fishing Forecast to you given the long, drawn-out weather with so little change, we can now share the excellent write-up on Whirling Disease that Fish Tales Fly Shop wrote some time ago. Whirling Disease is a new discovery in Alberta trout streams this past summer. It can be devastating in some waters but as it turns out Alberta has had it for a long, long time and has simply gone undetected until now. Like all infections & diseases, environmental conditions dictate its rate of infection and spread and what % of a population gets infected. The reality is that Whirling Disease has now been confirmed in many waters and the Bow & Oldman River watershed are classed as infected. A little birdie tells us that the Red Deer R watershed is about to be confirmed as well. And don’t forget the massive number of our stocked lakes and private ponds province-wide that have been stocked by the (non-government, private) hatcheries that were confirmed as Whirling Disease infected last fall.
Walleye Forecast – Chris Kindraka
Spring is sprung, the grass is green and the ice is off lakes. Trucks with boats in tow are once again going down the highway in northern Alberta to fishing holes that are open. Check your regulations just to make sure as some water bodies are still closed until June 1.
- Ice has been off lakes for over a week to ten days now and water temps are warming up. Walleyes will be finishing up spawning and males will be feeding like crazy adjacent and near spawning areas.
- Rocky shorelines with shallow weed lines nearby will warm up quickly and attract baitfish in the warmer water which will in turn bring in the walleyes. They will be hungry and as the water warms their metabolism increases and the fishing will only improve after the fish strap on the feed bag after spawning.
- Pike will be up super shallow too and the bigger females will be recuperating nearby off of deeper breaks.
- With the later ice off this year, fishing up shallow will be phenomenal this spring and having polarized sunglasses will be essential to see fish lazing in warmer water. 5″ fluke style baits on unweighted worm hooks tossed in front of pike in the shallows will be dynamite in natural baitfish colors. Little twitches of the rod tip while falling will trigger big strikes. Make sure you have your jaw spreaders and pliers handy!
- The next week is not supposed to get warmer than 20 degrees and will be quite overcast so fish will be concentrated more in smaller areas.
- Creek mouths and the flats near them will also be hot as fish return to lakes from their spawn.
- Trolling crankbaits such as # 7 Shad Raps, #7 Flicker Minnows, or HJ 10 Husky Jerks at about 1.5 mph is a great way to cover water and find schools of fish. Once fish are found, anchor up and drag or vertically jigged jig and minnow combo to put fish in the boat.
- Spinners and crawlers can also be used to find fish, but with cooler water temps, I’d downsize the blades a bit to size three and tip them with a minnow or half a live crawler.
- Moving a bit slower than cranking but still covering water will help you eliminate where the fish aren’t so you can concentrate on where they are.
- Once again, when fish are found, go back with light jigs and catch until the actions slows down. When it does slow down, switch up your jig color or downsize your jig weight and show the more finicky fish in the school something a bit different to catch a few extra fish.
- Each day that progresses, water temps will warm slightly and the bite will just keep improving. The key to fishing this time of year is locating fish and once you do there will be good numbers.
- Males will still be milking in many lakes, so make sure you have some water and a cloth to clean up after as soon as possible as they can make a real mess of boat carpet and clothing.
- Boat launches will be busy this upcoming Victoria Day long weekend and being prepped in the parking lot before launching instead of on the launch ramp will be appreciated by all users and keep everything running smoothly. Making sure life jackets are on and kill switches are hooked will keep everyone safe with early spring cold water temps too.
- As well, with the ever looming threat of invasive species, don’t forget to clean, drain, and dry your boat and trailer.Have fun and enjoy the weekend on the water! Chris Kindraka
Stillwater Trout Update – By Nick Sliwkanich
If spring fishing isn’t the best time to chase stillwater trout, it’s certainly the most anticipated after a long winter. Ice conditions this year seemed to hang on a little longer than normal – raising the angst – but then a quick recap of the past couple decades actually puts this year’s ice-off about on par with the norm, give or take a few days; the last 3 or 4 years have been more than welcome, but uncharacteristically early.
Regardless of when the ice came off your local lakes, it’s now time to hit the water. Where I live north of Edmonton, the local lakes were turning over last week but still producing surprisingly well, and are coming back into prime shape for the long weekend. The water is nice and cool after the recent bout of damp weather, and the trout aren’t all that deep right now. You’ll do well fishing in less than 14ft of water, and often in less than 8-10ft. The water is warmer in these shallow areas, with more weed growth, more food sources and active trout as a result. Remember, finding trout is easy, finding actively feeding fish will turn a mediocre day into a memorable one.
Of course, the omnipresent chironomid is an exception to water depth, and you’ll find them hatching basically anywhere, mostly 2-20ft. My advice is still to find a weed bed, drop off edge, or reed line that will concentrate trout, and has 8-14ft depth. If you see midges hatching, start with a chironomid a foot off the bottom, and a leech one or two feet higher up the leader. Be sure to use an indicator that’s easy to see. You can raise or lower the flies every few casts until you find the best depth at which to fish. The most consistent chironomids are black and red, black and silver, chromies, olive and gold, and maybe a maroon and red, all in #10-16.
Other prominent food sources right now include leeches, immature damselfly nymphs, dragonfly nymphs, scuds, and water boatmen. You may find some fish-eating baitfish, especially early or late in the day, so be ready with those. I’m not too picky about exact fly patterns most of the time, just be sure to have a couple of options of each of the aforementioned bugs. Of course, generalistic patterns are my go-tos during non-hatch periods, and the #8-12 Seal Bugger, #10-14 Stillwater Nymph, #12-16 pheasant tail soft hackles, and #8-12 mohair leeches are personal favourites. We all develop our own go-to colour schemes, yet black, brown, olive, and purple/maroon (with a bit of burnt orange mixed in to some of them) are generally the day-in-day-out winners for impressionistic flies.
As far as presenting the flies, you can use the same indicator tactic as noted above for chironomid fishing: suspend one or two flies a foot or two off the bottom. Casting up or across wind will allow the waves to provide movement to your flies, and will help you cover a bit of water. Add a quick strip of line every 10-30 seconds to attract fish in. When using indicators, bead head flies often work best.
When using intermediate sink lines, I generally prefer flies with a few wraps of lead or a glass or plastic bead, rather than brass or tungsten. The benefit of using an intermediate sink line is having a slow sinking rig, and if the fly plummets down while the line slowly sinks, you lose the advantage of a long retrieve over a narrow, specific depth. With intermediate lines, you should aim to pull your fly across where you feel the trout will be feeding, offering a side-profile of your fly patterns. Use a count down method with 5 or 6 second increments until you reach bottom, or locate fish. Again, general impressionistic leeches, buggers, and wet flies will give off plenty of movement, and hopefully entice trout to check out your fly.
As the spring heats up and hatches solidify for the next 3 or 4 weeks, look for the following.
- Chironomid hatches to intensify and offer the best fishing many days.
- Trout tend to move shallowest in the early morning and late evening, then slide deeper through the heat of the day.
- Dragonfly and damselfly nymphs to get a LOT of trout moving and can be fished throughout the lake.
- Callibaetis mayflies will start coming off sporadically over the next couple weeks. Pheasant tail nymphs and a Parachute Adams will work as general imitators. A poly wing spinner will work for the spinner stage if the trout get picky.
- Scuds will fall out of favour as a food source as others become readily available.
- Trout will start chasing flies with a more predatory response between temperatures around 10-15C, after that, they’ll become more sluggish. If the water is between those temperatures, you can fish an impressionistic fly at a higher, erratic speed.
Lastly, a note on angling etiquette. Don’t encroach upon other anglers. Give a wide berth showing courtesy and respect. 200ft isn’t unreasonable on our lakes. Don’t troll near anglers who are anchored and casting. Trolling can and does spook trout, especially in shallow water, which other anglers are fishing to. If you’re trolling that’s fine, just stay as far away as possible from anchored anglers. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll still be enjoying your time on the lake.
Our lakes generally have more than enough room for everyone to enjoy their time of the water, and as our lakes get more crowded, we need to consider how our actions impact others.
Good Fishing, Nick Sliwkanich.
Bow River – Fish Tales Fly Shop
Closer to home… We continue to see decent bug life along the Bow river. Midges, BWOs, and caddis dries are out. Below the surface the food source is varied and includes golden stoneflies, caddis and mayfly nymphs; cranefly larva, worms, leeches, and minnows. The fish are in good shape. We’re still seeing primarily brown trout being caught but the rainbows should be back in the Bow system soon (after they finish spawning.)
River clarity has dropped due runoff water and localized rain. Visibility was estimated at about 2 feet this afternoon. We continue to recommend staying above the Highwood if you’re floating – or at least sticking to river left below the confluence of the Highwood and the Bow to avoid dirtier water. The reality is we are in the early stages of runoff and water has started being released from the dams. Despite increased flows the river is still fishable. Streamer fishing in particular can be very productive in this slightly dirtier water.
Dries: for the optimist or the patient angler out there. If you’re patient (and lucky) try parachute midge, parachute adams, Swisher’s Dancing Caddis (12-14), Aaron’s caddis emerger. (Mother’s Day Caddis may actually be here for Mother’s Day this year!)
Nymphs: San Juan worms, rubber leg squirrel nymphs, jimmy legs, peacock leeches, squirrel leech – it’s ok to dead drift these small “streamer” patterns; Evil weevil, pheasant tails, prince nymphs, copper johns.
Streamers: Bow river buggers, skiddish smolt, sparkle minnows, Galloup’s dungeons, black and white clousers, Kreelex minnows.
In other news we received several notices this afternoon from Banff National Park.
- Johnson Lake and associated inflows and outflows are closed to fishing until further notice. The area is also closed to public use (in general) until June 30. The general use closure is to allow the Park to conduct fisheries management work in the region. Word this week is that the lake will be killed off in order to break the chain of Whirling Disease.
- Additionally, effective immediately felt soled wading boots are prohibited within Banff National Park. The other mountain national parks are also working toward a ban of felt soled boots. According to a conversation last week with provincial biologists, there is currently no plan for this ban to be implemented province wide.
- Lastly, launching a motor boat at Lake Minnewanka Reservoir has been made a “restricted activity.” “Any motor boats that have been in waters outside Alberta or British Columbia in the last 30 days must undergo a provincial watercraft inspection, and possess a valid inspection BEFORE launching into Lake Minnewanka.”
Also – for southern anglers – Pike fishing enthusiasts have been taking advantage of the warm temperatures and enjoying a great start to their season. Haul out the slightly heavier gear if you’re headed after these toothy critters to minimize stress and allow you to release the fish more quickly. Big flies tend to entice the big girls – yes the large ones are female – so don’t be shy about chucking a big streamer like the new Menage-A-Dungeons or Silk Kitty, or stick to a tried-and-true whistler or bunny pike fly. Be sure to use a wire leader and carry a good set of pliers when you’re fishing for these toothy critters.
Publisher’s Note – this weekend could see a dramatic explosion of caddis on the Bow. We’ve waited all spring for rising trout and while a few days late thanks to our weather, the sunny, warm forecast could see simply epic dry fly fishing come afternoon – evening. This is the weekend to stay a little later, esp above the Highwood (which is flowing brown).
Happy Fishing Folks! Could be a great week on the water.
- As always, mid-June is the opener for our cutthroat & rainbow trout spawning streams, so they are closed right now. Otherwise there are many waters open from the Berland to the Crowsnest Rivers and a quick flip through the regulations will reveal plenty of opportunity.
- There is a vast discrepancy in water flows and clarity at the moment. Many waters that finger back into the high hills still have considerable flow thanks to a lot of snow yet to melt. This is particularly true in the Edson region but also is affecting waters like Fallentimber Creek, Prairie Creek. The Crowsnest went high & muddy this week as well. So check the Alberta Government Water Flow website before heading out. There are several high water flow advisories at present.
- Where there is at least 2 feet of visibility, streamer fishing can be quite good. Trout have begun to move out of their wintering habitat and spreading out a little so some prospecting along undercuts, log jams, deep pools, etc can be quite productive.
- Current hatches include: blue-winged olives #16 / 24; march brown #12; caddis #14; yellow sallies #14; skwala stones #8; midges #20+; a larger baetis spp in #12; salmonflies #2.
- Hatch chasing has been hit & miss thus far but with this weekend’s forecast things should pick up. Look for olives, march browns, and caddis on those cloudy warm bits of the day and if the sun pokes free as forecast, the stones will get a few fish rolling up. Keep your eyes to the subtle water now as some very large trout are nosed into seriously conspicuous lies. 🙂
This short video was from 2 weeks ago on a spring creek tributary in central Alberta. It’s a fun example of how great our trout waters can be (and before you comment about the long time out of the water at release, that was shot at 180 frames per second and is less than 4 seconds real time) 🙂 Happy Fishing!