Welcome to the final Alberta Fishing Forecast for the open water season! Given that we’re now into (relatively) stable water and weather conditions with flows and temperatures sliding into winter levels, we can discuss the mid to late fall conditions slide. There is certainly a lot of excellent fishing about to happen, but there won’t be too much news nor change in how to go about the fishing from here to freeze-up. What we share here will see you through fall turn-over and the closing down of our trout streams. 🙂
We are leading with a couple of issue points that affect our fisheries in the province. If you don’t like issues, skip down to the walleye & trout forecasts below and enjoy your time out on the water!
Notes & News:
…The provincial government cancelled the fall Provincial Fisheries Round Table’s fall meeting, citing that all resources are going into the Whirling Disease situation. There are questions surrounding that. Some might question why the government disbanded the Whirling Disease Task Force years ago, thus waiting until there was an outbreak to deal with it and develop an action plan. An ounce of prevention possibly could have dealt with the situation pro-actively, but then our various fish species’ populations Fish Sustainability Index Maps show how pro-active things have been for some time. The larger question: are our Fisheries Mgt Resources so shallow that we have to cancel such an important provincial level meeting for a regional issue, a mtg where we were supposed to be walked through the massive overhaul of how our fishing regulations changes for 2017 and the new means of identifying & communicating the Fisheries Management Objectives per water that will become such a critical center piece to all communications to ensure the public has a hope of understanding it all? This is not to diminish the Whirling Disease issue, rather, but to ask how one issue completely turns the apple cart on its side. Make no mistake, there is going to be a very wide berth of Whirling Disease discoveries made this go ’round, the location list growing to places we don’t want it to be. But at what point do we ensure we have a properly funded Dept capable of scratching its head and patting its belly at the same time – so one issue doesn’t preclude all others? Look, our mandate is sharing the positive messaging of angling in Alberta and encouraging folks to get out and enjoy life on the water, but there are times that things need addressing because they simply don’t add up. We’ve long supported and worked with our bios and the system and always will – as you see in our To The Angler in this year’s Alberta Fishing Guide Magazine. But sometimes we need better communication – as well as our Gov members to step up and acknowledge those of us not in gov who have put so much of our lives, so many hours in meetings, travel, deliberations, lobby, etc into trying to make a positive difference. It takes a lot for us to speak out, and this is one situation that requires that.
… speaking of pro-activity… Fall spawning brook trout and brown trout are now conducting their business. Part of the importance of the Provincial Fisheries Round Table meetings is to make sure that items such as changing the Provincial guiding principles for brown trout are changed. While every single sport fish species in the province has its spawning season closed to angling, brown trout are simply left to fend to themselves. In order to change that, we have to continue raising this issue to ensure we ensure the long-term viability of what we have now remains well into the future. It would be a crying shame if we have to wait until our brown trout get dumbed down in population dynamics, range, and sizes as every single other sport fish in Alberta has been, as you see in the FSI maps. Why wait? Oct 1 to May 15 should be the closure season as a guiding principle, provincially, to allow browns to spawn and then have a few weeks in April to improve their body condition and stabilize their weight each spring. 8 of every 10 years our browns are skinny and full of lesions through early May as, being non-natives, they simply don’t winter well in our streams. Our streams simply shut down through the winter, through late spring, and offer no bounce-back energy. Thankfully our bull trout, being natives, have a generally better go as they spawn earlier and are far more migratory, wintering in locations that generally offer better energy levels in the ecosystem. Fisheries use Stauffer Cr as the indicator stream, a stream that has multiple times the in-stream carrying capacity and available biomass production vs every other brown trout stream not named the Bow in Alberta.
The final forecast of the year is here and major changes have been happening to our fisheries the past month. The summer peak period is over as water temperatures have been dropping steadily with the cool nights. Water temps are now in the mid 50’s and are dropping daily.
Boat traffic has been cut to a trickle of what we see in the summer and fishing is still good if you can make the time to hit the water. Many anglers are also hunters and days on the water have now turned into pursuits of migratory birds or big game. Die-hard anglers are still out on the water and really appreciate less boat traffic and minimal congestion at launches – as well as the walleyes feeding heavily to fatten up before freeze up.
Weeds are dying in the shallows and that means the baitfish will be moving deeper – into the 20 to 40 foot range on most lakes. Turnover is also just around the corner when water temps hit the 50 degree mark. Cooler surface water will mix with warmer deeper water throughout the water column and can disrupt fishing for a short spell from a few days to a week or so on most waterbodies. Weeds and debris will be floating on the surface and the bite will be off as water mixes and re oxygenates.
Lake fishing right now is all about finding great structure with sonar and keying in on where fish are relating to it. Secondary breaks and deeper flats are now home to fish and if they can find locations where bait is stacked up the fish will be close by. Humps are prime in the fall and are my favorite structure to fish. Spend time graphing structure and breaks before fishing to pinpoint hotspots where fish stack up and then drop down Jigging Rapalas, Puppet Minnows, or jigging spoons to trigger strikes. Minnows are the prime forage in the fall and fish won’t hesitate to take a meal thats placed right in front of them. For fish that are a bit more neutral, jigs tipped with plastics or minnows work well and often produce quite a few fish after more aggressive tactics slow down. River fishing will be awesome until ice up with the walleye and sauger stacking up in their over-wintering holes. Floating jigheads such as Northland Gum Drop Floaters tipped with half a crawler or a minnow with a two to three-foot leader of 10lb fluorocarbon will anchor you to bottom behind a 1/2 to 3/4 oz egg sinker. Anchoring up and fishing this rig behind the boat or letting the rig sit on bottom from shore always produces fish for me in the fall. As well I always have a selection of 1/8 to 1/2 oz jigs on hand to work through pools with plastic jerk shad style bodies from 3 to 5″ in length. The jigs with plastics are fished aggressively,jigs and minnows are fished slower, and the bottom rigs are cast in prime spots along current edges where fish wait for forage to just drift by and come to them.
River fishing will heat up massively this year as we have dealt with high dirty conditions most of the summer and the fish will be feeding big time in lower, clear flows as they start stacking up in overwintering pools.
The biggest fish show up in the fall and this is your best shot at a double-digit walleye in Alberta. The Peace, Athabasca, Saskatchewan and Red Deer rivers all have huge fish in them.
Make sure to check your line for frays and nicks and keep a sharpener handy to touch up hooks that get dulled up in rocks. Sharp hooks result in more hookups and I prefer to use jigs with premium hooks and shanks that don’t bend much while fishing the lightest jigs I can get away with so they get down and just tick the bottom in pools without snagging up. As well, make sure to check the regs as bait bans are in effect in some areas.
Enjoy the rest of your season and the beautiful fall days on the water and please remember to boat safely with the cooler water temps. Make sure to hook up your kill switch and wear a PFD so you get back home safely.
Winterization season for boats is in full swing now and more and more will be put away in the weeks ahead. Preventative maintenance for next season is always a great option right now especially on your boat trailer. Fall is a great time to get bearings redone and worn tires replaced so come spring getting out will be hassle free. Also cleaning out anything that could make a mess from freezing, or become food for mice or other furry creatures is a must. After your last trip thoroughly clean, drain, and dry out pumps and live well lines to prevent freezing and cracking over winter. Take care and see you on the ice! Chris K.
Central Trout Lakes
Fall is well underway, and the fishing is starting to get quite interesting. Most of the major insect activity has passed, but the leech and scud fishing is just heating up now. Yes, some warmer days will see boatmen flights or late season chironomids, but the peaks of both have passed. So what exactly do the last few weeks of trout fishing have in store?
Fall turnover will occur as surface water temps dip towards 4C, which will take a while yet (Last week I was recording around 12-13C). Before this happens, we will see varied action. Currently, trout are found pretty well anywhere in the lakes. Over the last three weeks I’ve had good action in 2 and 22ft of water, using a myriad of techniques and flies.
For deeper water, a type 4-6 line is the way to go if trout are found near the lake bed. But, at this time of year, trout are often suspended somewhere in the mid-depths. To meet this challenge, you can have some enjoyable fishing using an intermediate sink, type 2-3, or a floating line with a strike indicator.
These suspended trout are likely feeding on one of three items: water boatmen, leeches, or daphnia. Daphnia is essentially zooplankton, and can be “matched” by using olive, orange, or yellow Blobs or Tequila Boobies, or else by fishing olive or brown leeches, perhaps with some burnt orange tied into the pattern. Obviously, you’re not matching the individual organism (they would be about a size 64), but rather a glob or bunch of them. You should experiment with retrieves, as either bullet fast or ultra-slow can work.
My favourite fall tactic is to target trout that are in less than 9 or so feet of water. Trout in this zone are there for only one reason: to feed. There are safer places to hang out when lethargic. Leeches, shrimp, daphnia, boatmen, daphnia, bloodworms, chironomid pupa, and baitfish are all found in this zone during fall, and all can provoke trout to bite. To highlight, last week at a lake just west of Edmonton, we had a fun time throat pumping every couple of fish, because each fish had a totally different food base it was keying on. Some were solid daphnia, some all bloodworms, several a vile full of #14 or 16 olive shrimp, and some chironomid pupa so dense I wished it was early June. Others yet were the full gamut. In short, pay attention, try some different flies in shallow, and you may need to experiment.
There are some keys and signs you can use. If you see baitfish moving, it’ll pay off to use a #10-14 olive leechy-minnowy fly. Experiment with retrieves to see what works. If you see chironomids, match it. If nothing at all is showing, daphnia or bloodworms could be on the menu. The best tip here, though, is that shrimp and leeches are king during autumn, and a Seal Bugger, Stillwater Nymph, or Baggy Shrimp is really tough to beat as a good setup during this season…
…then, all of a sudden, weeds float to the top of the lake, water gets murky, and the fishing tanks for a few days. Turnover happens on most lakes during fall, and while it doesn’t seem to last as long as spring turnover, it buggers the fishing up for a couple of days. The good news is that lakes tend to mix at different times, so the best advice is that if a lake is turning and the fishing is off, fish different water for a couple of days.
Post turnover, slow and steady, and mostly shallow, wins. Trolling out deep will get the odd fish, as will deep indicator fishing off the shoals. The best action (and most engaging angling) is tight to shore or at reed edges in less than 6ft of water. Leeches, shrimp, and maybe baitfish or bloodworms are the ticket, with my money on leeches and shrimp. Whatever it is, fish it shallow. Lines to use will be floating, midge tip, hover, intermediate, or a type 5-6 (for Booby fishing). Use what you enjoy, and just remember to fish productive areas of the lake.
My last tip for the fall is this: it doesn’t matter exactly WHERE someone else is fishing when they’re catching fish. Most of the time it’s the TYPE of water they’re fishing that’s making the most significant difference. If someone is hammering fish along the reeds, don’t crowd them thinking that they are on the money spot, but move to a section of reeds some ways away (at least a couple hundred feet if possible) and try to mimic what they’re doing. Ditto if someone is fishing off-shore, along a drop off, etc. Our lakes in Alberta are stocked with high densities of trout, are quite uniform in structure (many areas have similar characteristics and fish holding potential), and no one area is a money spot with no fish in other, similar locations. Be courteous on the water and respect other anglers. I hope everyone has a great fall. Nick Sliwkanich
Nancy @ Fish Tales Fly Shop
With a myriad of colors along its edges and big, feisty fish beneath the surface, the Bow continues to beckon. We love this time of year on the river. Stories of boatmen emergences earlier in the week and reports of the odd fish landed on dry BWO imitations make it challenging to focus on the day-to-day projects that need to be completed in-store. Lots of people continue to be out there enjoying the river – guide clients and do-it yourself anglers.
Your best fishing option for the next few weeks likely includes a small beadhead dropper like a boatman or prince nymph which can be fished as the second fly on a standard nymph rig or as part of a hopper/dropper setup. San Juan worms have been extremely effective for the past couple of weeks and should continue (always) to be a mainstay in your Bow river box. Streamers can also be fished with a boatman pattern in behind. Check out David’s article in 2016 digital issue of the Alberta Fishing Guide Magazine for some great information you can put to use during the next month or so.
The river continues to run at lower than average levels. We will likely see a little bump of water – Calgary through Carseland – when the Western Irrigation District (WID) ceases it’s seasonal water draw on September 30. Keep an eye on Trout Unlimited Canada’s Bow River chapter pages for information about the annual Bow river fish rescue.
This season has been a fantastic year for many folks while out drifting the Bow. With fish gorging themselves on full-meal-deals like leeches, minnows, and worms the fish are in prime condition. Drifting anglers can cover a large section of the river and focus their attention on areas holding fish. Many bank anglers who’ve put in the time – especially those who’ve used subsurface techniques have also been enjoying good fishing. Dry fly purists – not so much.
The forecast for next week continues to fluctuate but currently looks promising. Get out there and enjoy it if you can….
We shared the fall brown & brook trout spawning situation above, so please keep an eye out for redds (spawning egg laying locations) and provide a wide berth of 5 m up/downstream of these locations. Walking through these locations, trampling the eggs, does our trout populations harm because, like a chicken egg you pull out of your fridge, if you step on it you scramble it. Scrambled eggs don’t hatch.
Hatches: hoppers; fall caddis; slate-winged olives; tan caddis; a few golden stones still linger; mahogany dun mayflies; a few tricos; blue-winged olives; water boatmen; midges; flying ants on sunny days are hitting the air in droves.
Our cutthroat waters have reached their annual state of predictability. Go small in the pools and glass glides, use a dropper through the faster troughs. Dry fly activity will occur daily after noon to about 5pm. Hard & fast rule? Almost. With the change in weather we should see a few more fish react to hoppers, fall caddis, and terrestrials – but nymphing is your best, most consistent friend.
Generally, our rivers and streams are in prime shape. Warm fall air and a few great hatches. It remains hopper season south. Fish are dropping to their wintering locations and generally easily found in waist depth or deeper. The days are typical now: start deep and slow and gradually move up through the water column. It’s not a rocket science this time of the year as fish are again locked into those pockets. If you aren’t getting fish, slow down your presentation, get deeper, or go smaller. You will catch more fish, consistently, with a #18 pheasant tail dead drift 9 feet deep in a 10 foot deep pool than ripping streamers. For my $, as fall goes on, the same will be true for those big bull trout as well. They get a little gun-shy on the big stuff but man are they simpletons for the small stuff if you take the time.
As the season continues to slow down the trout will get more sluggish in the smaller streams. You may have to perpetually slow and size down your lures, flies, jigs, spinner blades, streamers, etc. Have fun with it all.