About The Bow River

The Bow River flows from Bow Lake in Banff National Park and through the beautiful Canadian Rocky Mountains before cutting through the city of Calgary and continuing its journey toward the Canadian Prairies. The lower stretch of the Bow River – the section below the city of Calgary – consists of 55 kilometres of nutrient-rich water that’s renowned for its abundant numbers of trophy-sized rainbows and browns.

The Bow River can be fished year-round but is at it’s “most comfortable” from Mid-May through mid-to-late October. Many locals will fish the river anytime the thermometer gets above (or close to) zero celsius and are often successful with sub-surface patterns including the San Juan worm, Prince nymph, Evil Weevil and leech patterns.

For anglers interested in fishing the Bow River here is a breakdown by month for our guiding season.

April/May

What to expect weather/fishing conditions: April is early season for the Bow. Until mid-month many fish are still in their wintering holes. There can be excellent fishing as the bugs start getting more active with warmer weather toward the end of April and into May. During this period the larger rainbows move up the Highwood to spawn so as April moves into May expect fewer 19″-plus rainbows.

Typically the water is on a slow rise as low-level run-off starts. We can still experience snowstorms that slow fishing substantially and float trips are booked on a tentative, weather-permitting basis into the first week of May. We often have two to three weeks of very good-to-excellent fishing in May but it is very weather-dependant.

Fishing highlights: With the bugs starting to get active the fish start to feed more heavily. There can be some good hatches that bring fish to the surface but you have to be patient. Typically, the first dries will be some BWO or midges, especially in the city. Then we hope for about a week of great caddis fishing – timing is everything to experience this hatch.

Nymphing and streamer fishing will produce the most consistent results. The brown trout and 15-to-19″ rainbows take advantage of the lack of competition and feed aggressively which can make for some good days.

Hatches: Midges, Winter Stones, Blue Winged Olives (BWO’s), March Browns, Mother’s Day Caddis Patterns: Leech Patterns, Griffith’s Gnat, and BWO dry patterns, #12 -14 March Brown patterns in May when hatching, #14 – 16 Tan Caddis when Mother’s Day Caddis starts (typically toward the later part of May.)

Suggested Equipment: Dry fly – This time of year you’re usually using smaller dries so a 4wt is a good choice. Nymphing – Your favorite 5 or 6 wt. Streamer fishing - Doesn’t really get good until the water levels get higher but a 6 wt is an excellent choice.

June

What to expect weather/fishing conditions: June is runoff month. The Bow will steadily rise through mid-June and typically get very dirty with the runoff from the mountains. Generally, as the water rises the fishing slows – trout don’t like rising water levels. However, once water levels peak and start to stabilize and especially when it begins dropping (usually third week of June) there can be some of the best streamer fishing of the season. We do fish high water conditions. The guides love to show people how to catch fish in these conditions. Typically we make only tentative bookings for the first three weeks of June then start in earnest after the 20th of the month. This means that trips are water-condition-dictated and the guides will make the go-or-no-go decision accordingly. It is a true rush to catch a very large brown trout out of the grass along the bank!

Fishing highlights: Some excellent streamer fishing presents itself when the conditions are right which typically happens after the third week. With the fish close to the bank and the caddis hatching the dry fly fishing starts to get consistent toward the end of the month. What gets most angler’s attention is the start of the Golden Stonefly hatch. Nymphing golden stonefly patterns can be outstanding the last two weeks of June as the bugs migrate en-masse toward the bank to hatch. Once those female stones start to run across the surface no self-respecting trout can ignore them! The last week of June is the start of the chaos for BIG dry flies.

Hatches: Midges, BWO’s, Caddis, start of Pale Morning Dun’s (PMD), Golden Stoneflies. Worms and Leeches are very important with high water levels.

Patterns: Tan Caddis #14 – 16, Skid Bitch #6 – 10, other golden stone dries #6-10, worm and leech patterns in #4 – 10, Bow River Bugger in black/olive/brown size #4-6, Gartside Leeches olive or black #4-6, large articulated streamers like Sex Dungeon, Fat Head, and Bottoms Up in #2 – 6 typically darker colors work better with the dirty water, golden stone nymphs like jimmy legs, Kaufmann’s, rubber leg squirrel, real stone in #4-8

Suggested Equipment: Dry fly: Your favorite 4 or 5wt for the “standard” dry fly fishing. BUT the 5 or 6wt does a better job once you start throwing the big foam dries. Nymphing: 6wt or even a 7wt as the water is high and fast so you’ll need more weight to fish certain areas. Streamer: For hard core streamer fishing a minimum of a 6wt or up to an 8wt. We typically use 250 gr or type 5 or 6 sink tips. You can fish single large water-disturbing streamers or even a second fly in tandem. When you’ve got two large bow river streamers on your rig you’ll be happy to be casting a 7 or 8wt rod. This is the time when you have some of the best chances to catch that brown trout of a lifetime!

July

What to expect weather/fishing conditions: The river is steadily dropping and clearing except for the odd thunder shower which can raise/dirty certain river sections. There is activity throughout the day from first thing in the morning right through to late into the evening with the variety of bugs hatching. The spawning rainbows have typically made their way back into the Bow from the Highwood with the highwater of June and are feeding aggressively to recover from spawning. Some July days can be season-makers.

Fishing highlights: There is no question the highlight of July is the peak of the golden stone hatch in the first two weeks of July. Since the flood of 2005 the stonefly population has exploded on the Bow which has made for outstanding fishing situations. Caddis hatches also become very strong in the evening. At times you may need to wear something to cover your mouth the caddis get so thick. If you plan to fish during this period, which also happens to be Stampede time, then book as early as possible as we get booked up and so do city hotels. Once the craziness of the stonefly hatch is finished the fishing gets into a typical routine of nymphing during the day with the bulk of the dry fly fishing happening in the evening or on cloudy days.

Hatches: Golden stonefly, Caddis, Pale Morning Duns (PMD), Pale Evening Duns (PED), yellow and green sallies.

Patterns: Golden stone dries such as Skid Bitch, Barrett’s Golden Stone, Stimulator Chew Toy and Parachute Madame X in size #6 – 10, Caddis including black caddis for night fishing in size #14 – 18, PMD and PED patterns in #14-16, worm and leech patterns in #4 – 10, Bow River Bugger in black/olive/brown size #4-6, Gartside Leeches olive or black #4-6, large articulated streamers like Sex Dungeon, Fat Head, and Bottoms Up in #2 – 6 typically darker colors work better with the dirty water switch to lighter/more natural tones such olive/white or black/white clousers as the water clears, golden stone nymphs like jimmy legs, Kaufmann’s, rubber leg squirrel, real stone in #4-8

Suggested Equipment: Dry Fly - Your typical 4 or 5 for the “standard” dry fly fishing but the 5 or 6 does a better job when throwing the big foam dry flies. One of the best times to catch a truely large brown trout on a big dry fly. Nymphing - 6wt or even a 7wt for nymphing as the water is still high. Streamer - For hard core streamer fishing a minimum of a 6wt and many use up to an 8wt. We typically use 150 to 300 gr (streamer express or depth finder style)or type 5 or 6 sink tips (12-15’ long). You can fish single large water disturbing streamers or even a second fly in tandem. Typically we use 10 to 15 pound tippet. When you’ve got two large bow river streamers on your rig you’ll be happy to be casting a 7 or 8wt rod. This is NOT subtle fishing!

August

What to expect weather/fishing conditions: The river drops substantially and is typically quite clear although it can still be affected/colored from isolated rain storms. Fishing will typically be better on overcast days until the grasshoppers start to really fly around… then a sunny, slightly windy day can produce some very good hopper fishing. Anglers who are keen to try can get some large fish eating small dry flies with the clouds of trico mayflies that appear like smoke with millions upon millions doing their mating flights over the water. The best term to describe August fishing is stable although if it’s a low water year or it gets very hot for several days in a row fishing can be slow during the middle of the day.

Fishing highlights: During years with good hopper populations you can’t beat watching a big old head slowly rise near the bank to slurp a hopper pattern. It is also impressive to catch 20+ inch fish on small dry flies. Fishing Cranefly style patterns in the late evening can also produce some very interesting results.

Hatches: Caddis, Trico’s, Hoppers, Crane Flies, Mahogany Duns

Patterns: Caddis patterns in #14-18, Hoppers including Charlie Boy Hopper and Trixie the Hooker hopper, Tricos in #18-22, Tilt Wing Duns, Parawulffs, Compara Spinner, beadhead nymphs in #12-18.

Suggested Equipment: Dry Fly: 4wts are ideal for dry fly fishing other than hopper patterns. Nymphing/Streamer Fishing: 5 or 6wts for streamer and nymph fishing. A 5wt is an excellent rod for hopper/dropper fishing as this is an excellent method especially in the riffle water. The heavy streamer fishing outfits can be put away as typically any streamer fishing will be done with a floating line or a type 2 or 3 sink tip.

September

What to expect weather/fishing conditions: Low, clear water is the typical order of the day with weed beds having developed over the summer. September is the busiest month for guiding on the Bow due to the consistency of the fishing. With cooler nights and warm days the fish are in their happy place and feed actively most of the day packing on the weight before winter comes. You’ll also notice that the average 18 – 19” rainbow seems to have taken steroids. They fight amazingly well and stun even experienced anglers. Hooked-to-landed ratios drop significantly in September due to the strength of the fish and the smaller flies used. You simply will not land as many as you want and that’s just the way it is. Enjoy it!!!

Fishing highlights: Very consistent hopper-dropper fishing and the start of the BWO’s which can cause the fish to start to pod up and eat dry flies in shallower water. Light nymphing with water boatman patterns can be deadly. The Bow is filled with boatman, which are more commonly thought of as a lake bug but are crucial on the Bow. Sometimes even stripping boatman patterns like a streamer can be more fun than you expect! Brown trout get more and more aggressive as September passes and they start to migrate upstream into the city section in preparation for spawning in late October or early November. White streamers can be just the ticket at times and you’ll see them chase it with the clear water! The big browns let you know they are in the area.

Hatches: Trico’s, BWO’s, October Caddis, Hoppers, Ants, Water Boatman, Backswimmers, Midges. September is the month with the widest variety of bugs available to the fish and they eat them all which can make it tricky to figure out what they’re eating at times.

Patterns: Tan or green Hoppers in #6-10 seem to be the most consistent but there are times they have to be yellow bodied. For the dropper any small #14 to 18 bead head (ideally tungsten bead) typically 12 to 24 inches behind the hopper. Clouser minnows, or Gartside leeches in black/white and Olive in #4-6 are go to streamers. White Zoo Cougars and other good minnow imitations work very well at time as well. For the Boatman “hatch” a standard #14 or 16 prince nymph is hard to beat but there any many lake-oriented patterns that work extremely well on the Bow. A black copper john in 14 or 16 can be deadly as well.

Suggested Equipment: Dry Fly: 4wts are ideal for dry fly fishing other than hopper patterns. Nymphing/Streamer Fishing: 5 or 6wts for streamer and nymph fishing. A 5wt is an excellent rod for hopper/dropper fishing which is an excellent method especially in the riffle water. Streamer fishing is done with a floating line or a type 2 or 3 sink tip.

October/November

What to expect weather/fishing conditions: Low clear water is the order of the day. The weed beds start to die off sometimes making nymphing frustrating because of the floating weeds. As far as guiding goes we typically take bookings up to the first week in October then do “tentative weather-dependent days” after that. October can produce some of the finest fishing of the season but it is totally weather driven. We’ve done trips well into November for local anglers as well as the traveling business angler (who happens to be in Calgary on business and wants to enjoy a day of fishing.) Again we only do this if mother nature allows. The fish continue to feed heavily and fight amazingly well. You simply will not land as many as you want and that’s just the way it is. Enjoy it!!!

Fishing highlights: On days when midges and BWOs hatch, pods of rainbows can stack up and feed on the surface. If things go right you can spend an hour or two in one spot casting to rising fish! The brown trout are getting down right cranky by now and start to get very territorial about “their” area and will attack streamers. When you start to see spawning redds (typically toward the end of Octber to mid-November) please avoid fishing near them. Let the fish do their thing in peace.

Hatches: BWO’s, October Caddis, Hoppers, Water Boatman, Backswimmers, Midges – October can have huge variations in weather which dictates the hatches. If we end up with a warm Indian summer we can continue to have great mayfly hatches as well as some caddis. If it gets cold then midges are the only bugs that hatch. Backswimmers and boatmen are always available this time of year.

Patterns: Tan or green hoppers in #6-10 seem to be the most consistent but you may need to switch to yellow-bodied hoppers. You can also use orange-bodied stonefly-style patterns as the fish have been seeing the October caddis for several weeks and don’t shy from them. For the dropper any small #14 to 18 bead head (ideally tungsten bead) typically 12” to 24 inches behind the hopper. Clouser minnows, or Gartside leeches in black/white and Olive in #4-6 are go to streamers. White Zoo Cougars and other good minnow imitations work very well at time as well. Midge pupa flies in #18 and #20 in red or olive work very well as a dropper off the dry fly this time of year. As for dries they will eat #18 and #20 Griffith’s Gnat and several other midge patterns. Can be technical fishing but it is a true joy to catch a large trout on a small fly. For the Boatman “hatch” a standard #14 or 16 prince nymph is hard to beat but there are many lake-oriented patterns that work extremely well on the Bow. A black copper john in 14 or 16 can be deadly as well.

Suggested Equipment: Dry Fly: 4wts are ideal for dry fly fishing other than large hopper/October caddis patterns.

Nymphing/Streamer: 5 or 6wts for streamer and nymph fishing. A 5wt is an excellent rod for hopper dropper fishing which is an excellent method especially in the riffle water. Streamer fishing is done with a floating line or a type 2 or 3 sink tip.

Learn more about Fish Tales Guiding,
or Give us a call to book your trip!
(403) 640-1273

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