On The Water

It appears spring has arrived in Crowsnest Pass … again. After last week’s extreme weather, I was beginning to wonder if all those warm days we experienced last month were but a dream. We should be cutting grass this time of year, not shovelling ten inches of snow. Well, most of the snow that fell last week has already melted, at least the stuff along the valley floor. There’s still lots of it in the mountains, though.  The long-range forecast looks pretty good, even for the Victoria Day weekend, coming up in a couple weeks. The Crowsnest River was quite clear as of this morning, but I suspect this will change once it starts to warm up again. We are approaching the time of year where the runoff usually occurs, after all.

All of the trout lakes in the area are fishing well – something to keep in mind once the runoff begins on our local rivers. But who knows, if we don’t receive too much rain over the next month or so, the river might remain fishable throughout the runoff period.

 My brother-in-law, Paul, and I fished Beauvais Lake twice in the past week, in hopes of catching some brown trout. We managed to land a few browns, but nothing over 16 inches. Lots and lots of rainbows, too, but mainly small ones. We won’t talk about the number of suckers that inhaled our chironimid and streamer patterns. The weather was iffy both times, but we still had a lot of fun together. We’ll try for some browns again next year, when Paul returns for his annual visit.

Fishing on Beauvais Lake

Fishing on Beauvais Lake

Here’s a quick reminder to anyone interested in registering for any of our Fly-fishing Schools. We have room for a couple more people to register in the May 22 Beginner Fly-Fishing School. Equipment can be supplied, if required. We’re also conducting another Beginner School on June 12th. Call or email for more info. Info is also available in the “Events” page on our web site (www.crowsnestangler.com). In addition, Jim and Lynda McLennan will be conducting a number of fly-fishing schools here this summer. For a complete list of their schools, click here.
We are looking for summer staff in the shop (June – September/October). Duties will include retail sales, issuing angling licenses, stocking shelves, store clean-up, providing local fishing info/advice to customers … etc. Resumes can be sent via email to Vic Bergman (info@crowsnestangler.com) or dropped off at the shop. They can also be mailed to: The Crowsnest Angler – Box 400, Bellevue, Alberta T0K 0C0. If you’re friendly, enjoy meeting people, and you like fishing and talking about it, and would like to work in a fly shop for the summer, we’d love to hear from you. Only successful applicants will be contacted for an interview.

We’re all familiar with the old proverb, “When March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb.” Well, the opposite is also true, and if the spring-like weather we’ve been experiencing so far this month is any indication of what’s to come, I won’t be putting my snow shovel away just yet. Southern Alberta has been basking in warm temperatures for several weeks. Actually, it’s been more than a month since Crowsnest Pass has received any significant amount of snow or any of the cold temperatures we normally have to endure (or expect) at this time of year. It’s been kind of nice to be getting positive, double-digit daytime temperatures in late February and early March, but you know we’re going to pay for this - sooner or later. I’m guessing were going to be “paying the piper” before month’s end!

Temperatures in the Pass have climbed to +12°  Celsius (55° F) some days. As a result, most of the ice has disappeared from the Crowsnest River. Normally at this time of year, the majority of ice-free water is located between the East Hillcrest and Highway 507 bridges. The river downstream of Hwy. 507, through to Lundbreck Falls, and toward it’s confluence with the Oldman Dam Reservoir, is usually locked in ice until late March or early April. Not this year, though, and it’s possible to fish the entire section of river between the East Hillcrest Bridge and the reservoir. If you’re planning to wait a few weeks before heading out, keep in mind the section between Lundbreck Falls and Highway 3 closes at the end of March. If you’re unsure of what’s open and what’s not, be sure to read the regs before you go.

"Horseshoe Bend" on lower Crowsnest River

"Horseshoe Bend" on the lower Crowsnest River (March 8/10)

I managed to get out fishing for a couple of hours yesterday afternoon. The temperature was around 10° Celsius and winds were light. The river was crystal-clear, low and easy to wade. There’s still some ice shelves along the river, but they did not pose any problems, at least in the section I fished. Prior to hitting the water, I drove down below Lundbreck to check water conditions.

Update: Crowsnest Pass received about an inch of snow overnight. A precurser of what’s in store? Perhaps, but the “short-range” forecast is calling for clear, sunny skies tomorrow, and temperatures of 10° C by Friday.

Lundbreck Falls

Only a bit of ice remains clinging to Lundbreck Falls


The river was crystal-clear, low and easy to wade

The river was crystal-clear, low and easy to wade

Crowsnest River rainbow trout

I landed four rainbows in a couple hours, using bead-head nymphs (Pheasant-tail and Prince), and Wire San Juan Worms



It’s been snowing lightly in Crowsnest Pass this morning. It doesn’t appear we’re going to get much of the white stuff, though, and the forecast is calling for mainly sunny conditions, with +5°  Celsius temperatures by Monday. All of the trout streams in SW Alberta, with the exception of portions of the Crowsnest and Oldman rivers, closed last Saturday. As I mentioned in my previous post, you’ll need to stick to the sections that remain open to fishing during the winter months, should you decide to head out. As of today, all of the trout lakes in the area are ice-free, but it probably won’t be too long before they freeze.

There’s not a lot of anglers around these days, which is expected, and we’re seeing more customers in the shop that are coming by to stock up on fly-tying materials. You know winter is just around the corner when people start coming in with their tying material shopping lists. We’re already preparing for next season and are busy working on placing orders. We’ll be carrying a few new product lines and will pass on more info as the 2010 season approaches. Sage Manufacturing has discontinued their Launch Series fly rods and we have put our remaining stock on sale – 30% off the regular price. If you need more info, send me an email at: info@crowsnestangler.com or call 1-800-267-1778 .

Another reminder that we’re on winter hours. We’re open 9:00 am – 6:00 pm, Tuesday through Saturday.

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to go on a mountain bike trip to the headwaters of the Castle River. I was joined by my friends, Rolf and Peter. We left Crowsnest Pass at 8:00 am and were unloading our bikes at the trail-head about an hour later. Within minutes, we were peddling along the bumpy, pot-hole filled logging road, heading south toward Waterton Lakes National Park. It didn’t take long, the first five minutes of the trip to be exact, for me to realize I was not in top “bike shape.” By the end of our 35 km trip, every muscle and bone in my body ached. My backside was the most vocal, though. I must look into getting a bike seat with more padding.

Portions of the old logging road were in rough shape, with large bowling ball size rocks strewn over the ground. Other sections contained deep washouts and ravines, reminders of the 1995 flood. Then, there were the steep hills. There were no short-cuts around them and it was much easier to push the bikes up or down them, than peddle. Other sections of the road were much like they were prior to the flood, and easy to ride. I particularly enjoyed the downhill sections … that is until we returned later in the day, where they became uphill sections. At long last, we arrived at our destination, approximately three or four kilometres from the northern boundary of Waterton Park. The scenery was spectacular!

Rolf and Peter, gearing up to fish

Rolf and Peter, gearing up to fish

 Although it was more of a mountain bike torture trip we were on, we had also included our fly-fishing gear. In the event there was a decent place close by, and we had time, we planned to fish a bit before heading back. As it turned out we’d have about an hour, so we thought we’d make the best of it. We were glad we did. Here’s a few photos of the day.

Mountain Bike Trip

Within minutes, Peter was into a nice cutthroat trout


Mountain Bike Trip

Peter, with a beautiful 15-inch cutthroat trout. A decent fish for this section of river.


Rolf cast to a likely-looking spot. The headwater of the Castle River are more creek-like in size and appearance than they are a river.

Rolf casts to a likely-looking spot. The headwaters of the Castle River are more creek-like in size and appearance than they are a river.


Mountain bike trip

One of the cutthroats I managed to catch. Photos by Peter Amundsen.


Mountain bike trip

Preparing for the ride home. Myself, Peter and Rolf (left to right).

After enduring more than three weeks of cool, overcast, rainy weather, the long term forecast for Crowsnest Pass looks awesome. It appears we’ll be receiving some summer weather after all! Stream conditions are returning to normal and the fishing is excellent. Water levels are great and the trout are happy. Anglers are happy, too, now that the sun is shining and most of the rivers and streams are running clear once again. If you’re planning on heading out fishing, don’t forget the sunscreen!

Crowsnest Pass Weather

What better way to enjoy the sunshine than spending a day fly-fishing for cutthroat trout. That’s exactly what Linder and David did yesterday on the Elk River. While both fellows have fished quite a bit this summer already, it was the first time these two friends have been able to “hook-up” this season. I was glad to have been able to be there, too. 

Linder and David, with a beautiful cutthroat trout. Photo courtesy of David Richardson.

Linder (on right) and David, with a beautiful cutthroat trout. Photo courtesy of David Richardson.

Some anglers prefer to fish by themselves. While I don’t mind going fishing on my own, I always enjoy getting out on the water with friends. This summer I’ve had the chance to head down to the river a number of times with people whose company I enjoy.

On Friday I fished with a couple of old friends, Barry and his son, Matthew. It had been ten years or more since we last fished together … far too long. We’d been planning this trip since January or February, and at long last the day had arrived. Barry and Matt had just finished a four-day fishing trip in BC and were looking forward to spending a day in southwest Alberta, before heading home to Red Deer.

Barry casts a fly into a likely-looking run

Barry casts a dry fly into a likely-looking run

We found a stretch of river that didn’t appear to have any other anglers, so we parked the truck and climbed down the steep bank to the water. Fishing was a bit slow at the start (water temp was 45° F.), but picked up as the day progressed. By mid-afternoon the water temperature had climbed to 51° F. … ideal for cutthroat trout. It wasn’t long before the cutties started to rise, and we were able to cast to some really nice fish. Matt was in fine form and showed us how it was done by landing some beauties, including a 20-inch-plus rainbow trout.

Matt battles a nice cutthroat trout

Matt battles a nice cutthroat trout

Matt and his catch!

Matt and his catch!

All in all, it was a wonderful day. We had plenty of time to talk and catch up on things; we caught a few trout and enjoyed the beautiful mountain scenery. My friends have since departed Crowsnest Pass for home, but I hope to be able to fish with them again soon. This time, though, we’ll try not to let ten years pass before we whet a line together!

A portion of a buffalo skull we discovered along the river.

A portion of a buffalo skull we discovered along the river

Dry-fly fishing on the Crowsnest River has been excellent as of late. A variety of insects, including mayflies (pmds, quill Gordons, flavs and green drakes), caddisflies and stoneflies (golden, yellow and lime Sally stones) have been providing some of the best fishing in recent memory.

Between guiding and working in the shop, I haven’t had much of a chance lately to get out and do some personal fishing on the Crow … that is, until last evening. Rolf and I headed out after supper and worked a section of river upstream of Lundbreck Falls. We fished from 8:00 pm until dark (10:00 pm). There were already a number of good size trout feeding on the surface when we arrived at the water’s edge, albeit sporadically, but as soon as the sun dipped behind the Livingstone Range the river came alive with fish.

We found some trout “snouts” rising along a willow-lined bank and worked them for about an hour, trying to figure out what they were eating. There were quite a few flavs on the water and lots of rusty spinners in the air. Caddis, and yellow and lime Sally stones were fluttering in the bushes along shore. We tried a few different fly patterns, before discovering it was caddisflies the fish were interested in – or at least it appeared that way. After snapping off a couple of big fish that came up to our Elk Hair Caddis dries, we managed to land a couple of good ones, including a gorgeous 20-inch brown trout at dark. Browns are becoming more prevalent upstream of Lundbreck Falls and this was the largest one I’ve caught here to date. Now, I just need to start concentrating on the lake trout that are showing up downstream of the falls. Where do you suppose they came from – Crowsnest Lake?

The fishing has been awesome on all of southern Alberta’s trout streams, so try to get out soon!

Crowsnest River, Alberta

Rolf setting the hook on a rising trout


The fishing season officially opened today on the rivers and streams in southwest Alberta. Although portions of the Crowsnest and Oldman rivers remain open to fishing year-round, today marked the beginning of the season on the majority of the region’s trout streams.

Opening day/morning on the upper Crowsnest River, near Hillcrest and Bellevue. That's Turtle Mountain and Frank Slide in the background.

Opening day/morning on the upper Crowsnest River, near Hillcrest and Bellevue. That's Turtle Mountain and Frank Slide in the background.

 Despite the fact we’ve been experiencing thundershower activity over the past few days, most of the streams in the area were fishable today. That’s a switch … most years everything is blown out on opening day. Water levels appear to be a bit lower than what they’re normally at this time of year. However, crossing all but the smallest of streams is out of the question, at least for the time being.

Wading out from shore to fish was not a problem today.

Wading out from shore to fish was not a problem today.

Providing we don’t receive excessive rain during the next week or two, the runoff should begin to subside shortly. The season remains open until the end of October. This means there’s 137 more days of fishing left!

Last week, I travelled to the extreme northeast corner of the province to take part in a five-day, fly-in fishing trip to Potts Lake. I’d been invited on the trip by my friends, Rolf and Shirley Ann Schwabe, of Vauxhall, AB. Joining us on this adventure were Rolf’s brothers, Garry and Henry, and Henry’s wife, Gwen. I’d made a couple of excursions to northern Alberta with Rolf and Shirley Ann before, but this was our first visit to Potts Lake. Although there’s a variety of sportfish present in the lake, including lake trout and whitefish, it was pike on a fly we were aiming for.

Rolf and Shirley Ann, with a Potts Lake pike

Rolf and Shirley Ann, with a Potts Lake pike

 Our group drove to Fort McMurray and we’re met at the municipal airport by Tim Gillies, General Manager of Mikisew Sport Fishing. Rolf had been in contact with Tim a week prior to the trip to check on last minute details and was informed there was still a considerable amount of ice covering the lake. Needless to say, we were relieved to hear Potts Lake was completely ice-free, upon our arrival in Fort Mac. While chatting outside the Mikisew hanger, Tim explained that spring was at least a week or two late arriving to northern Alberta this year. Spring was late arriving to southern Alberta, too, and it really didn’t surprise us that the ice had only been off Potts for a few days. The lake had opened just in time and we were excited to be the first group to fly in this year!

We returned to the airport at 7:00 am the following morning and loaded our gear onto an Air Mikisew, Cessna 208 Caravan, equipped with amphibious floats. On our last trip we had flown in a Piper Navajo from Fort McMurray to Fort Chipewyan, where we transferred our gear (and ourselves) to a waiting deHavilland Beaver float plane, before flying to our lake. This time, though, we would enjoy a direct flight and would not need to wear ear plugs, as is generally the case when flying in a noisy Beaver. On this trip, ear plugs would only be required at night … to drown the sound of my (our) snoring! 

Loading the Cessna Caravan with our gear

Fort McMurray - loading our gear into the Cessna Caravan

It was a quick, 90-minute flight to Potts Lake from Fort McMurray. Along the way, we passed over Lake Athabasca, the largest and deepest lake in Alberta, then followed it’s western shoreline for a brief time, before heading inland. Much of the western portion of this immense lake remained locked in ice. As we approached our destination we flew over what seemed like countless numbers of remote wilderness lakes, and miles upon miles of forest. It had been a few years since my last fly-in trip and I’d forgotten how beautiful the scenery is in this part of Alberta.

The plane docked at Potts Lake

The plane - docked at Potts Lake

It was cool, drizzly and windy when we arrived at the lake. Bruce, our trusty bush pilot, was not keen having his aircraft battered against the dock by white-capped waves and departed as soon as our gear had been unloaded on shore. We didn’t blame him for not sticking around.

We were on our own, now!

We were on our own, now!

Because of the inclement weather, we weren’t in a hurry to get out fishing and decided it would be best to organize our camp, first. The cabin at Potts is located on an island and there really wasn’t anywhere to go anyway, unless we climbed into one of the waiting boats. After settling in, we fished a bit around camp but didn’t have much success, only hooking one or two small pike. Water temperature in the lake was 7° Celsius, not very conducive for the type of fishing we were hoping to do. We turned in early that evening, with hopes of an improvement in the weather by morning.

Our "Home away from Home"

Our "Home away from Home"

Mornings come pretty early in the north country at this time of year and the sun had already been out for a while when we awoke. We were anxious to begin fishing and after a quick breakfast we loaded the boats, strung our fly rods and headed toward a shallow bay on the northeast corner of the lake. The bay was calm and its waters were crystal-clear, so we spent some time exploring for signs of big pike. We didn’t find any. The water temperature was a chilly 8° Celsius. It became evident early on that the water was going to have to warm up before we’d likely find any big fish hanging out in the shallows. There were small pike present, 3 to 4 pounds, and we caught a few of them on Bunny Bugs and Deceivers. We decided to head over and try another nearby bay. The entrance to this one was a bit deeper than the first and we noticed the bottom contained submerged rock shelves, ledges and large boulders. We headed straight for the shallow end, where once again we found (and caught) a few small pike.

Heading out for the day

Heading into one of the bays

Garry and I headed back toward the mouth of the bay and deep water, and continued to fish. I was using a #4/0 White Bunny Bug, with a floating line. It was easy to follow the fly, as I stripped it through the clear water, a couple feet below the surface. Just then, a fish lunged through the water and inhaled my fly. At first I thought it was a monster pike, but as soon as I set the hook and the fish turned toward the lake bottom, I noticed its deeply-forked tail. At that point I realized it was a lake trout, and a huge one, at that! It took a while, but I eventually guided the laker alongside the boat, where Garry scooped it from the water, using the cradle. It was a magnificent fish, measuring 36″ in length!

This lake trout made the trip worthwile!

This lake trout made the whole trip worthwhile for me! Photo by Shirley Ann Schwabe.

We spent a couple more hours fishing the bay and caught another 8 or 10 lake trout, along with some small pike. Late in the afternoon, we followed the shoreline to reach yet another quiet bay. The water was a bit warmer here, but there was still no sign of large fish. Our quest for monster pike would have to wait until tomorrow, as it was time to head back to camp.

Note: Click on the “more …” tag below to see additional photos and trip info.


It appears the spring runoff has started in southwest Alberta. Water levels have been rising on most of the region’s rivers and streams over the past week or two, due to increased snowmelt that’s been occurring in the mountains and backcountry. It hasn’t been the warmest spring on record by any means, but temperatures have warmed up enough for the runoff to begin.

Runoff has started in SW Alberta, including the Castle River, near Beaver Mines

Runoff has started on most streams in SW Alberta, including the Castle River near Beaver Mines

Yesterday, I went for a drive to Waterton Lakes National Park. Along the way, I checked out a few of the trout streams to see how the runoff was progressing. Although water levels are up on all of them, some were running surprisingly clear. Providing we don’t receive monsoons over the next 2 to 3 weeks, some of these streams may be fishable when the season opens on June 16th. Time will tell!

A small stream near Waterton Park flowing high, but clear.

A small stream near Waterton Park flowing high, but clear. There's still plenty of snow to melt in the highcountry.

 I only spent a few hours in the Park and because it was drizzly and cool I didn’t get to do any hiking, or anything of the sort.  While driving about, though, I noticed there were lots of  prairie crocus’ around and glacier lilies were blooming in quite a few places, too. Speaking of flowers, the sixth annual Waterton Wild Flower Festival will be taking place June 13 – 21. A variety of events are scheduled, including guided flower walks, hikes and workshops. Some of the courses include: Wildflower Identification, Bird Watching and Photography Workshops. For more information on the Festival, click here.

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