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I’ve written several reports about the fishing available in the Crowsnest Pass area of southwestern Alberta, and quite a few Angling Report subscribers have acted on my trip suggestions with mostly positive results. The area I’m talking about is just north of the Montana border near the southern Alberta/British Columbia border. The major waters to consider here are the Oldman, Castle and Crowsnest (the so-called "Three Rivers"); the Elk River in B.C.; plus several smaller feeder streams such as Pincher Creek.

It’s true this region was hit by back-to-back floods in 1994 and 1995, but the reports you may have heard of devastated trout fisheries are greatly exaggerated. I personally fished here this past August and I believe the area still offers the nearest refuge for anglers seeking alternatives to Montana’s crowded waters. Here is a quick round-up of the various waters, most of which can be reached from Montana’s trout fishing heartland in a single day of hard driving. All you do is take I-15 out of Butte and follow it northward to the Canadian border where it becomes Highway 4. A hundred miles farther on in the town of Lethbridge you turn west on Highway 3. The Crowsnest Pass fishery is about 100 miles west of Lethbridge on Highway 3.

Crowsnest River: As the area’s most famous water, the Crowsnest is occasionally overcrowded by Alberta standards. However, the refugee from some of Montana’s "hothouse" waters will find little to complain about. For certain, last August my son and I enjoyed our two best of the hundreds of days we have had on the river. My son took back-to-back 24-inch rainbows one afternoon on a #16 Parachute PMD pattern with a brown zelon trailing shuck tail.

Although southwestern Alberta is known for generally easy and friendly stream access, subdivisions with their inevitable "No Trespassing" signs are cropping up along one of the better stretches of the Crowsnest. Luckily, the river runs alongside Highway 3, crisscrossing at several bridges that provide good access points for self-guided anglers. A local fly shop called The Crowsnest Angler (*) offers an information sheet and map of the river. It includes a guide to hatches and is available free on request either at the shop or by phone/fax. A pamphlet found at various other businesses in the area, called "As the Crow Flies," includes a good map and precise directions to some "secret" holes on the Crow, although some of the hatch information in it is dubious.

Castle River: In the summer of 1994, a 28-inch bull trout was taken on a streamer in the lower Castle River (from Castle Canyon down to the Three Rivers impoundment, locally known as Oldman Dam). Most anglers who float the lower Castle catch big rainbows and cutts that come up from the impoundment to spawn in this feeder river. Late last summer, a friend of mine took a 32-inch rainbow in the Castle on a Rapala plug.

The upper Castle is certainly among Alberta’s more scenic rivers. On a hot, bright day this past August, my son and I floated this stretch with Vic Bergman of The Crowsnest Angler in his Avon inflatable. He charges $350 (Can.) per day for two people, which includes lunch and flies. We took dozens of rainbows and a few cutthroats in the 12 to 16-inch category, mostly on stimulators and hopper imitations. As they sometimes are, the bull trout seemed off their feed that day, although I tried some prime spots with the Dark Spruce Streamer to which they are often partial.

The West and South Castle rivers, upper tributaries of the main Castle, are a delight for addicts of beautiful mountain rivers and native east-slope cutthroats averaging 16 inches. The Alberta record cutt (nine pounds, nine ounces) came from the South Castle in 1988. I had a couple of good trips to the West Castle in 1994, but John and I were warned off from here last summer, as bridge and road washouts made access difficult. To get to these streams, simply find the town of Pincher Creek on your road map. Proceed west on Highway 507, then southwest on Highway 774 through the town of Beaver Mines, which will take you to the junction of the South and West Castle. A gravel road runs up each branch, affording easy access to both rivers.

Oldman River: The upper Oldman River above the Three Rivers impoundment is well worth exploring on foot or by boat for its rainbows, cutthroats, bull trout and Rocky Mountain whitefish. This portion of the Oldman was not on my itinerary last summer, so I cannot give you a personal update on this fishery, but all reports I have heard are good. You can easily wade this river on your own, or with a guide from The Crowsnest Angler. That firm also outfits float trips on the larger sections.

Visiting anglers may also want to consider fishing the tailwater portion of this river below Oldman Dam near the town of Brocket, although it is fast becoming one of Alberta’s worst-kept angling secrets. Alberta fisheries biologists recently stocked 93,000 brown trout in these nutrient-rich and relatively stable waters that remain cool in the late summer because of the bottom discharge from the dam. My son and I took some nice rainbows here this past August before the arrival of high winds and muddy water, remnants of a big storm the night before far upriver.

Pincher Creek: This tiny stream flows east through ranchlands, foothills and the town of Pincher Creek to enter the Oldman River below the dam. Even though the Pincher was a roaring torrent for six weeks last summer, it was looking good again by the time my son and I got there in August. We took dozens of feisty rainbows to 14 inches with a Royal Trude in our best two hours of a combined 50 years of fishing this stream. Later that night, I equalled my personal best on the Pincher with an 18-inch rainbow, an absolute monster for a creek you can usually cross with four or five steps.

Pincher Creek is the best water I know in North America for turning a beginner on to fly fishing. My son took his first trout on a fly in Pincher when he was three. This past September, one of my regular fishing companions took his five-year-old down for a weekend, and the kid hooked more than a dozen trout, all on flies.

Elk River: This river is a few miles west of the Alberta border in British Columbia. It is a fine west-slope cutthroat fishery, and although the 1995 year-class may have been lost to last year’s floods, the fishery was by no means wiped out. In fact, the fishing here may turn out to be better than ever, since the B.C. government responded to the flood with an emergency order turning the Elk into a fly fishing-only, catch-and-release river until at least April, 1998. As far as guides here go, I have heard good things about Ian Ricketts of Elk Valley Outfitting (*), although I have never personally fished with him. He charges $275 (US) for a full day of either wade or float fishing on the Elk and some of its larger tributaries.

Livingstone River: One final water that may be worth checking out is this catch-and-release-only stream that runs north of the Oldman River before eventually feeding into it alongside Highway 940. It’s a fine river for exploring either on your own or with The Crowsnest Angler (*), who charge $290 (Can.) for two people for a full day’s trip. Incidentally, their new video, called "Fly Fishing Alberta’s Chinook Country," provides an excellent overview of the area and describes various fishing methods that work here. You can order a copy for $27.95 (US) plus $4.95 shipping by calling the shop above for contact number), or by writing to Fly Fishing International (*).

Another good source of information on this region is the Crowsnest Section of a popular annual publication called The Alberta Fishing Guide (*). One look at this map may remind you of the West Yellowstone area in that you could fish a different water every day all season and never repeat yourself. Local guide Bob Lowe of Kingfisher Guide Services (*) in the town of Beaver Mines often explores new waters to add to his outfitting repertoire. Last time I spoke with him he was enthusiastic about the Waterton River south of Pincher Creek, which I like to think is my personal deepest angling secret.

As far as accommodations go, there are several good motels in the Crowsnest Pass towns of Blairmore and Coleman along Highway 3. Two bed and breakfasts recommended by angling friends of mine are The Bedside Manor (*), which is right on the Crowsnest River and charges about $40 (Can.) per person per night; and Red & Bales (*), which is very near the river. My favorite restaurant in the area is The Inn on the Border (*), located right at the B.C./Alberta border a few minutes west of Coleman. – Bob Scammell.

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