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Trout fanatics, take note! One of the biggest developments ever in Alberta fishing may be unfolding. It’s the emergence of what promises to be a world-class tailwater fishery on Alberta’s Red Deer River below Dickson Dam. Make no mistake – this is a tailwater that’s shaping up as a fishery worth travelling to. It is hot. You will almost certainly be hearing more about it soon in the mainstream outdoor press.

As is typical of tailwaters everywhere, the Red Deer tailwater is characterized by stable flows and water temperatures. Water is discharged from about 100 feet deep in the impoundment above it, creating what is in effect an instant spring creek. As such, it tends to offer good fishing right through runoff periods and on into early winter. In fact, tailwaters such as the Red Deer tend not to freeze even in Alberta for quite a ways downstream, giving trout, aquatic vegetation and insects a longer growing season.

Essentially, the same factors are at work on the Red Deer that are at work on famed US tailwaters such as the Henry’s Fork of the Snake in Idaho and the Bighorn in Montana. And, lest we all forget, Alberta’s famous lower Bow River is a tailwater.

At any rate, the growing excitement about the Red Deer tailwater began with an unverified fishtale early last summer of a 31-inch brown being taken. The stir remained moderate because the odd large brown has been taken from the Red Deer, generally right in the city of Red Deer, every season for as long as most old-timers can remember, generally by kids fishing maggots for Rocky Mountain whitefish in the fall.

But then early in July last season, the central Alberta tapered-line telegraph suddenly began to hum with reports of evening after evening of huge insect hatches on the Red Deer, including brown drakes, and of anglers floating and wading from the Penhold bridge, a few miles upstream of and down through the city of Red Deer to its 67th Street bridge, all taking huge brown trout on dry flies. Many of these anglers were out on their annual June-July expeditions, casting to rises in their favorite Goldeye holes when, suddenly and frequently, they were hooking very large brown trout running to 28 inches and more.

At this point I have received reports from anglers documenting dozens of big browns taken in the Red in 1996. The smallest reported to me was 13 inches long. My personal fishing diary records 15 brown trout I took on the Red Deer in seven trips in August and September last year, the smallest being 16 inches, then ranging upward through a couple of 26-inchers to, in the pitch dark on September 7th, the largest brown of my fishing lifetime thus far, a 30-inch female, exactly the length of the "wall-fish" of my dreams. I released her, of course, just as I did all the others as there is a zero limit on brown trout on the Red Deer tailwater.

Why this sudden explosion of big fish? Vance Buchwald, fisheries biologist for the Parkland Region, working out of the Red Deer regional office of the Fish and Wildlife Division of the Department of Environmental Protection, says the good news is almost certainly attributable to that zero limit being imposed on the Red Deer in 1991. Helping things along was the introduction of 800 two-year-old brood stock surplus browns that same year. Then, in the fall of 1992, 1,000 more browns between three and five years old were trapped in the lower Bow River and planted in the Red below the dam.

At this point, Buchwald is cautiously optimistic that a viable, self-sustaining tailwater trout fishery is developing in the Red Deer. Another optimist is Ron Manz of Before the Hatch Anglers in the town of Rocky Mountain House (*), who advises me he will be guiding and floating the Red’s tailwater this summer for clients who want to try it. You might also want to contact Bob Eagan (*), a certified fly casting instructor who takes anglers out on the Red Deer in everything from one-man inflatables to larger drift boats. Actually, you do not really need a guide on the Red Deer, as it is a far more accessible river than, for example, the lower Bow. The river is easily floatable on your own with an inflatable, or you can simply fish it on foot.

A good source of gear and advice is Guy Lewis at the Sportsmen’s Den in downtown Red Deer (*). This fly shop sells everything from maps and flies to inflatable boats. One of the best maps to get a hold of is the "Waskasoo Park Attractions" map, which shows most of the access points along the river. These include Innisfail Bridge, Penhold Bridge, Fort Normandeau and the various bridges that cross the river as it runs through town. The map itself is available from the Red Deer Visitors Bureau (*). The bureau can also send you information on local accommodations, restaurants and attractions. As regards where to stay, I recommend the Black Knight Inn (*); Red Deer Lodge (*); or Capri Convention Centre (*). And for those of you who angle for gourmet delights while in fishing country, be sure to stop by the Tivoli Garden Cafe in nearby Spruce View on Highway 54 (*). Try any Danish specialty they are offering. – Bob Scammell.

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