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A mild winter combined with a quick, dry spring have brought good early fishing to Alberta, but the many Angling Report readers who visit the province each year have a lot of studying to do this season; either that or they should hire a guide who has hit the books.
The sheer mass of sportfishing regulation changes that went into effect in Alberta on April 1 may be unprecedented for one year in any North American jurisdiction, except for when Yellowstone Park went catch and release back in 1962. In fact, some observers feel we are creating a trout preserve in Alberta, much as was done back then in Yellowstone.
In Alberta we now have 39 rivers and streams or portions of rivers and streams that are catch and release, as opposed to perhaps half a dozen previously. There are now slot limits and slot seasons on many east slope streams where fishing is either closed or open to catch-and-release only, or open for a period when a provincial limit (now two trout) may be kept, but with a size restriction.
The new regulations are highly controversial among residents, but most of the Angling Report readers I have talked with over the years are doctrinaire catch and release fishermen, so they will not be at all concerned with whether or not they may kill fish. Some will be concerned about the possibility of keeping a trophy fish, given Alberta’s reputation for producing big trout.
The new regulations heavily restrict the taking of a trophy "wall fish," but the legal possibility remains in one of the truly big trout waters in Alberta, the lower Bow River downstream of the Carseland Weir and through the Siksika Nation reservation waters. As usual, Eric Grinnell of Silvertip Outfitters (*) will be regularly taking clients on the Bow below Carseland Weir. Grinnell reports the best season he has ever had guiding down there last season. For this season he has added the feature of possible multiple-day trips with clients staying at a camp downriver.
Ron Manz (*) of Rocky Mountain House has guided many Angling Report readers. He is offering some superb bargain packages this season, two of which are on the Ram River system, which is his specialty. The "North Ram Adventure," for $450 (Can.), includes hotel accommodations for two nights (either at the Walking Eagle Motor Hotel in Rocky Mountain House, or the Nordegg Resort Lodge in Nordegg), two days guided fishing on the North Ram and a one-night stay at a backcountry camp right on the river.
I have fished and tent-camped on the North Ram, and it takes a man back to his youth, but Manz is also offering heli-fishing trips to various high country lakes and down into the South Ram Canyon. Prices vary by destination, so calling Manz is advisable. Even though I do not much like riding in helicopters, I will be calling, as it has been many years since I could climb down into, much less up out of, the South Ram canyon in pursuit of the huge cutthroats that inhabit the deep green pools down there.
Last fall I had the opportunity to spend two days on the Red Deer River below Dickson Dam with Red Deer biologist Vance Buchwald and his crew of technologists as they electrofished the river for the first time in several years to gather data on how the tailwater fishery is developing. The numbers have not been crunched yet, but as a lay observer I can say I have seldom seen and photographed as fine a collection of big brown trout (to 22 inches) and walleyes (to nine or 10 pounds) as we took, processed, then released on those two days. But my impression was that the crew was far more excited about the numbers of brown trout in younger age classes we were seeing, a clear indication that the increasing number of redds counted in the river the last three Novembers were productive.
One outfitter who will be floating the Red Deer tailwater this season is Bob Edens of Stream Weaver Flies (*) in the town of Red Deer. Edens was pleased with what he was able to show the Angling Report subscribers who came to him after our article in the June 1997 issue (see pages 6-7) on this developing tailwater. He is very enthusiastic about the prospects for this river, and is strongly behind an effort to raise money through license fees for fishery management. Edens’ rates for a full-day trip start at $275 for two people, and half-day and evening trips are also available.
The developing tailwater on the Oldman River below the Three Rivers Dam is just one of the exciting new southwest Alberta angling opportunities this season. Vic Bergman of Crowsnest Angler (*) in Bellevue will be booking float trips on the Oldman tailwater with half a dozen guides, which he has done for the past couple seasons. He also books guided walk-ins on the Crowsnest and Livingston rivers, as well as floats on the Castle, upper Oldman and British Columbia’s Elk River.
Bergman and his guides also fish the Waterton River, which flows between two huge bodies of water – Waterton Lake at its source, then into the impoundment of the Waterton Dam. It is one of Alberta’s great "sleeper" rivers, but it can be erratically terrific or nothing-at-all, and has teased Bergman the last season or two. I can sympathize, having found it that way years ago when fishing for huge rainbows that were as moody as steelhead. I shall return this season after many years’ absence, the inducement being that the Waterton now features very large brown trout.
The varied and excellent fishing available in the Crowsnest Pass area has finally started to inspire long-overdue developments in the accommodations field. There are excellent bed and breakfasts available and several new ones in business for the first time this season. My favorite is one of the older, established Crowsnest B&B’s, The Bedside Manor (*) right on the river operated by Shirley and Dr. William Sara. They operate out of the historic old Lethbridge House, brought in from 70 miles away, lovingly restored, then furnished in 1900s style. Last time we stayed I could scarcely pull my son John away from examining the antiques inside to inspect the superb Crowsnest angling available outside, right on the Manor property.
For me and, I expect, for many Crowsnest Pass regulars, the most exciting news for 1998 is the opening, finally, of a good restaurant in the Pass. This is the Rendez Vous (*), run by experienced Alberta restaurant people, and it is located right on the river and beside the highway at the east entrance to Blairmore. Enjoy! – Bob Scammell.
For more information on the recent changes in Alberta’s fishing regulations, contact the Alberta Department of Environmental Protection, Fisheries and Wildlife Management Division.