What do you do when you are from New Jersey and get married in Alberta? You go fishing of course. Wade Pratt loves to fish where he lives in New Jersey. But in August of 2016 he took some time to explore the amazing trout fishing of Alberta when he went there for his wedding. Wade shares some of his experiences from the trip as well as advice for anyone considering a trout fly fishing trip to Alberta.
When did you go to Alberta?
I was in Alberta from August 17-27, 2016. While I did fit in a lot of fly fishing, the main purpose of the trip was my wedding. My wife and I got married at Lake Minnewanka on August 19 and fly fishing was involved almost every day after that.
Where did you go in Alberta?
We stayed in Canmore, and I mostly fished the Bow River near there. I did fish a few of the lakes in Banff and Kananaskis Country.
Did you use a guide or outfitter?
I didn’t use a guide but instead contacted a bunch of people I know through social media who live in the area. They pointed me in the right directions in terms of what gear to pack, what flies to tie, and where to fish.
Are there waters that you fished that you would definitely recommend others to fish if making the trip?
I would definitely recommend the Elbow River, Southwest of Calgary. I fished it for an entire day and loved it. It was smaller and somewhat slower than the Bow and much more reminiscent of the streams I fish in New Jersey. There were a lot of good pools and some awesome Caddis hatches in the afternoon.
How did your Northeast fishing skills translate to the trout of Alberta?
In New Jersey I spend about 95% of my time nymphing in smaller streams but in Alberta it wasn’t very effective. Nymphs don’t really translate to the still glacial lakes and in the rivers all I caught nymphing was a Whitefish.
I was told to bring articulated streamers but I never got around to tying them so I didn’t get into any of the bigger Browns or Bulls. I was also told to tie plenty of Elk Hair Caddis, which I did in the X-Caddis variant, and caught plenty of good-sized Cutthroat and smaller Browns.
For my return trip this summer, I already have three dozen Caddis dries in a bunch of different patterns and sizes ready to go. I’ve also begun my assembly-line-style tying process for making plenty of articulated streamers. And I’ll be packing a much larger assortment of flies than I use here in New Jersey.
What were your best fly patterns while out there?
As I mentioned previously, Caddis were the key. They were hatching everywhere and they were big, roughly size 12-14. Being from New Jersey where most of the insects tend to be smaller, I had Caddis dries from size 16-20 and thankfully the Trout weren’t too picky. However, this time around I’m going with the bulk of my Caddis on size 14 hooks.
As far as presentation went on the rivers, it was pretty standard dry fly fare: cast on an upstream angle, drift it into where they’re rising, and hope one slurps it up. On the mountain lakes it was the same deal minus the current. I would cast out near structure in shallower water, 2 to 6 feet, and wait for one to grab it off the surface. Often times a breeze would come, push the fly a bit, and then a Cutthroat would pop up and grab it.
What fly rod setups did you take with you?
Since we needed to pack all of the necessary things for the wedding, I had to pack light on the fly fishing end, and I only came equipped with a 8’6″ 4wt. which was perfectly fine for fishing the mountain lakes. But fighting fish in faster water was a challenge. Had I hooked anything sufficiently large there would have been a minimal chance of actually landing it. This time around I’ll be equipped with my Orvis 9′ 5wt. and a fiberglass 6wt., which I will be purchasing soon.
What were some of your highlight catches on the trip?
I caught all of my Cutthroats in a glacial lake at the end of a 2+km uphill hike in Kananaskis Country. Reaching the end of the trail and seeing the lake for the first time was awe-inspiring.
I would say that catching my first Cutthroat Trout was memorable but the fish, though beautiful, was only about 6 inches long. However, a few hours later and about a half-mile down the bank I got into heftier fish. I’ll never forget seeing those bigger Cutties rise for my Caddis. Seeing a fish in my net that I never thought I would have an opportunity to catch was surreal. I can’t wait to visit that spot again.
Your photos have some beautiful scenery featured. But also looks very remote. What were some of the safety considerations you had to keep in mind when on the trip and fishing the places you went?
Before we arrived in Alberta my wife and I were concerned because we read about recent bear attacks caused by the fact that they were attracted to more populated areas to feed on berries that were growing in bushes near the rivers and lakes. I’ve crossed paths with bears while fishing in New Jersey so it wasn’t something that was going to keep me away from the water. I was sure to purchase bear spray once we arrived and have it holstered within arms-reach on my hiking bag at all times.
If you’ve never seen it, it looks like a can of compressed air used to clean computers but it’s larger, has a safety, and you need to fill out a form to purchase it because it is technically considered a weapon. I’m not one to carry something like that without making sure it works so I went to an isolated area and gave the trigger a quick squeeze and was surpised at the force with which it sent a large cloud of pepper spray a considerable distance in front of me. Thankfully I never needed to use it any other time.
We did see a number of bears while hiking and driving through Alberta but there was only one time when it could have been ugly. One day we were driving through the Bow River Valley and came across a herd of Bighorn Sheep. We pulled over a good distance away so that my wife and her friend could photograph them with their digital SLR cameras. While they were occupied with the sheep I took a walk to the banks of the Bow and found a gorgeous spot right at a bend in the river where Brown Trout were hanging out in a nice pool and rising for a Caddis hatch.
I went back to the car to set up my rod and as I began to walk back towards the river with my fly rod and wading gear, a huge Grizzly came out into the clearing about 100 feet ahead and stole my perfect fishing spot. I simply picked my jaw up off the ground, shook my head, and put my gear back in the car. Had he passed by 10 minutes earlier it could have been a much different story.
Also, the Elk were very active while we were there and if one. or very possibly a herd, happens to cross your path, keep a distance of at least a few hundred feet. Don’t make eye contact with one of the bulls. We saw them everywhere from the isolated wilderness to the streets of downtown Banff where they were taking what looked like an evening stroll to do some window shopping. I saw too many idiots walking up five feet away from them to get a “selfie” and putting themselves in unnecessary danger.
What are 5 recommendations you have for anyone considering a similar trip?
1. Whatever size rod or flies you think are too heavy/too big for Trout in New Jersey, pack a size or two heavier/bigger than that. In every way Alberta is a great example of the raw power of nature and you need to respect it.
2. Appreciate every second you are there and don’t waste any time that you can spend fishing or hiking because it truly is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
3. Pack comfortable wading gear because you are going to spend a lot of time trekking on foot to get to the better fly fishing spots.
4. Fish the Bow River South of Calgary. That’s where the bulk of the best Trout fishing is done.
5. If photographing your fish is important to you, bring the best camera you can. My only regret about the trip is that my primary camera while fishing was my Sony Action Cam AS20, which is good for video but takes awful pictures. Aside from one of my Cutties and one of my Browns that were photographed on my phone, all of my fish pictures were washed out, grainy, and required a lot of touching up to be even remotely usable.
Wade, it sounds like an amazing trip. Thank you for sharing. Good luck on your upcoming trip.
Please take a look at what Wade is up to on his social media accounts. He posts a lot of great fishing photos and information.