Fly Fishing Alberta Rivers, Lakes, and Streams (2021)
Alberta, Canada is home to a vast number of rivers, streams, and lakes. The province is split with rocky mountains, prairies, and large amounts of treed areas. These different landscapes provide an array of waters. From crystal clear and ice cold mountain lakes and streams, to large rivers flowing through the prairies. If you are a local resident or you are looking to visit Alberta to try your hand at fly fishing, Alberta will be the perfect adventure.
As a central Alberta resident, I am never without a new place to fish. Within 1 hour of where I live, there are over 5 lakes, 2 rivers, and probably 30+ streams. The magnitude of different fish species that dominate these water sources are an absolute blast when fly fishing in them. This blog will cover the different species of fish, best times of the year to fish, and overall what you can expect from fly fishing in Alberta.
Let’s dive in!
Best Time of the Year to Fly Fish in Alberta
The months of May to June and then September to October are the best months for fly fishing in Alberta. The summer months are great to, but Spring and Fall I find is the best. As with everywhere else, the best times of the day to target fish, especially trout are in the early morning hours or later in the day at dusk. This is due to the insect hatches that are happening and the sun will cause fish to stay in the deep water away from predators above.
Alberta is in Canada, so there isn’t any fly fishing in the winter here. Temperatures can get upwards of -40 degrees Celsius here and snow can get quite deep as well. Be sure to avoid booking time off from work for an Alberta fly fishing trip in the winter! Summers are gorgeous here as it rarely gets too hot.
Fly Fishing Alberta Lakes
Alberta’s land mass is very large, so if you are thinking of taking a trip, you will want to plan it out ahead of time. I would suggest focusing on one area in particular as you don’t want to spend your entire trip driving.
Calling Lake – This lake is located in northern Alberta, but it is well worth the visit. It is a medium sized lake full of pike, perch, and walleye.
Lac La Biche – Another great fishing lake in northern Alberta. I won a fishing derby here when I was 5 years old! The same fish that are in Calling Lake are also found in Lac La Biche, as well as Burbot and whitefish.
Lesser Slave Lake – The last northern lake on our list is the second largest lake in Alberta. The lake is over 100km long, so you will definitely want a fish finder... Walleye are the most popular fish species in this lake, but pike and whitefish are abundant too.
Sylvan Lake – There’s no lake community like Sylvan Lake. You are guaranteed to have a good time here, as well as catching some fish! The same fish as mentioned above are found in Sylvan. You may have to dodge the odd wakeboarding boat as this is a hot destination for fun.
Gull Lake – Just down the highway from Sylvan Lake is Gull Lake. The lake has been stocked with an epic amount of walleye. Watch when out boating as there are very shallow parts to this lake. You can easily catch 10+ fish out of Gull in an afternoon. It is close to Red Deer for accommodations.
Tips and Tricks to Lake Fly Fishing
I find that there are two main tips to lake fly fishing. If you are targeting fish at deeper depths, then you will want to use full sinking line. The fish normally will hang out around the different shelves where the water depths change.
The other tip is using streamers in places that have shade, like weeds or lily pads. Monster fish like to hang out in these areas, so cast in a nice sized streamer and strip it back towards you. Don’t be surprised if you land a nice size walleye or pike doing this.
Chironomids are a fly pattern that work absolute magic when deep water fishing in lakes. They imitate insect pupae and fish go nuts for them.
Fly Fishing Alberta Rivers
Alberta is full of rivers that vary in size, speed, and water clarity. They are great for drift boats or wading from shore. Speaking to local fly shops is best to see exactly what flies the fish are biting that week and they might even give you a few sweet spots to try out.
Bow River – The Bow is probably my favorite river to fish in Alberta. The clear cold water is home to some massive beauties. Everything from whitefish, suckers, brown trout, rainbow trout, bull trout, pike, brook trout, cutthroat trout, and walleye can be found in the Bow. The river runs right through Calgary and fishing is fantastic whether you fish upstream or downstream of the city. Don’t be afraid to try everything in the fly case, from nymphs to dries to streamers.
Red Deer River – The Red Deer River is crystal clear up at the head and it tends to get a little murkier downstream as it enters the city of Red Deer. Big brown trout, bull trout, goldeye, whitefish, pike, walleye, suckers, and pretty much everything else can be fished out of this river. There are long wide parts to this river, so I would suggest using a drift boat or find out a solid fishing hole before venturing out.
North Saskatchewan River – This river is large and fast moving. Spanning 1,287 kilometers in length, it runs through the city of Edmonton. Walleye, sauger, perch, pike, goldeye, mooneye, sturgeon, whitefish, suckers, cutties and bull trout can all be found in this river. The sturgeon can get to a decent size, so hold on tight!
Tips and Tricks to River Fly Fishing
Fly fishing in rivers is nothing short of an amazing time. Being able to land massive trout on a fly is one of my favorite things when it comes to fly fishing. One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is to use nymphs! If the fish are not rising and if there hasn’t been a solid rain in the days leading up to your arrival. Nymphs are a major source of food for fish and they are almost sure to strike.
If a hatch is happening, try to match your dry fly to the naturals and if you are successful in doing so, you will have an absolute blast of a time. In quicker moving water, if you are targeting larger fish, then pull out the streamers. The rivers in Alberta have some pretty large fish in them, so a sized 4-10 will work like a charm.
Fish love deeper holes, seams of water, under or near logs and large rocks, and back eddies. If you spend your time focusing on these hot spots, you will increase your chances of landing fish in your fly fishing net.
Fly Fishing Alberta Streams - Small River
Alberta has hundreds of streams with all species of trout in them. Every few weeks we like to get out and do some stream fly fishing as there just isn’t anything like it. Usually when it comes to stream fishing, we like to head out for a weekend camping trip as the best spots are found deep into the bush on crown land.
Stoney Creek – Amazing creek for brook trout. The deeper into the bush you go, the better.
Stauffer Creek – you will be blown away by the beauty fishing holes that you will come across. Make sure to take a few extra flies. Trust me you will be losing some flies in the thick bush areas. The Stauffer is full of brown trout.
Tips and Tricks to Stream Fly Fishing
I would highly suggest staying away from stream fishing if you are inexperienced on a fly rod. The reason for this is that there is often brush and trees everywhere in and around streams. You will spend half your day dealing with tangled hooks or knots.
Keep your casts to short distances and be mindful of your surrounds. Fish scare easily in streams, so you will want to sneak up to the hole and whisper to friends instead of talking loudly. Your shadow will be enough to scare the fish away, so be careful how you approach the hole. We tend to stick to dry flies and smaller wet flies when fishing streams. We also usually only use one fly instead of the standard two or three when river or lake fishing.
Alberta Fishing Regulations
Before you can get your fly line wet, you will need to obtain a Wildlife Identification Number (WIN) and then you will need to purchase a fishing license. You can usually purchase your WIN and fishing license from Canadian Tire’s or other sporting stores or gas stations. If you plan on fishing in a National Park in Alberta, you will need to buy a separate fishing license for those special areas.
The fishing regulations in Alberta are different for every water source and fish species, so go online to albertaregulations.ca and read up on the river, lake, or stream that you are planning to fish to see what is allowed.
Overall Experience Fly Fishing in Alberta
I have been fly fishing in Alberta for years and years. I’ve been able to catch a wide variety of different fish on dries, wet flies, nymphs, and streamers. The experience is one of a kind and if you take the time to try out Alberta’s waters, you won’t be disappointed. If there is two places that I would suggest trying out, they would be the Bow River near Calgary and Sylvan Lake near Red Deer. There are plenty of fishing guides in Calgary that know the Bow river like the back of their hand. These gentlemen help anglers pull out massive brown and rainbow trout daily. They always use drift boats which is an incredible experience in itself.
If you like reading about fly fishing, our Zinger Fishing blog has a wide variety of different articles. We cover places to fish, what patterns to use, techniques, gear, and everything else to help fellow anglers land more fish in their nets.