Of 63 fish species present in Albertan waters, 18 are regarded as sport fish. Fishing is productive in almost all of Alberta’s lakes, rivers, and streams. Over 300 lakes are stocked at least once annually. Although fishing is good throughout the province, dedicated anglers gravitate to the Bow and Crowsnest Rivers, where fly-fishing is world renowned, and to northern Alberta for trophy-size lake trout and northern pike.
Rainbow trout are to western Canada what bass are to the eastern United States—a great fighting fish. They are found in lakes and rivers throughout Alberta and are the most common of the stocked fish because they are easy to raise and adapt to varying conditions. You can catch them on artificial flies, small spinners, or spoons. The largest species of trout is the lake trout. The largest “lakies” generally come from northern lakes, including Cold Lake, where the 52-kilogram (115-pound) provincial record dates back to 1929. These fish live in the deep waters of the large lakes, so a motorboat is needed.
In Banff National Park, Lake Minnewanka is an easily accessible lake-trout fishing center, with boats and tackle for rent and guides offering their services. Cutthroat trout inhabit the cold and clear waters of the highest mountain lakes, which generally involves hiking in to reach them. Fishing for cutthroat requires using the lightest of tackle because the water is generally very clear; fly-casting is most productive on the still water of lakes, whereas spinning is the preferred river-fishing method.
Brook trout aren’t native to Alberta, but they are found in rivers and lakes throughout the foothills and mountains. They are difficult to catch but grow to a decent size (2 kg/4.4 pounds is not uncommon). Brown trout, introduced from Europe, are found in some streams in the foothills of Kananaskis Country as well as in the Bow River. They are most often caught on dry flies, but they are difficult to hook onto. Golden trout, introduced from California, have been stocked in lakes west of Pincher Creek.
Walleye (also called pickerel) grow to 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) and are common in sandy-bottomed areas of lakes throughout the prairies. They are a popular catch with anglers, mostly because they taste so good. They feed only at night or in muddy waters, so catching them is more of a challenge than trout. They are most often caught using minnows or by jigging. Another species that prefers muddy waters, notably in the Red Deer River, is the goldeye. The monster fish of Alberta is the northern pike (also known as jackfish), whose length can exceed one meter (3.3 feet); the provincial record is 17 kilograms (38 pounds), caught in Keho Lake. The largest specimens inhabit northern lakes and rivers, and fish from this area tend to be better tasting because they eat a different diet. Jigging with a large lure around the weedy extremes of large lakes gives the angler the best chance of hooking one of these monsters. Perch, at the other end of the size scale to pike but inhabiting the same shallow waters, are a fun, easy-to-catch fish—if you see kids fishing off a pier, chances are they’re after perch. Arctic grayling, easily identified by a large dorsal fin, are common in cool clear lakes and streams throughout the far north of Alberta. These delicious fish are most often taken on dry flies, but their soft mouths make keeping them hooked somewhat of a challenge.
Each spring, approximately 300 lakes throughout the province are stocked with a variety of trout. “Stock stations” at Caroline and in the Crowsnest Pass maintain adult breeding stocks, which provide eggs to be hatched at Calgary’s Sam Livingston Hatchery. These hatchlings are released each spring at lakes throughout the province (the fish’s reproductive cycle is artificially reversed—they spawn in spring and the hatchlings are raised over winter—so that the released fish are of a decent size for a spring release). Rainbow trout, a hardy fish that tolerate wide-ranging habitats, constitute the largest percentage of stocked fish, with more than three million released in 2003, for example. Bull trout, an endangered species, have been incorporated into the stocking program and were released in Chain Lakes in 2000 and in Upper Kananaskis Lake in early 2001. Many other trout species are stocked, including brook, brown, cutthroat, and lake, bringing the total number of fish stocked annually to approximately 6.5 million.
Fishing Licenses and Regulations
Alberta has an automated licensing system, with licenses sold in sporting stores, hardware stores, and gas stations. To use the system, a Wildlife Identification Number (WIN) card is needed. These cards are sold by all license vendors and cost $8 (valid for five years). Your card is then swiped through a vending machine, your name and number come up, and you’re ready to purchase a license. An annual license for Canadian residents aged 16 and older is $26 (no license is required for those younger than 16 or for Albertans older than 64). Nonresidents aged 16 and older pay $71 for an annual license, $48 for a five-day license, or $27 for a single day.
The Alberta Guide to Sportfishing Regulations, which outlines all of the open seasons and bag limits, is available from outlets selling licenses, as well as online at www.mywildalberta.com.
Fishing in national parks requires a separate license, which is available from park offices and some sport shops; $10 for a one-day license, $35 for an annual license.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition