Crowsnest Pass

Fly-fishing and exploring the Crowsnest Pass

Fantastic fishing awaits you in southern Alberta

The Crowsnest River is one of Alberta’s premier rivers.
The Crowsnest River is one of Alberta’s premier rivers. — Photo by Jeff Smith

What can be more relaxing yet breathtaking than seeing your fly gently drift along the river to suddenly disappear in a swirl, fly line straightening out as a trout runs for the bottom of the pool? How about having this happen while visiting the Crowsnest Pass.

Alberta is known worldwide as a premier destination for some fantastic fishing adventures. And while there are lots of rivers that place high on my list of places to cast a fly, the Crowsnest Pass located in southwestern Alberta is one of those places that, once you have spent even just a short time there, you just must go back to over and over. This is especially true if you are a dry fly aficionado.

The Crowsnest River is one of Alberta’s premier rivers to cast a dry fly into as it boasts a fertile population of insect life, which leads to incredible fly-fishing for scrappy rainbow trout and mountain whitefish. If you are having a lucky day, you can even hook into the occasional cutthroat trout. Farther downstream, you will start to catch brown trout and the Alberta provincial fish, the incredibly voracious bull trout.

The river rises out of the Crowsnest Lake, which is located at the far western end of what is affectionately called the “Pass.” The lake is a wild, windswept lake that is best fished from a boat, although you can shore fish in calmer weather. A large parking area makes it easy to get off the highway for a nice break while you take in the sight of mountain goats alongside the road or the panoramas of mountain views across the lake.

A spectacular view of the Crowsnest Pass.
A spectacular view of the Crowsnest Pass. — Photo by Jeff Smith

From the lake, the Crowsnest River flows east through the Pass until it empties into the Oldman Reservoir several kilometres east of the entrance to the Pass. Along the way it flows through several picturesque towns. As well, the river slows and widens at the site of the Frank Slide. Along the way, the river is refreshed by the inflow from several little tributaries, some of which are also very good fisheries.

While the river flows through a mix of public and private property, the access is generally pretty good for walk and wade fishing. Where the public is restricted due to private land, I have found some excellent fishing along much of the public accessible waters. The fishing in the Crowsnest River is that good. The scenic views of the mountains are unbelievable from virtually anywhere along the river but can challenge you to keep an eye on your fly, a fact that the fish take full advantage of it seems.

Take a break at the Frank Slide

When it comes time to take a pause from the fishing, you should visit the Frank Slide. This eerie yet spectacular jumble of huge boulders is the site of one of Canada’s worst mine disasters. I highly recommend you visit the interpretive centre at least once. The slide area partially blocks off the Crowsnest River, creating Frank Lake. This lake is an interesting spot to cast a fly for trout, which dart around the boulders that shelter them. To effectively fish the lake, you will require a canoe or float tube.

The river is open year-round from the outlet at Crowsnest Lake to Cowley Bridge. My favourite time to fish the river is from late spring through October. The weather is usually great, the hatches are prolific, and the trout are always “looking up.” What more could you ask for?

A memorial at the Frank Slide site.
A memorial at the Frank Slide site. — Photo by Jeff Smith

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