There is a little corner of trout fishing paradise in the southwest corner of Alberta. From the crown of the continent flow treasured trout rivers rich with gold, purity, and wisdom. Their lessons contain truth, and their spoils are as old as the glaciers that shaped the rugged mountains in which they originate. These are Rivers that remind us to respect our Elders.
This is the Oldman River Drainage.
The Oldman River is Alberta’s most southern major drainage, and joins the Bow River shortly after Lethbridge, where it becomes the South Saskatchewan River. The water that feeds this large river that winds its way through the Prairies of Alberta is some of the best fishing for native cutthroat trout left in the world. Taken as an entire drainage, the Oldman River system might have the highest number of quality trout streams in Alberta. Pretty much every major tributary has good fishing, for Cutthroat, Rainbows, and Brown Trout, and the high country has great Bull-Trout fishing. What more could you want? Oh yea… Peace and untouched wilderness. It’s got that too.
The Main stem of the Oldman begins on the continental divide in the Macdonald Range. It is joined by Dutch Creek, Racehorse Creek, and the Livingstone River before emptying out into the foothills in brilliant fashion at a legendary stretch of fishing water known as ‘The Gap’. As one would expect, this is a small gap in mountains where 3 mountain ranges and their water basins collide. You’ll know when you are at the Gap. The Gap serves as an entrance to what I have come to know as Cutthroat Heaven. Simple Bushwhackers advice: turn left on hwy 517 from highway 22. Drive to the Gap. Pick any piece of moving water and start casting your Royal Coachmen. Sooner than not, a native Cutthroat Trout will dart up and smash your dry fly.
Further East and closer to the Oldman Reservoir, Rainbow trout will become the more prevalent fish and, as the water gets bigger, so do the fish. The Rainbows can be slightly less perceptive to dry flies, and sometimes a deep nymph like a stonefly or a bead-head prince can be more effective. Downstream of the Oldman Reservoir, the River is much larger and better suited for drifting. While more unpredictable than the upper river, there is good fishing for browns and Rainbows.
Oldman River Tributaries
The major tributaries of the Oldman, from north to south, are the Livingstone River, the Crowsnest River, the Castle River, the Waterton River, and the Belly River. These all offer great fishing, however, rivers like the Livingstone and the Crowsnest get very busy on weekends and are best to fish during the week if you want the river to yourself. The Livingstone and the Castle River (and tributaries) are great places to learn to fly-fish for Cutthroat that are abundant and easy to catch. The Crowsnest River has rainbow trout and is better suited for more experienced anglers, as these fish are much more difficult to catch and precise hatch-matching and good presentation can sometimes be the only way to catch these big, feisty rainbows. For more information on the Castle River Basin, read the Bushwhackers Bounty below!