The Central part of our provinces Front Ranges have some of the best and most diverse fishing opportunities around. Freestone Cutthroat and Rainbow Rivers, epic backcountry wilderness, and gentle spring creeks loaded with Brown trout. One could spend a lifetime exploring these waters.
And they would still keep coming back for more.
There are two major drainage’s in this region of Alberta: The North Saskatchewan River, and the Red Deer River. While both of these Rivers offer decent fishing- for Cutthroat and Rainbows in the N. Saskatchewan, and Brown Trout in the Red Deer- it is the tributaries of both where the best fishing can be found.
North Saskatchewan River Basin
The North Saskatchewan River is a large river, and there is some decent fishing opportunities West of the town of Rocky Mountain house. It can be fished from drift boat or from shore, however, the water is wide and very featureless at times, making it a little to drab for the bushwhackers liking.
Its the tributaries where the fishing gets fun; where you can hack and slash away until you make it to the next pool and you can be pretty confident its going to have a hungry fish waiting for you. The North and South Ram Rivers, the Clearwater River, the Blackstone River, and the Brazzaeu river being some of the most notable. These rivers are freestone mountain-fed rivers with good fishing for cutthroat trout and rainbows, and Bull Trout in certain rivers.
They will typically be in run-off and un-fishable until the middle of june, and are best to fish during the hot months of summer. There is good hatches of stoneflies in the early summer, Caddisflies beginning in early July, and very good hatches of green drakes and other mayflies. Usually, fish are very receptive to dry flies, especially if you get away from primary access points. However, rivers like the North Ram receive very high fishing pressure on the weekends, and the fish get a little more wary. If this is the case, a deep nymph will give you a better shot at catching these fish. Hiking a ways from primary access points will also improve you chance at catching the large Cutties in these Rivers.
A combination of highways and Foresty Roads will give you access to this region. Hwy 22 and Hwy 11 are the major highways through the area. FTR 591 from Hwy 22 will give you access to the Clearwater Basin, and will take you to FTR 40, which runs North-South and offers access to most of the regions other rivers. From the south traveling north on FTR 40, you will hit the S. Ram, the N. Ram, the N. Saskatchewan, then the Blackstone, in that order, with plenty of good quality creeks in between. You can also access the FTR from Hwy 11 near Nordegg. All in all, there is enough trout water to keep the adventurous fisherman happy for a long, long time.
Red Deer River Basin
The Brown trout in the streams of the Red Deer River basin might be the largest contributor to my relative fly-fishing insanity. Firstly, because they are damn gorgeous, and can be monstrous. Secondly, because they are damn tough to catch.
The main stem of the Red Deer can be split into two distinct fisheries; above the Dickson Dam, and Below. Above, you will find decent, but inconsistent fishing for all types of trout and Rocky Mountain Whitefish. Below the dam, there is good fishing for Brown Trout, and this tailwater fishery (which borrowed brown trout from the Bow River, genetically speaking) has been steadily improving since its creation in 1992 . It is best fished as a walk and wade stream above the dam, and from a driftboat below.
The streams that feed the Red Deer River are, for the most part, different than the turbulent mountain streams that feed the N. Saskatchewan. They are gentle and unassuming, winding their way through cow pastures and prairie land. There are a few mountain streams that flow into the Upper Red Deer River that are more similar to those in the N. Sask basin, that hold a wide selection of sportfish, including Bulls, Browns, Brooks, Cutts, and Whitefish. This can make for fun fishing, but expect to work hard and cover lots of water to succeed.
Outside of these select few, the streams that feed the Red Deer are at least partly spring-fed and hold good populations of Brown Trout, along with brooks in the headwaters and Northern Pike in the lower reaches.
In the early spring, the browns will be feeding aggressively after a long, post-spawn winter. Spring is a great time to fish these streams because they will be low and clear while everything else is high and muddy. Starting in June, good hatches of Caddis, Drakes, and PMD’s will keep snouts popping out of the water. On cloudy days in the early season and fall, good hatches of BWO’s will occur. Long leaders and fine tippet are recommended so your presentation does not spook the fish.
Be very aware of anglers wading upstream of you and consider anglers downstream. Anyone fishing ahead of you can put the fish off for several hours as they move through the silty bottom. We recommend starting your day as early as possible to be sure you are fishing water that has not yet been spooked or waded through.
These streams are worth putting in the time to get to know. Taking large browns out of skinny little creeks is exciting and rewarding fishing. Sundre is a good central point to begin exploring all of the water in the Red Deer River basin. For more about Alberta’s Spring Creeks, read the bushwhackers bounty below.