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.
Facing the threat of open-pit coal mining, these rivers remind us what we have to lose.
The Oldman River is Alberta’s most southern major drainage, and joins the Bow River shortly after Lethbridge, where it becomes the South Saskatchewan. The water that feeds this river is some of the best fishing for native westslope cutthroat trout left in the country. Taken as an entire drainage, the Oldman River system might have the highest number of quality trout streams in Alberta. Major tributaries all have good fishing for a variety of species, including cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, cutbow, bull trout, and rocky mountain whitefish. What more could you want?
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’. It is a unique place to fish however is now flooded with too many anglers, and often to windy to fish. The headwaters are an important stronghold for cutthroat and bull trout, yet are subject to overfishing and face the risk of large scale open pit coal mining and other industrial activity, as well as inundations of free campers and motorized vehicles.
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 can be good fishing for brown trout and other species.
Oldman River Tributaries
The major tributaries of the Oldman 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 other small streams in the area are great places to learn to fly-fish for Cutthroat that are abundant and (sometimes) easy to catch. The Crowsnest River is a Rainbow Trout fishery 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. The Castle River is similar to the Oldman and also has good fishing. These are unique ecosystems that many Albertans use and enjoy, and its important that we as the angling community voice how important they are, and help keep them intact for many generations into the future.
For more information on the Castle River Basin, read the bounty below.