River Update: Freedom at last!

River Update: Freedom at last!

Hello and welcome to the first River update of the 2016 fishing season! For those of you that have been living under a rock; you can now stop. Our Trout waters are all open on Thursday, and finally we can freely explore as we wish without always having to check our regulations, while constantly asking ourselves if we really want to be the type of person that poaches closed water. Cause nobody wants to be that person… But 7 longs months of captivity can make any beast unruly, so lets just say we understand your ethical dilemma. And that you don’t have to worry any longer.



First, I would like to explain a little bit about how our river updates are going to work. The admin team here at Bushwhackers will be the ones curating and posting the information to our blog in the form of bi-weekly river updates. We are based in the Okanagan, the West Kootenays, and Southern Alberta. Based on our recent fishing, we will update our readers on conditions that we have encountered over the past couple of weeks, and what we would expect moving forward based on weather and other factors. We cannot, however we might try, accurately inform you on all the areas and rivers from the Okanagan to Central Alberta. To try to keep you as updated as possible, we have an extensive network of ‘fly-fishing spies’ that is growing everyday that will be sending us reports on water levels, fish activity, hatches, and weather in their region. These are friends and followers who have expressed interest in helping us. In most cases, we will summarize the info they have passed along to us, and in other cases, these people will write the river update themselves for that particular region. It all depends on A) much new information there is to report, and B) how much time I have to compile everything.

To add to that, the goal of our river report is to give you a general idea of what kind of conditions you might be facing in your region, and to give you a good starting point on what to do to catch fish. It is not to publish a short essay on every single watershed every couple of weeks. Especially once summer hits, the fishing, particularly in the Alberta high-country/ East Kootenays is pretty stable and the tactics and suggestions will remain pretty much the same. If there is much to report, it will usually be by way of new hatches, significant weather changes in the forecast, or any important information such as river closures and warnings.

So let’s get to it!

This report will typically break down into 3 regions: Thompson-Okanagan, Kootenays, and the Alberta Front Ranges. We may add more specific information on Rivers like the Bow River, the Crownsest River, and the Columbia River as we gather more info and gain more contributors, but for now, we will summarize the fishing in these regions.

Luckily, I have been able to spend the entire past week driving from Calgary to Kelowna, fishing for several days in the South Okanagan and Boundary Country, before fishing my way back again, along highway 3. This gave me a very good idea of what water levels are doing across the board. And what I have concluded is that we are all in for a fantastic spring of fishing. Beginning with the Kettle and West Kettle Rivers all the way back to the Bow River, every piece of moving water I encountered is coming into great shape and are all running at least partly clear. The over-arching theme of this report is simple; get out there. The next couple of weeks might be some of the best fishing of the season.

Please, if you have any feedback on what kind of information you would like, what format these reports should take, or just general inquiries about where you are fishing, please reach out to us via facebook or email.

Scroll down to your region or read them all. Enjoy the first week of open water!

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I was pleasantly surprised when I came over the hills after Big White and into the West Kettle River valley to see the West Kettle River running gin-clear in the canyon below. Usually at this time of year the Kettle would be large and muddy, un-fishable for a couple weeks yet. However, it appears that the bulk of the snowpack has come off and the river is now running high and clear, all the way to Grand-forks, where the water begins to cloud up slightly. This being one of the many rivers in this region exempt from the spring closure, I hacked my way through the brush down to the river for a short hour or so fishing before I had to be on my way. I caught one rainbow of about 11″ on a big grey stonefly nymph. I wish I could have lingered into the afternoon and some sunshine as I know the feisty rainbows in this river would begin to stick there snouts up shortly, but, I had to return to my vehicle and admire the beautiful river from the highway instead.

The day before, my brother and I were able to explore some of the rivers in the south Okanagan. The story was the same on these Rivers as well. They were still running high and healthy, but the water is now cleared up and should continue to improve every day. We were able to catch plenty of small rainbows on high-floating dry flies like royal coachmen and saw good numbers of PMD’s hatching in the early evening on the smaller tributaries and Caddisflies in the valley bottom.

The weather forecast for the next couple of weeks is slightly unsettled this week before a return to sunny and hot by the weekend and into next week. In the more unsettled weather nymphs will give you your best chance at catching fish, and be aware for isolated hatches of mayflies and PMD’s in the evening. Fish the outside of bends with a deep nymph like a stonefly, copper-john, or a bead-head prince under an indicator. Use split-shot to get your fly deep enough in the fast water. Once the weather begins to get warmer, the dry fly fishing should be superb. Fish big stimulators, royal-coachmen, or elk hair caddis’s, or anything that might get their attention, and be ready for these feisty Columbia basin rainbows to come and smash your dry-fly!

Remember, the Kettle, West Kettle, and Granby Rivers are only open for fishing until the end of July. So get out there now and enjoy the fantastic trout fishing they have to offer!

Flies to Bring:

Dries: Elk Hair Caddis, Stimulators, Parachute Adams, Royal Coachmen, Pale-Morning Dun, Light Cahill, Green Drake.

Nymphs: Stoneflies (golden, grey, or black), Bead-head Prince, Hares Ear, Copper John.




While in region 8 and in parts of southern Alberta there are several bodies of water that are exempt from spring closure, all streams in region 4 have been closed until now save for the Columbia River in Castlegar and stretches of the Kootenay River near Nelson. So anglers in this region are going particularly crazy, and are probably pretty tired of fishing lakes. Well, the wait is over, and anglers in this region will be greeted by some fantastic fishing.

This is a large region with many types of different waters to fish. Generally speaking, when describing conditions in this region, we are referring to the tributaries of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers and not the main stems themselves. The main stems are unique fisheries and require different tactics altogether. The east Kootenays garner the majority of attention in this region, as the Cutthroat Fishing in the Elk, Bull and St. Mary’s river offer some world class fishing for cutthroat. But there are also good trout streams in the central and West Kootenays that offer good fishing, but with slightly lower populations and slightly smaller fish. These include the Slocan River and its tributaries, the Salmo River, the Goat River, and the Moyie River. These streams however, see virtually no fishing pressure compared to their eastern cousins, and in my past year living in Nelson, I have come to love these streams. They will be discussed together unless there appears to be a significant difference in conditions between the rivers in the east and those mentioned in the West.

On my drive-through, the Rivers in this region are slightly higher than those to the west but still in good shape for this time of year. The Elk River was running high, and slightly discolored, but beginning to clear to a point where Dry-Flies will begin to produce. I have been told by a confidant that the water in the St. Mary’s and the Bull is in similar condition, perhaps slightly higher. I suspect the Elk will be in perfect shape come the weekend, and its northern cousins only a few days behind. The tributaries are now running clear and dry-fly fishing in these should be fantastic.

This time of year there can be epic dry fly fishing when adult stoneflies come to the water to lay eggs leading to epic feeding frenzies on these rivers. This can be imitated with a large size 4-6 stimulator, and is usually most effective when a little twitch or skid is added. Movement and drag are good; these bugs are big and stupid, without the slightest degree of grace. And the fish love em. Get out there as you never know when this might occur. Last year on opening day, me and my cousin were able to experience such an event on the Elk River and the epic dry-fly smashing that occurs is something you don’t want to miss. The weather will be slightly cooler this week, so hatches will likely be more sporadic. Smaller mayflies, and Blue-winged Olives on the rainy days, along with deep nymphs will give your best shot at catching fish until the weather gets a little warmer early next week.  I suspect the dry fly fishing will really get going once it gets warm and after this it shouldn’t be hard to convince fish to come up for stimulators, Royal Coachmen, or Caddis patterns. The Green Drake hatches will also begin soon and this is a ‘must-have’ fly to carry in these waters.

If you are targeting bulls, I suspect they shouldn’t be too tough to fool this early in the year. Find the deep pools, get down deep and give your streamer a rip and see what happens. Carry a few variations and sizes. A good general rule is too use something brighter on sunny days, and darker on cloudy days. The bullies should be hungry and this is some of the best fishing around.

Get out and explore the tributaries of the Elk, and other Kootenay Rivers. Look on a map. Almost all these little creeks and smaller rivers have fantastic fishing for cutties in the east and rainbows in the west and native bull trout. We won’t tell you the names of some of these gems; but we trust you to get out there and find them.

Flies to bring:

Dries: Parachute Adams, Blue-Winged Olive, Green Drake, Elk Hair Caddis, Stimulator, Royal Coachmen.

Nymphs: Golden Stonefly, Bead-head Prince, Hares Ear, Copper John.

Alberta Front Ranges


This is my choice for fishing this weekend. In southern Alberta, all the major rivers are low and clear and in perfect shape. For all the high country rivers in southern alberta, including the Oldman, the Highwood, and the Sheep River and all their tributaries, not much changes from the ‘Kootenay’ section above, save for slightly warmer temps and better water conditions. I suspect these streams will come out firing and high-floating dry flies will produce well. Green Drakes will be hatching with the nice weather, and if this fly is working you may not need another fly the entire day.

On my drive-though trip yesterday, I didn’t make it to the Oldman River until after dark. I impulsively decided to pull over at Maycroft and see if I could convince a fish to come up for a stimulator in the dark. Sure enough, after about 10 minutes, a beastly 17″ rainbow came up and smashed my fly, and ripped downstream, tearing out my line with him and giving my 4 wt a good bend. It was a great way to end off a long, fantastic day of trout fishing and driving. If this is any indication of what is in store for everyone who decides to head into the high country to fish for trout who haven’t seen an artificial fly yet this season, I think we are all in for a treat.

The spring creeks in Central Alberta have been fishing well. PMD’s are just beginning to hatch, and I also saw some very large brown mayflies coming off in copious numbers. After a slow morning of fishing, my size 12 dark cahill mayfly rattled off 7 fish in a row during this mid-afternoon hatch. And with all the high country streams open, these creeks will be less crowded and are still fishing well. However, fish are becoming a little more choosey, and I found this to be particularily true when fishing with streamers. They seem to be much more wary as is usual after being fished hard throughout the spring, and good presentation will be even more crucial.

Just one more note about Central Alberta. The water flows in these streams are already very low. Although we seem to have a good stretch of weather forthcoming, if things get too warm these fish will begin to be very stressed with lack of habitat and increasing temps, and fishing for these fish would just be wrong. During this week, I caught and handled a large brown with care, although the fly was deep in his throat so it took me a a little longer to get the fly out. Even after this short break where he was wet the entire time, he had to be held in the main current for quite a while and when he did swim away he did so very sluggishly. This is a sign that it could be a very tough season for our Browns if they are already unable to recover after being caught. If temperatures increase much more than where they are at, proper handling and catch and release practices will be very important if you intend on fishing theses streams.

Flies to bring:

Dries: Green Drake, Pale morning Dun, Parachute Adams, Elk Hair Caddis, Stimulators, Light/Dark Cahill

Nymphs: Golden Stonefly, Bead-head Prince, Copper-John, Hares Ear, Bitch Creek.


Thanks everyone for reading. We hope you find some good fishing and enjoy the first days of open water as much as we plan to. As for the Bushwhackers, we plan on venturing deep into the backcountry of a Highwood River tributary. Gonna be a good couple weeks ahead! Get out there and get some, we want to see your photos!

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