There have been many mentions of the Bow River in fly fishing literature and that is for a reason. The Bow has been declared a blue ribbon river for a long time and it remains as one of the top trout fisheries in the world.

The scenery of all 3 landscapes i.e. rocky mountains, foothills and prairies are all covered by this river.

Once you are in a drift boat and drifting down the Bow you will come back for more, as it leaves an unforgettable memory due to its stunning scenery, river clarity and the healthy 2000 fish per river square mile.

bow river

Where does Bow River start?

Bow River starts from the Bow Glacier which is located in the Canadian Rockies about half an hour north of Lake Louise.

Where does the Bow River end?

It ends its journey at the confluence with the Oldman River where it consequently forms the South Saskatchewan River.

How long is Bow River?

The Bow River has a total length of 587 km or 365 mi.

Bow River Alberta map

Bow River Alberta map

Bow River Calgary map

bow river calgary map

How deep is the Bow River in Calgary?

The river depth varies and it fluctuates due to snow pack and spring runoff. However the river sections we drift or jet on are approximately 4 feet deep which is ideal for trout habitat. 

Can you drink from the Bow River?

Closer to its source (Bow Glacier) the water is cleanest but just in any big river the further away you go from the source the less cleaner will the water be. In saying that the Bow River is rated as Blue Ribbon river meaning that it has extremely high standards for water quality and trout quality. 

Bow River bridge

Overall there are 43 bridges within the city limits. Some of the most popular Bow River bridges are:

Peace Bridge Calgary

Bow River activities

  • Rafting
  • Fly fishing
  • Canoeing
  • Bird watching
  • Boating

Bow River fishing regulations

Bow River is open all year around for fishing while enforcing the catch and release practice.

What fish are in bow river?

Predominant species:

  • Rainbow Trout
  • Brown Trout
  • Rocky Mountain Whitefish

Bull Trout and Pike can also be caught here.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout have been introduced by an accident on the Bow River in the early 1900’s.

When a truck broke down that was transporting juvenile rainbows from a California hatchery with the intent to stock up one of the alpine lakes in Banff National Park, the driver released the juvenile Rainbows in one of the small creeks that was tributary of the Bow River. The Rainbows made their way to the bigger water body Bow River where they have been thriving and naturally reproducing ever since. 

Rainbow Trout bow river

Brown trout

Bow River Brown Trout have a similar history like the Rainbow Trout. They also were on their way to Banff National Park lakes from one of the German hatcheries by a train. They train stopped shortly before the Parks limit due to a mechanical failure so the trout were released in the Bow River and have been thriving in it naturally ever since. The Brown Trout found in the Bow River today are a hybrid species between German Brown Trout and the Leven Brown Trout. The average Bow River Brown trout is anywhere between 15″-20″ however close to 30″ Brown Trout can be caught as well as. 

Appearance

In Alberta, brown trout spawn from October to December, when water temperatures fall below 8 to 10◦C (46 to 50◦F).

Females dig redds (nests) and cover fertilized eggs with gravel.

Young hatch from March to late April.

Brown trout Bow River

Rocky Mountain White Fish

Appearance

Mountain whitefish have large scales, no spots and small mouths with no teeth. The general body color is a bronze-white or greenish white.

Breeding Behaviour

Mountain whitefish feed primarily on bottom-dwelling aquatic insects, but will also feed on terrestrial insects on the surface, or even on other smaller fish and fish eggs. No nest is built. Eggs and milt (milky secretion of male sperm cells) are deposited directly on the bottom material. Eggs hatch in early to mid-March.

White Fish bow river

Bull Trout

Appearance

Are protected in Alberta. When handling Bull Trout be quick to release them. Bull Trout are actually a member of the char family. They don’t have a super forked tail. No black spots on them, which is the main differentiator from other trout. NO BLACK PUT IT BACK

Breeding Behaviour

Bull trout spawn in the early fall in small creeks. Females dig large redds (nests) in gravel and cover the fertilized eggs. Eggs hatch in March or April.

Growth Process

Bull trout grow slowly in their preferred cold-water areas, and spawn at around five years old, later than other trout species.

BullTrout bow river

Northern Pike

Appearance

Sometimes called jackfish, northern pike are long, slender fish with sharp, backward-slanting teeth, duck-like jaws and a long, flat head.The back and sides are predominantly dark green to olive-green, with yellow to white spots. Because of a tiny gold spot found on the tip of most scales, pike appear flecked with gold.

Breeding Behaviour

Spawning occurs in flooded areas of vegetation in early spring, often when ice is still on the lakes. Northern pike are broadcast spawners, with females and males swimming alongside each other releasing their eggs and milt (excretion of male sperm cells) into the water. Fertilized eggs stick to vegetation and incubate. Hatching occurs in 12 to 17 days. Young of the year are present as early as May.

Pike bow river

Does Bow River have salmon?

No salmon or other salt water migratory fish are thriving in the Bow River.

Winter fishing

Specific sections that have not completely frozen over can be fished. However extreme caution must be considered when approaching and walking on frozen rivers.

How to read the river for boating?

This is well covered in the Fly Fishing Masterclass app.

Bow river drift boat fly fishing

The Bow River has both astounding scenery and fishing to offer. The most productive way of fishing is from a drift boat as it enables you to effectively cover more water. Consequently getting you into all the fishing holes. Due to its maneuverability and a minimum draft, you can even cover those shallow and had to get to side channels where bigger boats can’t get into.

drift boat fly fishing on bow river

Most popular drift boat fly fishing trips

Half Day Drift Boat Fly Fishing Trip
Full Day Drift Boat Fly Fishing Trip

bow river drifting

Power drifter fly fishing

Power drifters can only be run outside of the city limits as they are motor powered. However the advantage of power drifters which utilize jet outboard motor is that you can cover more water faster. The slower less productive sections can be passed swiftly which means you will get to spend more time fishing those honey holes.

The other nice thing about our power drifters is that we row them a lot of times just like drift boats through those productive sections where we can kill the engine so we can fish more thoroughly and quietly.

Bow river guides

There are a number of good guide services provided on the Bow, but it is very important that you choose a fly fishing guide with extensive experience. Guide mission is to provide a safe, educational and memorable fishing trip. The local knowledge pertaining to the Bow River, Landscape, Different Fishing Techniques, Casting, Seasonal Hatches and Wading Tips will make you a better fisherman on any river.