Canadian Rockies Fishing

activities.fishingThe Canadian Rockies are an angler’s delight. Fish are abundant in many lakes and rivers (the exceptions to good fishing are the lakes and rivers fed by glacial runoff, such as Lake Louise), and outfitters provide guiding services throughout the mountains. Many lakes are stocked annually with a variety of trout–most often rainbows–and although stocking was discontinued in the national parks in 1988, populations have been maintained. In Banff National Park, Lake Minnewanka is home to the mountains’ largest fish–lake trout–as well a variety of other trout and whitefish. This lake, along with Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, are major fishing centers, with boats and tackle for rent and guides offering their services.

Fish Species

Rainbow trout are the fighting fish of the Canadian Rockies; they are to western Canada what bass are to the United States. Although not native, through stocking they are found in lakes and streams throughout the mountains. The Bow River is considered one of the world’s great trout rivers, but most of the action happens downstream of Calgary. Wet flies and small spinners are preferred methods of catching these fish. The largest fish found in the region is the lake trout, which grows to 18 kilograms (40 pounds). It feeds near the surface after breakup and then moves to deeper, colder water in summer. Long lines and heavy lures are needed to hook onto these giants. Brown trout, introduced from Europe, are found in the Upper Bow River (downstream from Banff) and slow-flowing streams in the foothills of Kananaskis Country. They are most often caught on dry flies, but they are finicky feeders and therefore difficult to hook. Brook trout are widespread throughout lower-elevation lakes and streams. Cutthroat trout inhabit the cold and clear waters of the highest lakes, which generally require a hike to access. Fishing for cutthroat requires using the lightest of tackle because the water is generally very clear; fly casting is most productive on the still water of lakes, while spinning is the preferred river-fishing method. Arctic grayling, easily identified by their large dorsal fins, are common in cool, clear streams throughout the far north, but they are not native to the Canadian Rockies; Wedge Pond (Kananaskis Country) is stocked with these delicious fish. Dolly Varden can be caught in many high-elevation lakes on the British Columbia side of the mountains; Whiteswan Lake is a local favorite. Whitefish are a commonly caught fish in lower-elevation lakes and rivers (many anglers in Alberta call whitefish “arctic grayling,” but they are in fact two distinct species–and grayling aren’t native to the mountains). Hydroelectric dams, such as those east of Canmore and in the Spray Valley Provincial Park, are popular with anglers chasing whitefish. Note: The bull trout is an endangered species and is a catch-and-release fish. Possession of bull trout—a dark-colored fish with light spots—is illegal. The defining difference between the bull trout and the brook trout, with which it is often confused, is that the bull trout has no black spots on its dorsal fin; due to its status, correct identification of this species is especially important.

Regulations and Licenses

Three different licenses are in effect in the Canadian Rockies—one license covers all the national parks, another Albertan waters, and a third the freshwater of British Columbia. Canadian national parks: Licenses are available from park offices and some sport shops; $10 for a one-day license, $35 for an annual license. The brochure Fishing Regulations Summary, available from all park information centers, details limits and closures. Alberta: Alberta has an automated licensing system, with licenses sold from sporting stores, hardware stores, and gas stations. To use the machines, the vendor needs you to supply a Wildlife Identification Number (WIN) card. These numbers are sold by all license vendors and cost $8 (valid for five years). Once you have your card, it is swiped through a vending machine to purchase a license. An annual license for Canadian residents older than age 16 is $28 (no license required for those 16 years or younger or Albertans older than 64); for nonresidents age 16 and older, it is $78, or pay $31 for a one-day license or $55 for five days. The Alberta Guide to Sportfishing Regulations, which outlines all the open seasons and bag limits, is available from outlets selling licenses and online at In addition to having the entire regulations online, this site also holds statistics for the provincial stocking program (which lakes, when, and how many fish) and details of Alberta’s barbless hook rules. British Columbia: In British Columbia, the cost of a license varies according to your age and place of residence. British Columbia residents pay $38 for a freshwater adult license, good for one year. All other Canadians pay $22 for a one-day license, $38 for an eight-day license, or $65 for a one-year license. Nonresidents of Canada pay $28, $58, and $92, respectively. For more information visit, which offers the same online purchase process as neighboring Alberta.