Bow River Sport Fish Angler Survey, 2006


Travis Ripley and Trevor Council


The Bow River between Bearspaw Dam and Carseland is a world-renowned blue ribbon trout fishing destination. It is well known for high catches of large rainbow trout, attracting anglers from within and outside of Alberta. As part of a monitoring program designed to ensure sustainability of this fishery, an angler survey was conducted between April and September 2006 from below Bearspaw Dam (upper Calgary city limit) to the Highway 24 bridge below the Carseland Weir located approximately 100 river km downstream. This survey was designed to allow for a comparison with a previous angler survey completed in 1985.

The angler survey was stratified temporally and spatially to reduce variance in the information collected. The survey area was divided into sections (four), day types (weekend/holiday and weekday) and shifts (morning and evening). Information was collected on hours spent fishing, catch of fish and harvest. Additional data collected included gear type, skill level, species targets and angler residence.

An estimated 24,675 angling trips were made representing an estimated 172,974 (169,250 - 176,700) angling hours (1730 h/km or 161 h/ha) over the entire survey area. Distinct section differences were apparent, with 80% of angling effort located in sections 3 and 4 (below the city), and primarily in July. An estimated 62,755 (60,812 - 64,704) rainbow trout were captured representing a catch rate of 0.37 trout/h. Sixty percent of the rainbow trout caught were > 35 cm in length, with the highest catches located in section 3 in July.

An estimated 15,690 (15,276 - 16,712) brown trout were captured representing a catch rate of 0.08 trout/h. Large brown trout (> 35 cm in length) comprised 55% of the catch. Catches were highest in section 3 and in September. June had the second highest catch rate despite the high flows and turbid water common on the Bow River during the spring freshet.

Only three rainbow trout and seven brown trout were reported kept by anglers indicating a near complete catch-and-release fishery for these species. Mountain whitefish catch was low (1,501 estimated), likely due to anglers targeting trout species more often (less than 1% targeting mountain whitefish) and not reporting or recording their whitefish catch.

Fly-fishing was the preferred method of angling in this study, accounting for 70% of the anglers. Only 1% of the anglers interviewed used bait, with the remainder using lures. Anglers fishing the Bow River were primarily from the city of Calgary (74%) with the second largest number of anglers from out of province, including other provinces, the U.S.A. and outside North America (13%).

Comparisons with the 1985 angler survey indicated a slight increase in overall estimated angling hours with virtually no change in catch rates between study years. There were distinct sectional differences between study years. In 1985, sections 1 and 2 (within Calgary) provided the highest level of angling effort, whereas the current study recorded the highest effort in sections 3 and 4. Higher catches of both brown trout and rainbow trout were shown in 2006, but a greatly reduced catch of mountain whitefish was evident. The 1985 survey indicated mountain whitefish made up 38% of the overall catch.

Angler methods also varied between study years. Fly-fishing accounted for only 33% of the anglers in 1985, but 70% in 2006. The majority of anglers surveyed in the 1985 study used bait (34%), compared to less than 1% in this study. The proportion of anglers choosing lures remained constant between years (26% in 1985, 27% in 2006).

Overall, the lower Bow River remains a heavily used fishery, attracting not only local anglers but many out of province anglers. This unique world-class fishery maintains an angling pressure (161 h/ha) far greater than any other fishery in Alberta, while supporting large populations of rainbow and brown trout. It is expected that effort will continue to increase on the Bow River in future years.

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