A Guide’s Guide to Fly Fishing on the Famous Bow River

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Calgary’s Bow River is one of those rare fishing hot spots where you don’t have to leave the city limits to reel in a big one. Matter of fact, you can plan a weekend stay at a great hotel, close to many fantastic restaurant and entertainment options, and still get out for a day or two of fly fishing – stress-free.

The world-class fishing river carves its way through downtown Calgary, offering many opportunities for anglers to cast their lines against a backdrop of city life and skyscrapers. But for those interested in the ultimate Bow River experience, it pays to listen to the experts.

Josh Nugent, the owner of Out Fly Fishing Outfitters, offered up some advice to folks looking to cast their line on the Bow River. First tip? Don’t let inexperience stop you.

“Guides in Calgary are there as instructors, fish spotters, coaches, and tour guides,” he says. “Here at Out Fly Fishing, we even started offering a Fly Fishing 101 Trip, which is based on the classroom course we do, but gets you out on the water.”

Here’s how the Fly Fishing 101 float trip rolls out – two guests hop on a Mackenzie flat bottom with one guide. No motor, just quiet peaceful silence while you float down a scenic stretch of the Bow River and learn the basics.

Where you end up depends on what the guests are looking for, says Josh. “Something super close to Calgary, or something down the river? Or if you want to catch a bunch of fish, not that elusive ‘big one’, there are stretches for that.”

The Bow River has an international reputation; it’s common to reel in fish in excess of 20 inches along the blue ribbon stream. So, it’s no wonder that Nugent receives bookings from people all around the world. Some European guests have waited 20 years to fish the Bow River for just two days.

“There is no higher stress level for us as guides than taking out the guy who has saved for this and come a long way to visit. It’s like ‘oh man, do not give us bad weather right now’,” he laughs.

A third of Nugent’s customers have never fly fished before, and he prides his company on introducing all ages and walks of life to it. “One thing people forget is that our sport will not grow or survive if it only caters to retired individuals with only maybe 5–10 years left to enjoy it. We need to encourage all kinds of people to try this.” Nugent finds that his most frequent guests are fishing buddies or couples, but larger groups also book trips for a fun day on the water, with multi-boat outings arranged.

And with the fastest growing portion of the sport being women, it sounds like girls’ getaways may more often be about angling than a spa day. Families are getting into the act too, with those headed to Calgary looking for an outdoor experience right in the city.

“As an industry, I think we have dropped the ball on that, so now bringing young people into this is great,” Nugent adds. Rather than just hand a kid a rod or waders that are sized to their parents, Josh’s company has pint-sized gear made just for children.

When it comes to owning actual fly fishing gear, don’t let that deter you from planning a weekend away, either. Nugent suggests you pack for the weather regarding what you wear, but leave the tools to them. It’s easier, but also lets you try out all kinds of rods, flies and more; it’s a great way to test out what suits you best.

Bow River enters peak fly fishing season at the end of June, so pack your tackle box and prepare yourself for blue ribbon fishing at its finest.

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