This winter’s cold weather spell appears to have broken – that makes preparations for the upcoming lake and river fishing season a priority. Locally, Calgary River Users Alliance has been active on a variety of important initiatives to build new and upgrade river access in Calgary. Alberta Environment & Parks have made announcements to enhance fish stocking and cut back on support for Alberta Parks facilities. We are still awaiting the final decision to build a new road to McKinnon’s Flats as part of the AEP Bow River Access Plan, changes to water and fishery management policy and the new fishing regulations for the coming year.
Calgary River Access Strategy
The River Access Strategy (RAS) will roll out this year with improved trailered boat access at West Baker Park in north-west quadrant of the city in the spring. A start of construction on a new designated river access sites at Ogden Bridge in the summer. The additional trailered boat access at Shouldice Park and St. Patrick’s Island in 2019 will now make it possible for drift boat fishing across the entire City reach of the Bow River.
Harvie Passage Access
Since the facility was reopened to the public in 2018 there has been a steady increase in its use. But unfortunately, trailered boat access is not available. CRUA has been working with the City to find solutions for designated parking assignments and trailered boat ramp access.
Until access to the boat ramp is defined one can put in at St. Patrick’s Island and float through the HP–Low Water Channel that is open from mid-April to the end of October.
Bow River Access Plan
Alberta Environment & Parks approved the Bow River Access Plan (BRAP) in February 2019 with a commitment to upgrade road access to McKinnon’s Flats in 2020 and the addition of a new boat ramp in the new south-east community of Ricardo Ranch in the future. The budgetary status of these developments could change with the new UCP government, but there is still optimism that these river access improvements will take place.
Bow Basin Water Management Options
As discussed previously, the 2013 flood devastated Calgary and surrounding communities, the GOA commissioned the Bow River Working Group to identify water management options to reduce flood risk in the future. The Report identified 3 reservoir options that warrant further study. In November 2018, the Alberta government launched a Conceptual Assessment of the following new reservoir options. A series of public information sessions were conducted in September and October 2019 where myself and others were asked to give feedback on the dam proposals. It appears that the scope of the working group was limited to enhancement of water management containment. A revisit to the scope of the original objectives of the working group is needed to better protect the environment and the fishery.
Bow River Basin Fishery Management
The recent public engagement process to aid in defining AEP fishery management policy coupled together with Minister Jason Nixon announcement of increase fish hatchery investment indicates that an expanded fish stocking program will rollout as new and upgraded fish hatcheries come on line. There is a push to see more “Put-and-Take” Northern Pike, Walleye and Trout opportunities across the province. This is good news within most of Alberta, but there is a need for caution within the East Slopes Zones rivers and streams where trout “Catch-and-Release” predominates.
The Alberta recreational trout fishery has come under considerable pressure in recent years with reports of declining trout populations across all the foothills rivers and streams. The Bow River is no exception with rainbow trout population declines of 40 – 50% over a 10-year period of 2003 to 2013. AEP surveys in 2018-9 indicates that fish populations continued to decline until the present day. This suggests the Bow River trout fishery is under serious threats and needs a change in management policy to recover the trout population. A recent report I prepared for discussion, The Alberta Trout Fishery – A Vision for the Future details the economic importance of sports fishing activities and offers possible fishery management solutions to the declining trout population. Although the Bow River will never return to the abundance of fish seen 25 years ago, a quality self-sustaining population of rainbow and brown trout is possible. Our concerns are being addressed by AFGA with a hope that AEP will put more resources into the foothills recreational sports fishery.
A Rather Sobering Note
Alberta Parks made an announcement this week to reduce their parks maintenance budget and by Working Together with Albertans will be able to forge partnerships to maintain and possibly enhance outdoor recreational pursuits. In the meantime we expect to see closures that impact Southern Alberta camp sites. This will no doubt change outdoor recreational activities this coming year.
CFGA Fishing Chair.
March 06, 2020