On the Bow, A Surface Rise Can Mean Carnage

Story by Mark Hume with Photographs by Mike Sturk

As a guide on Alberta’s famed Bow River, John Pease had heard lots of stories about big trout. And he’d caught more than a few himself.

“Just releasing a 22 inch, five pound rainbow,” he said, catching his breath when he answered his cell phone recently.

It wasn’t the biggest fish he’d seen this fall.

Mr. Pease was on the water a week earlier when he noticed a 12 inch whitefish floating belly up in a back eddy. As he watched, an enormous Brown trout materialized from the depths.

“He nosed the whitefish, and then he took it down,” he said. “I never saw anything like that before.”
The Brown had snarfed a whole fish, the way a shark might. It wasn’t what you’d call a classic rise form, but it got the job done.

The Bow River is famous for its big fish, of course, and there is no better season than the late fall to go after them.

But even Mr. Pease has been shocked by the things he’s seen this year.

A few days after watching the Brown take the 12 inch whitefish, he was fishing above a large weed bed. He heard a splash, and in the slack water he saw the waves receding from a surface disturbance.

“I thought, aww, probably a beaver,” he said in a riverside interview.

A moment later there was a huge swirl – and a shorebird that had been flitting along the weeds, vanished in an explosion of water.

“A brown trout came out of the weed bed and took down the sandpiper,” he said.

“It’s kind of one of the urban legends around here that big Browns have been known to kill birds,” he said. “I always knew they were big enough that that was possible, but when you see it, it’s incredible.

“It scares you. You don’t realize just how big those fish really are until you see something like that.

“Once you’ve seen them, you sometimes think twice when you wade in the river,” he said with a laugh.

Mr. Pease said that after he saw the Brown kill the bird, he called to a fishing partner: “Quick, throw a streamer over there!”

After a moment the reply came: “Naw. I think he’s full.”

The Bow River, which flows out of the Rocky Mountains and passes through the city of Calgary, in southern Alberta, fishes great in the fall.

Big weighted nymphs, streamers, Caddis, Blue-winged Olives, midge and hopper patterns are all popular. But typically fly fishermen use Blue-winged Olives and Tricorythodes in sizes 18-20.

That will hardly interest the type of predatory giant fish Mr. Pease has seen lately.

Mr. Pease said the two big fish sightings have convinced him to tie up some huge streamer patterns to see if he can lure some of the monster trout patrolling the river.