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Northern Cutts

Nick with a nice cuttCutthroat trout have been a favourite species to fish for, especially for fly fishers due to their easy catchability and brilliant colours.  While most of our famous cutthroat streams occur in the south, there are streams located in the North Saskatchewan River system that contain healthy populations of this fish and offer outstanding fishing for those willing to do a little exploring. 

Season and Hatches

The season on these streams begin on June 16, but usually these streams are high and cold, making fishing hit and miss.  Fish can still be caught, and those that are are often the most brilliantly coloured trout of the entire season.  Nymph fishing is especially Early Season Cutthroatproductive at this time of year.  Favourite flies are the TNT pheasant, golden stones, GR hares ears and prince nymphs.  Hatches often occur early, however, and dry flies should be carried, especially smaller mayfly patterns and stoneflies.  The usual assortment of green drakes, BWO, PMD, stimulators, foam stones and elk hair caddis’ should always be present in your fly box.


By July 20 runoff is over and summer fishing is in full swing.  The water may still not be warm enough to offer consistent dry fly fishing all day, but you should be able to locate willing fish.  The season will typically begin with hatches of BWO, caddis, green drakes and golden stoneflies.  A wide variety of flies should be carried to match these hatches, but the standbys are parachute adams, comparaduns, elk hair caddis’, stimulators and foam stones.  The nymphs mentioned in the spring section should always be carried.  By mid summer the green drake hatch has usually waned down but they will continue to hatch sporatically throughout the season.  Once the green drakes and stopped grey drakes will begin to appear.  I find that the best pattern for this hatch is a #12 parachute adams.  Golden stones will hatch on and off until August, and sometimes into the latter half of August. 

Fall in the high country can be very peaceful. The crowds are gone, the mosquitoes are gone, unfortunately so are most of the hatches.  The hatches will begin to slow down a week or two into September, but don’t let this discourage you from heading out.  BWO’s, PMD’s and caddis’ will continue to hatch for some time.  Fall is also a good time to try streamer fishing for the bulls that inhabit some of the streams in the area.  Also, many of the streams contain large numbers of whitefish that can provide hours of fun when the trout aren’t cooperating.

The Streams

Ram River- I’ve only fished the Ram River 3 times, and only the upper section, above the trunk road.  The fishing was worthwhile however, and the cutthroats were willing.  Most of the pools contained some fish, as did the good looking runs found http://www.westernsportfishing.ca/eponriver_small1.jpgthroughout.  All of the fish were taken on high floating dries, and large attractors worked the best.  Stimulators, trudes and Chernobyl ants were the flies of choice.  For a rod, I would recommend something in the 7-8.5 foot range and matched for a #3-5 line. 

North Ram River- I have spent considerably more time on the north fork of the Ram River.  The river is much more accessible than the south fork, and the cutthroats grow to nice sizes.  The one drawback to this river is the amount of attention it receives.  This means that using a bright searching fly isn’t always the best bet, and often a nymph is required to bring a trout in.  Insect life is quite prolific, so more often than not you will be able to cast to rising fish.  All sections of the river offer decent fishing, so do some exploring to find an unoccupied stretch.  The recommend equipment is the same as for the South Ram River

Blackstone River- The river is accessible from many roads, including Chungo road and the forestry trunk road.  The lower section is a fair size river with fair sized trout.  I have hooked cutthroats of around 20”es, and landed them to 18”.  The bulls grow considerably larger, and I have caught many nice whitefish up to 17”es.  The river below Wapiabi Creek is a good sized stream, and there are many deep pools to try.  A variety of tactics can work, but to key on the cutthroats dry flies and nymphs are the obvious choice.  Above Wapiabi Creek the river is about half the size of the lower stretch, and there are many more runs and section of pocket water available to the angler.  For this section a high floating dry is definitely the best way to go.  For the lower section of the stream, I would recommend a 4-6 weight rod matched with a floating line, and a 3-5 weight rod will serve nicely on the upper sections.  If you intend on hunting bull trout a sink tip may come in handy as well.

Trevor fishing the Bighorn

Bighorn River- This is one of the prettiest rivers in the province, and this fact alone makes it worth visiting.  Cresent Falls separates the upper river from the lower river.  The upper river contains only cutthroat trout while the lower river hosts a variety of fish including cutthroats, bulls, whitefish, as well as brown trout.  The majority of my fishing takes place above the falls.  The fishing is best from the middle of July onward, as this stream tends to remain higher, colder and discoloured longer than the other streams in the area.  Because of this the river has less nutrients and thus smaller fish than the other streams.  The river flows over many sets of waterfalls, flows through miniature canyons, and the water can be the most stunning colour of bluish green I’ve ever seen.  My favourite flies for this stream are stimulators and cutthroat candies.  Because of the velocity of the water, I wouldn’t recommend a rod any lighter than a 4wt, and it is best to use slightly heavier tippet than you might otherwise use.  I prefer 3x.  Make sure you bring a camera with lots of film.

So when the opening of stream fishing within Alberta begins, instead of heading straight to the southern cutthroat streams, consider heading west.  The upper North Saskatchewan River system offers some outstanding fishing for those willing to do a little exploring.  If the crowds down south drive you away, take a side trip north, there is a good chance that next opening day you’ll be heading straight here.

Nick Sliwkanich, WesternSportfishing.ca

Written by: Nick Sliwkanich