morrainelake-004-4526330With crystal clear waters and breathtaking mountain vistas, it’s no wonder that Banff National Park is one of the world’s prime fishing destinations. Both amateur and experienced anglers flock to the park throughout the year in quest of “the big one.” With the promise of a Rocky Mountain Whitefish or one of several species of trout on the line, for some people, a day spent drowning worms in Banff is better than a month spent anywhere else.

Fly Fishing or Open Water?

Banff is popular with anglers in large part because of the sheer variety of fishing it offers. Whether you enjoy ice fishing, deep-water casting or fly fishing, you’ll find just the right spot here. During the winter months, your best bet is to hire a guide for a safe excursion out onto the frozen waters of Lake Louise or another of Banff’s dozens of waterways. You’ll spend the day keeping warm in a heated ice-fishing shack, and know that the ice and the surrounding area are safe.

If you prefer to fish without the threat of frostbite, summer fishing excursions range from chartered deep-water fishing tours to solo fly-fishing adventures in the area’s many rivers and streams. Fly fishing is by far the most popular type of fishing in Banff; most of the action centers on the Bow River, which runs along the edge of the park to Bow Lake. While most of the river is open for fishing, several areas are off-limits to fly fisherman, including Lake Agnes and the Cave and Basin marsh system. While the restricted areas are well-marked, if you are unsure where you can legally fish, hire a guide or request a well-marked map to keep you within bounds.

However, for those who wish to go it alone, Johnson Lake and Minnewanka Lake are noted for their excellent fly fishing. Because you’ll have the best luck catching fish in Banff’s rivers when the water is deep and slow-moving, it’s best to wait until the spring floods have passed before heading to the water. After the winter snows melt, the rivers tend to stay fast moving throughout the month of June, making it very difficult to fish. Check the water conditions with an experienced guide or ask at the park information centre or retail shop for up-to-date information.

Don’t Catch Trouble Instead of Fish

As with any national park, Banff has strict rules regarding fishing, designed to protect both wildlife and anglers.

First, anyone over age 16 who wishes to fish in the park must hold a valid fishing license, available at the park’s information centres, as well as some retail outlets and some campgrounds or Banff National Park hotels. Passes are good for either the year or a single day, and are valid in Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks in addition to Banff. Getting caught fishing without a license could mean hefty penalties, or even jail time. Another sure-fire way to get in hot water? Drop your line outside of the allowed fishing hours. Night fishing is prohibited; you can only fish from two hours before sunrise until one hour after sunset.

Once you are out on the water, heed the warnings regarding which species are acceptable to keep. It’s forbidden for anyone to catch and keep any bull trout; these large fish are distinguished from other trout species by the lack of black markings on their fins. In addition, be sure that your tackle is lead free, as anything that weighs less than 50 grams must be free of lead to protect the waters and wildlife.

And speaking of wildlife, be on the lookout for dangerous animals when you’re fishing the lakes and rivers of Banff. The park is prime bear country, and it’s not unusual to encounter a hungry bear that’s after the same fish you are, especially during the fall while they gear up for winter. Heed to warnings of park rangers, and consider taking a training course in how to react when you encounter a bear.

Even if you aren’t an avid fisherman (or woman), dropping a line into the waters of Banff is an ideal way to enjoy the beauty of the area — and you might just land a trophy to bring home, or at the very least, an ultra-fresh fish dinner.

About the Author: Avid outdoorsman Marcel Soucy has fished all over the U.S. and Canada. He writes about his favourite hobby for several trade publications, as well as his own blog.