Bow River Trout Population – 2018 Survey Update

December 2018

Bow River Trout Foundation had the opportunity to meet with Alberta Environment & Parks regional fishery managers in December to review the preliminary findings of the 2018 Bow River Fish Population Survey conducted in September of this year.

IMG_6925The driving force for this year’s survey was to document the current sport fish population following a publication by University of Calgary researcher Chris Cahill. His data analysis indicates that the rainbow trout population decreased by 43 – 50% over a ten-year period from 2003 to 2013. Regardless of the statistical models used for the data analysis, the projected decline of the Bow River rainbow trout population was the same. Considerable debate has taken place within the fishing community as to the reasons for the trout population decline and the variables within the data analysis that may have distorted the outcome.

Needless to say, the results of the 2018 fish population survey have been eagerly awaited. The survey data was generated from the long-term sample sites downstream of Policeman’s Flats and at a large number of additional sites across the Bow River from Bearspaw Dam to Carseland Dam.

The preliminary results indicate that rainbow trout, brown trout and whitefish populations have continued to decline. It also suggests that this decline may well have started as far back as 2003 regardless of flood events and increasing fishing pressure. The data also indicates that the decline is across all age classes. A synopsis of the results will be available in the new year.

The reason for the decline is unknown and the complex nature of a managed water supply, natural events, fish habitat, predators, fishing pressure and the proximity to a large human population add to the many influencers in play.

Alberta Environment and Parks will start a Cumulative Effect Modelling initiative for the Bow River in 2019 to define the major components contributing to the fish population decline. Another fish population survey will likely be conducted in 2019. No change in Bow River fishery management objectives and regulations is expected until further research can determine the cause of the decline.

So, what should the angling community do to aid in the protection of our valuable recreational resource for ourselves and future generations of anglers. Use restraint with your own fishing activities. The Bow River offers excellent fishing opportunities for most of the year. Only you as an individual can decide just how many fish you and your associates need to catch to have an enjoyable day fishing. Consider this when you are casting a line, “The first fish is important, but how many more make it better?”

Also consider supporting local organizations that contribute to the enhancement and protection of the fishery. Bow River Trout Foundation is but one of many. We welcome your support to further our commitment to the Bow River fishery.

In closing, the Bow River is still one of North America’s premium sport fishery, it just needs a little more help to protect a vulnerable trout population.

Bow River Trout Foundation

The State of the Bow River Fishery

The Blue Ribbon Bow River needs your help. Your donation will assist BRT initiatives to monitor fish population dynamics and advocate for fishery management change.


5 thoughts on “Bow River Trout Population – 2018 Survey Update

  1. I agree that you don’t need to catch that many fish to have an enjoyable day on the Bow or any of our other great fishery’s in this province. There lots of times I have fished on the St Mary’s by Magrath and caught two decent fish and called it a day then go check out the country side.


  2. 2 major floods in that time frame.
    Whirling disease.
    Record breaking temps during summer for 2 years running.
    And huge fishing pressure all the way through.
    Seems fairly obvious what could be causing the decline.


    1. Dan:
      Although you are right, there are two changes over the years that are believed to contribute to trout population decline. They are improved water treatment proceedures at Calgary’s Waste Water Treatment Plants over the last 20 years reducing weed growth and invertebrate life. And more recently a change in the Government of Alberta Bow River’s water management mandate to protect the City of Calgary against flooding.
      We will see just how long Albert Environment & Parks takes to come up with policy change to stop the downward decline in trout populations. In the meantime it continues to decline!


  3. Perhaps it is time to go single hook barbless, ban power boats from Bearspaw to Carsland, limit irrigation drawdowns to protect trout during times of high temperatures, aggressively patrol for SRD regulation violators, and commit to annual population studies. While we are at it, might also want to mandate steady streamflows and stop the insane variability in streamflows that seems to have become the norm. If this is truly a “blue ribbon” stream both the City of Calgary, and Province of Alberta need to commit to the protection of same.


    1. Bow River Trout Foundation is preparing a position statement on river flows and the water management protocols that is our belief has been a major influence on the decline in Bow River trout populations. It is hoped that once released to all stakeholders and the general public there will be a recognition that the “Blue Ribbon Bow River” is in trouble and regulators will come to the rescue of a fragile trout population.


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