Flood-altered Bow River a new experience for Calgary fishing guides

Calgary's fly-fishing industry is looking to bounce back a year after its workplace was forever changed. CBC's Erin Collins took a trip down the Bow River with one local guide and brings us this story.

CBC's Erin Collins floats down the Bow River to see the change wrought by last year's flood

CBC's Erin Collins takes a trip down the Bow River to see how the flood impacted the river and the fly fishing industry. 3:23

Few people know southern Alberta rivers better than those who count on them to make a living.

That is especially true for the fishing guides who take thousands of Calgary visitors floating down the Bow River each summer.  

Another spring along the city's largest river means the start of another season for Kevin Peterson. The fly-fishing guide has been floating these waters for the last two decades, but this year will be different. 

"There is a lot of it that has changed, you know, a tremendous amount since the flood," he said. 

For example, one local boat launch is now 60 metres farther east and gravel sits where water once flowed. 

"The day that the flood happened, looking at the river, we had no idea what to expect — whether we would get a guide season last year [or] whether we would be guiding what the river would look like afterwards," said Peterson. 

Uncharted waters

Those questions remained as he dropped his boat into the water for the first time this season — the once familiar waters now uncharted.

Damages from the rushing floodwaters of the Bow River can still be seen along the banks today. (CBC)

Along the banks of the Bow there are clear signs of the damage caused by last year's flooding and the attempts to repair it.

"It's amazing the volume of earth that has been moved — huge changes," said Peterson.

Those changes came quickly and altered the very path of this river. But despite the violence and suddenness of the change was, it was also natural.

"This is the river, it's what rivers do — they move and they change," said Peterson. "It's not a static environment. It's always changing and always evolving. Last year we just had a whole bunch of changes compressed into one very short period of time."

But when finding fish is how you make your living, change isn't always easy, and overcoming those obstacles is vital to more than just the river guides.

Economic impact

When tourists come up to fish the river they are also buying gas and food and staying in hotels, so there are economic spinoffs that occur because of guiding and the river.

Fly fishing on the Bow River usually attracts a steady stream of fishermen from all over the world, but that changed after last year's flood. (CBC)

Some things do remain the same, such as customary preparations, but it is a new experience

"It's been a mixture of fun and frustration, you know, going and looking at some of the new areas and checking them out. But in a lot of cases it will take a little while for those areas to kind of hold fish," said Peterson. "I guess making sure you can find the fish and the fish being there is a big part of getting the business to come back." 

Back on the river, the landscape may be different but certainly not spoiled.

"What we have here is as good or better than anything on Earth," said Peterson. 

And the hope is that the tough times on this river are — for now at least — water under the bridge. 

Many fishing guides in Calgary watched last year's flood in horror as it put their livelihoods in jeopardy. (CBC)


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