Fishing in Alberta: The Complete Guide for 2024

Apr 16, 2024 | 9 minute read
Reading Time: 9 minutes

What are your stereotypes of Alberta? Contrary to popular belief, there’s a whole lot more to it than oil and gas. In fact, Canada’s fourth-largest province is full of surprises. And there’s no better way to experience them than by going fishing in Alberta.

A group of anglers on a rowing boat on a clear lake on a sunny day in Alberta, with the woman at the front of the boat casting a fly rod
Photo courtesy of River People Guides

The sheer range of habitats in Alberta is partly what makes fishing here so enticing. While it may not boast the Great Lakes or a saltwater coastline, the “Energy Province” has just about everything else. Prairies, rockies, sweeping plains, foothills, and badlands complement the cosmopolitan streets of Alberta’s two major cities. 

Once you reach the water, you’ll find just as much variety. It’s as wealthy in terms of fish as it is in other natural resources. Well-stocked lakes dot the entire province, while breathtaking rivers weave their way across the landscape. We’ll walk you through what to target, how to catch them, and where to find them. What are you waiting for? Let’s dive in.

Best Fish to Catch in Alberta

There are several types of sport fish in Alberta, ranging from prehistoric river monsters to rare native Trout. Some of them even swim right through Calgary and Edmonton. Whether you’re looking for a few hours of relief from the daily grind or you’re journeying into the wilderness, here are the standout catches. 

Sturgeon Fishing in Alberta

A woman holds a Sturgeon towards the camera on a large river with a shallow muddy bank with a tent and vehicles on the opposite shore, with the fish's mouth and barbels clearly visible
Photo courtesy of Freak Fishin

Lurking at the bottom of the North Saskatchewan and the Lower Red Deer River, there’s a living fossil. In fact, there are hundreds of them. Alberta’s Lake Sturgeon have been swimming around here since the early Jurassic period – 174 to 201 million years ago. 

Lake Sturgeon grow exceptionally large for freshwater fish. They can reach over 2.2 metres (7.25 feet), weighing upwards of 100 kilos (240 pounds). Of course, it’s much more common to catch smaller specimens – but even these are impressive. However, Sturgeon are considered threatened in Alberta and are open for catch-and-release fishing only

If you’re planning on Sturgeon fishing in Alberta, go big or go home – at least in terms of tackle. A 30 lb line is an absolute minimum. 50 pounds is better. You’ll also want a reel that can hold at least 200 yards of line, or 300 if you can. Add this to an 8–10′ fast-action 10–30 lb rod, and you’ll be set. Even with this powerful setup, you’ll be in for a workout. If Sturgeons had heels, they’d most often be found digging them in! 

Trout Fishing in Alberta

A man wading up to his waist in a river in Alberta on a clear day, holding a trout in one hand and a fishing net in the other with another man guiding a boat behind him
Photo courtesy of Shallow Water Drift Co.

If catching and releasing a Sturgeon is like riding a rollercoaster, Trout fishing is closer to a horseback ride through the plains… on a thoroughbred. The art of catching Trout is often as much about enjoying the scenery and perfecting your cast as anything else. But the sheer quantity of them here means your peaceful pursuit will often be broken up by fast, exciting battles with an exuberant opponent. 

Alberta’s environmental agency is largely to thank for this. They keep lakes across the province stocked with Trout, complementing the native species that have been here for millennia. Rainbow Trout, which originally only lived in Alberta’s Athabasca River basin and upper Peace River basin, are now some of the most common fish in the province. Brown and Brook Trout join them in many stocked lakes, while Cutthroat Trout are usually added into the mix every other year. 

The highlight of Alberta Trout fishing, though, has got to be Bull Trout. This rare species is the official fish of the province and has the largest range of any native Trout here. Otherwise, look out for Lake Trout – a huge native species that can reach weights of over 10 kilos (22 pounds). You’ll find them in many of Alberta’s deep, cold lakes.

Walleye Fishing in Alberta

A man in a white t-shirt standing on a boat on a lake in Alberta, holding a Walleye with the wall of a dam visible in the sunshine behind him
Photo courtesy of Freak Fishin

Finally, there’s one more fish in Alberta that gets anglers excited. This one peers through murky waters even before the sun is up. Light reflects off its large, unsettling eyes as it glides through the water looking for its prey. You got it – we’re talking about Walleye. 

There’s one main reason why people like to fish for this species. It’s one of the finest table fish you can find in freshwater. But even if you’re catching and releasing, Walleye fishing is rewarding. These fish grow large and are fun to catch. You can catch them all year round – even through the ice in the winter!

Although Walleye are native to Alberta, this is the very northern reach of their range. That means they’re relatively slow-growing here, which has caused them to be overfished in the past. Nowadays, a stocking program props up the native population, which is also helped by special fishing regulations. The Walleye bag limit is fairly restrictive but Alberta citizens can apply for a Walleye licence to give them access to certain lakes and catch more fish. 

What else?

Caught your limit? There are plenty of other fish alongside these big hitters. Yellow Perch live in many of the same waterways as Walleye and have very generous bag limits. You can often also find Northern Pike here – large, aggressive fish that will provide a challenge for any angler. Meanwhile, Mountain Whitefish fill many of the same rivers as Trout. 

However, we have bad news if you’re planning to go Bass fishing in Alberta. Neither Smallmouth nor Largemouth have managed to establish good populations here, despite attempts to stock them in the past. We can’t say we’re too disappointed – there are plenty of other fish to catch!

How to Go Fishing in Alberta

Alberta’s wild side is not just jaw-droppingly beautiful. It’s also very easy to access. From Banff, Canada’s first National Park, to UNESCO heritage 2site Jasper National Park, there are countless places to surround yourself with nature. Picking up a rod and going fishing is just as inviting. 

Fly Fishing in Alberta

A female angler casts a fly from the rocky shore of a gushing river on a sunny day near a small waterfall and with pine trees dotted across a hill in the background
Photo courtesy of River People Guides

There’s no debating it: fly fishing is practically synonymous with being at one with your surroundings. The process of discovering the honey holes, perfecting your cast, and playing the fish is almost meditative. It also takes a lifetime to hone. But whatever stage in this journey you’re at, Alberta is here to help.

The best thing about fly fishing in Alberta is the number of different habitats to explore. Head to the cold, clear rivers of the Rocky Mountains to target Cutthroat Trout. Or set your sights on fat Brown Trout in the magical Bow River. You can also gear up and cast big streamers for Pike on the Saskatchewan River or target Rainbow Trout in the province’s many deeper lakes. 

As a general rule, a good fly fishing setup for Alberta includes a 5 or 6 wt rod with a weight-forward floating line. This will set you up nicely for Trout fishing across the province and allow you to experiment with different types of flies. Otherwise, if you’re after Northern Pike or Bull Trout, you’ll appreciate an 8 or 9 wt rod. Dry flies, wet flies, nymphs, and streamers all get good results here, so bring a variety and have some fun!

Ice Fishing in Alberta

A man in winter gear standing on a frozen lake in Alberta and holding a Walleye on an overcast day
Photo courtesy of Ice Fishing Out of the Blue

Few things are more Canadian than drilling a hole through an icy lake, setting up somewhere warm to sit, and catching some fish. Ice fishing in Alberta is the perfect way to experience this popular winter pastime thanks to the province’s long, cold winters and well-stocked fishing lakes. 

Ice fishing season generally starts early here, too. It’s usually already well established by December and tends to run through to April, depending on the weather. And the action kicks off right away. In fact, it can be at its best right at the start of the season, when the warm oxygenated waters mean the fish are active. 

Alberta offers the full range of ice fishing experiences, from luxurious ice fishing lodges to rental cabins and pop-up daytime guide services. This means there’s something for every angler and budget. 

Alberta Charter Fishing 

A group of three anglers aboard a light sportfishing boat on a river in Alberta on a cloudy day with two men leaning over the side of the boat in the foreground as one holds a fishing net and the other a Trout
Photo courtesy of Shallow Water Drift Co.

No matter what time of year you’re fishing, you’ll always benefit from a little local expertise from someone who knows the fishery inside out. Alberta fishing guides operate across the province. Spend a day with one, and it will pay dividends. Not only will you learn your fishing guide’s secrets of the trade, you’ll pick up tips that will help you whenever you go fishing in the future. 

Most Alberta fishing trips include an overview of the waters you’re fishing, as well as tuition on fishing techniques. This makes them suitable for anyone, from avid anglers to complete beginners. 

Alberta Fishing Spots

A narrow river runs through a low-lying evergreen forest surrounded by mountains with low-lying fog remaining in the distance
Photo courtesy of River People Guides

Now you know what you want to catch and how to go about it, where do you start? There are so many quality fishing lakes and rivers in Alberta that it can be hard to choose! To get a slice of the very best fishing, check out these fishing spots:

  • Bow River. Rising in the Rocky Mountains in Banff National Park and flowing through Calgary and beyond, the Bow River has everything you could ask for. Not only is it stunningly beautiful, it’s easy to access and holds lots of fish. From big, plentiful Brown and Rainbow Trout to Mountain Whitefish and several other species… And the section near Calgary is one of the most productive for wild Trout. 
  • Pigeon Lake. Up towards Edmonton, Pigeon Lake is for Walleye what the Bow River is for Brown Trout. This large, shallow lake is one of the best Walleye fishing spots in the province and also holds Whitefish, Pike, Perch, and Burbot. And the action doesn’t stop! Ice fishing here is very productive and helped along by the multiple options for hut and shack rental. 
  • Cold Lake. At 540 kilometres squared (210 square miles), Cold Lake is one of the province’s larger bodies of stillwater. And it holds some pretty huge fish, too. An enormous 23.6 kg (52 lb) Lake Trout was caught here, becoming the provincial record. And the Walleye grow big here too, with 6-kilo (14-pound) fish quite possible. 
  • North Saskatchewan River. There’s another river born in the glaciers of Banff National Park that characterizes Alberta fishing. The North Saskatchewan flows east from Banff towards its namesake province, stopping by Edmonton on the way. People mainly fish this river for Bull Trout or Lake Sturgeon. Both are rare and require completely different fishing styles. But if you just want a fun day fishing near Edmonton, you can’t go wrong with targeting the river’s five species of Suckers.

Alberta Fishing Seasons

A man stands in river holding a fishing rod on an autumnal day with his boat moored at the river bank behind him
Photo courtesy of Foot & Chain Fly Fishing Exchange

There’s never a bad time to fish in Alberta. The peak summer season runs from May through October when warmer waters make both the fish and the anglers livelier. In terms of licensing, the fishing season starts on April 1 and runs through to March 31 the following year.

Some of the best Trout fishing in Alberta happens in the summer. July and August are peak months to catch Rainbow Trout on the Bow River, where they’ve finished spawning and are on the lookout for a good meal. Fish deeper lakes in the spring and fall, though, and you’ll be in with a good chance of catching Lake Trout white they feed close to the surface.

Summer is also a good time to target Sturgeon. They’re generally active from spring through fall, with May–June and September–October offering some of the best fishing of the year. 

But don’t let the cold stop you. Alberta has so many options for ice fishing that you really can fish all year round. The fish don’t stop swimming just because you can’t see them!

Alberta Fishing Regulations

An infographic featuring the flag of Alberta, a vector of a boat, and the FishingBooker logo, along with text stating "Alberta Fishing Regulations: What You Need to Know" against a blue background

Alberta’s fishing regulations are quite strict – and for good reason. There are a lot of vulnerable species here that need protecting. Get acquainted with the current year’s regulations, and you’ll be able to play your part in conservation efforts while also catching fish.

For starters, you’ll need an Alberta Sportfishing Licence. That is, unless you’re under 16, an Alberta resident aged 65 or over, or a First Nations Person. You can purchase a single-day, multi-day, or annual licence, and the cost will vary depending on where you live. Print your licence off and sign it, and you’ll be ready to fish!

These regulations apply in Alberta Provincial Parks but National Parks have their own rules. You’ll need a National Park Fishing Permit to fish any waterways in a National Park. These are available to purchase at most park facilities. 

Fish Alberta from the Glaciers to the Tundra

An angler wades in a gravel bed river lined with tall evergreen trees with mountains in the background, as he casts a fly with his a row boat behind him
Photo courtesy of River People Guides

No matter where you are in Alberta, you won’t be far from a productive fishing hole. This abundance makes Canada’s wealthiest province even richer. It’s not just the variety of habitats that make this province so appealing. It’s also the variety of fish and the warmhearted knowledge of the local guides. So come wet a line! You’ll be in great company. 

What’s your favourite fishing spot in Alberta? Are you team Trout or team Sturgeon? Or do you have a question or comment about this article? Let us know below!

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Cat Tyack spends almost every spare moment she has outside. Whether it's hiking, horseback riding or fishing, she's always looking for her next adventure in the great outdoors. Having been fishing on several continents, her most memorable fishing moment was casting poppers to Mahi Mahi in the shadow of enormous oil barges in the Arabian Sea.

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