Maligne Lake, Jewel of the Rockies

One of Canada’s premier fishing experiences is Maligne Lake.

Surrounded by snow peaked mountains, Maligne’s glacier-filled waters boast an abundance of mint-silver rainbow trout and highly colourful eastern brook trout.

The fishing can range from challenging to magnificent, and the relationship between fishing for, and catching these mountain trout is direct: the more time you put into this lake, the more fish you will catch. There are shortcuts to this one truism, and it is my hope for prospective anglers that reading this piece will be one of them.

I’ve been fishing Maligne Lake for more than two decades, and it has given me some of the most rewarding fishing experiences of my life. With the Rocky Mountains towering around you, their striking images reflecting in Maligne’s aqua marine waters, the angling can easily come secondary to the experience.

Don’t kid yourself, however; the fishing can border on the extraordinary.

There are lots of ways to catch Maligne Lake’s trout, but I’m going to narrow it to two presentations that I have found pretty much always catch fish. The first is slowly trolling a big fly off a sinking line, with my favourite fly being a double shrimp pattern, followed closely by a halfback. The trick to fishing this way has a lot to do with leader length. The leaderis that clear piece of fishing line which connects the fly to the thicker, coloured fly line (my preferred leader material is 8 lb fluorocarbon, but 8 lb monofilament will also do). I use a very long leader between the fly line and the fly so that fish do not associate the two. My advice is to use a 25 to 30 foot leader. Then I slow troll near the shores and over the shallow sections of the lake. Shallow, of course, is relative. In Maligne, where depths often exceed 100 feet, and in some parts of the lake more than 300 feet, shallow is 20 feet of water. This shallow water is where fish feed and where I spend most of my time chasing them.

The second fishing presentation is a bit more accessible for those who aren’t kitted out with a fly line setup. It involves suspending a beadhead fly under an indicator (fancy word for bobber) in a place I know trout live. For this fishing style I use a spinning rod and 6 lb test line. I set up the indicator slip-bobber style, and I continue to vary my depth until I find where the trout are feeding. I know I’m at the right depth when I start getting a lot of bites, because trout rarely refuse a beadhead fly. My two favourite beadhead flies are the beadhead prince nymph and the beadhead pheasant tail nymph, both in sizes 10 and 12.

Both the indicator and trolling presentations work well in home bay, which is the bay you are on the moment you launch your boat. However, I highly recommend you spend the day slow trolling your way down the western shore until you reach the hallowed grounds four to five miles down the lake. At four miles the upper Maligne River empties into the lake. At five miles is a prominent point locals call—you guessed it—Five Mile. This one mile stretch is often filled to capacity with trout and when I get there I look for the tell-tale concentric rings of rising trout. When I see them I stop the boat, anchor, and throw them those beadhead flies under the indicator. I typically anchor in 15 to 20 feet of water and I find that suspending that beadhead fly 10 to 14 feet down is magic depth. Once I hit that depth the fishing action can be non-stop.

Go for the experience, stay for the fishing, and enjoy the stunning scenery. Maligne Lake has it all.

Fred Noddin calls Edmonton home, where he works as an aquatics biologist. He recently earned his MSc in Ecology at the University of Alberta, and has spent the last decade involved in the study of Alberta and NWT fisheries. Fred comes to the mountains at every opportunity, for the fishing, the scenery, the hiking, for the wide open spaces and for the great people.

Email noddin@ualberta.ca

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