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BANFF TRAIL RIDERS

Fishing the Backcountry

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Imagine this: clean mountain air, pristine glacial lakes untouched by tourists, horses grazing in the background, and a relaxing day soaking it all in with a fishing pole in hand. Sounds like we’re painting a picture of a bygone era, right? Thanks to Banff Trail Riders’ new guided horseback trip that gives you an opportunity to fish, modern-day explorers can experience aspects of Banff that few ever get to see or fish. 

Banff Trail Riders offer multi-day, private tours that take riders deep into Banff’s alpine lakes system and across tranquil streams before stopping each night at a classic, permanent campsite. With less to worry about, you can focus on exploring and soaking up the stellar landscape and views. 

Never been on a guided horseback trip and not sure what to expect? We’ve got you covered. We spoke to Jonathan Welsh, Operating Partner and Cowboy in Training from Banff Trail Riders for the scoop.

What’s a horseback tour like?

Jonathan: It’s pretty amazing. It’s an opportunity to get to remote lakes and rivers that most people haven’t access to. The horse is a great way to discover the backcountry, and our trips are multi-day. You get to stay in remote camps that are right by rivers and fish in waters that not many people get to fish. It’s a great opportunity. 

The camps are all hosted, and there are cooks there to take care of you. We carry all of your gear. The camp is already set up, [with] canvas tents and you just have to bring your fishing gear and a change of clothes. 

How are the facilities and accommodation?

We have three camps set up, and depending on the trip someone goes on, they can visit all three camps. Each camp has nine, two-man tents. They have a floor in them with two cots and Therm-a-Rest mattresses.

The camps are also surrounded by bear fences to keep wildlife out. We have washing stations, a couple of fire pits, and outhouses at each camp, along with outdoor showers, as well.  There’s also a permanent cook tent that has the kitchen, big dining tables and a potbelly stove. If it’s raining, it’s a great place to stay warm and play cards. 

What gear do you provide?

We’re horseback guides, we can take you to locations, but we’re not fishing guides. We will take you to the lakes and rivers, but you would bring your own fishing gear [if you are interested in fishing]. We supply the horses. We also pack out everything. Stuff that is going to camp gets packed in a separate bag and we take it by mule to camp so it will be there for you. We also have another mule that will come with us on the trip and carry any gear you want on the day because we’ll stop at the lake or river where you may want to do some fishing. Rod, waders, camera, bug spray, snacks… that type of thing. 

How much experience do you recommend that someone has before selecting this tour?

With our trip, people get scared [because] it’s horseback riding. But you don’t need any experience to ride the horses. The fact is, it’s a walking trail; the horses are used as a mode of transportation to get you to great locations.  You don’t need to be an active horseman or a fisherman to come on this trip. You just need to have a spirit of adventure and a willingness to try something different and you’ll have an amazing time. 

You don’t really need any fishing experience [if you decide to fish as part of the trip]. The fishing is suitable for fly-fishing or regular fishing. Fishing goes to cool places, so even if you want to dangle a rod in the water and sit and read a book, it’s a beautiful place to hang out. Not only is it great for keen fishermen, but even if you don’t fish at all, it’s still a great place to go and hang out.

What’s been the best moment you’ve experienced on a tour?

Just going on horseback and coming around the corner and discovering this pristine, high alpine lake. It was breathtaking. And then having the opportunity to walk around the lake and be the only person there fishing. It was pretty cool. 

What makes this horseback tour one of the best fishing opportunities in Banff?

I think it’s the uniqueness of the backcountry; going to areas where no one else goes. I mean, you just wouldn’t fish them because they’re too inaccessible. So having the ability to use these backcountry camps to service you on a multi-day trip, where it’s going to be totally private and [there are] no other groups out there makes it pretty special. 

Where’s your favourite place in Banff?

I would say Elk Lake… It’s the setting. It’s breathtaking. It’s this high alpine lake. You sit back and relax and you’re right at the base of a mountain. 

What tips do you have for someone coming to Banff who is interested in fishing?

Plan ahead. Do your research. Book in advance. Between our trips and other guided trips, there isn’t a lot of capacity, so book in advance. 

The beauty of fishing is that you can do it on your own. You can do it for 10 minutes, or you can do it for 4 days. It’s pretty accessible and cheap to get into, and there are very few restrictions. 

What makes rivers and lakes in Banff special or unique compared to other places in Canada? 

I think the setting of Banff National Park being a protected wildlife area, a protected ecosystem, just makes it that much more special. It’s not a developed area and I think that makes the rivers and lakes unique. 


Ready to saddle up and explore the backcountry? Check out Banff Trail Riders’ site to start planning your trip.