Ice-fishing Friday: Prairie reservoirs have killer walleye and pike action. Here’s how to catch these reservoir hawgs


Alberta’s Lake Newell is known for producing large pike and walleye


In southern Alberta, manmade reservoirs are primarily a product of irrigation infrastructure and the damming that goes with it. For ice anglers, one of the region’s largest and most popular reservoir destinations is Lake Newell near the city of Brooks, about 170 kilometres west of Calgary. It was created in 1914 after the Canadian Pacific Railroad built the Bassano Dam, which was intended to irrigate the surrounding semi-arid farmland and entice homesteaders to settle in the area.

Newell is a fairly large lake by local standards, with a surface area of a little more than 66 square kilometres. Like most man-made reservoirs—and in a dramatic contrast to the innumerable natural lakes found across much of Canada—Newell is shallow, with an average depth of just 16 feet. At its deepest, it drops to only 65 feet.


By supplying water to irrigation canals, Newell and other nearby prairie reservoirs, such as McGregor Lake and Travers Reservoir, form a critical part of the infrastructure of Alberta’s Eastern Irrigation District. The waters of these reservoirs, as with similar waterbodies in Saskatchewan and other parts of Alberta, are extraordinarily fertile, growing big, healthy fish. And that provides ice anglers with world-class sportfishing opportunities.

In general, prairie reservoirs share several similar features, including connectivity to rivers, engineered water containment and a controlled flow. Lake Newell, for example, empties into Alberta’s famed Bow River after flowing through Rolling Hills Lake, which is basically an extension of Newell created in 1939.

Many prairie reservoirs are extraordinarily fertile, growing big, healthy fish

A variety of fish species frequently escape from the reservoirs and reside within the canal systems connecting the reservoirs with the Bow and the agricultural areas to the north and east. Each year, Trout Unlimited coordinates a detailed fish rescue as part of its conservation efforts to manage these waters and the adjoining infrastructure. In a very real sense, such prairie irrigation systems have become a resource-management—and recreational fishing—success story.


Many Alberta reservoirs hold fish, but not all of them produce giants. In the Eastern Irrigation District, Lake Newell and Travers Reservoir stand out from the rest. They’re home to a variety of species, including lake whitefish and yellow perch, but it’s the large pike and walleye that put these lakes at the top of the list. Another prime ice-fishing reservoir is Saskatchewan’s Lake Diefenbaker, a multi-species destination formed in 1967 by the damming of the South Saskatchewan and Qu’Appelle Rivers. Also in Saskatchewan is pike- and walleye-filled Tobin Lake on the Saskatchewan River, which famously gave up an 18-pound five-ounce walleye in 2005.