A River Never Sleeps

Visiting a river in winter is an experience unlike that of any other time of year. From a distance, a river blanketed in snow and ice may appear as if it is asleep in the season. Upon close examination, all is not as it seems.

A river does not rest, even in winter. Beneath its icy canopy, water continues to flow toward its ultimate destination. There is life in and along the river, regardless of the time of year.

Castle Canyon
Oldman River near the Gap

In some places, springs and upwellings prevent the river from freezing in winter. In other places, its swift-flowing currents yield only to the coldest of temperatures. Then, at the slightest hint of warmth, the surface ice melts, and the river opens once again.

Oldman River near Hwy. 22
Crowsnest River

Deep pools and runs provide shelter and habitat for trout during the winter months. Deer and moose find cover in surrounding woods and forests. Hungry coyotes patrol the river valley after nightfall. Ravens and bald eagles scavenge the area by day.

Crowsnest River
Tracks above the river – friend or foe?
Canada geese along edge of ice below

Other birds, such as the American dipper, are often seen along open stretches of water. They bob up and down while perched on rocks or ice at the river’s edge. Without hesitation, they dive into the frigid water, only to reappear with a caddis larvae or stonefly nymph secured in their bill. Then, with a few high-pitched chirps, the small bluish-gray bird sets off, flying low over the water, in search of another streamside perch from which to ply its trade.

American dipper on Crowsnest River

Visiting a river in winter is a unique opportunity. The soft, muted sound of the river, the freshness in the air, snow under your feet, the wildlife, and the gentle tug of a trout at the end of your leader, makes the experience all the more memorable.

Crowsnest River
Crowsnest River

“It is easy to forget about the river in winter, particularly if you are a trout fisherman and live in town. Even when you live in the country, close beside it, a river seems to hold you off a little in winter, closing itself into the murky opacity of freshet or slipping past ice-fringed banks in shrunken, silent flow.”

― Roderick L. Haig-Brown, A River Never Sleeps (1944)

This entry was posted in On The Water and tagged , , .


  1. robert garnier February 14, 2021 at 7:12 pm #

    Hey Vic: You have been busy walking the river(s). Good winter activity. Nice photos as usual. I like the Oldman river one with geese. I walk that route a lot.

    • Vic Bergman February 14, 2021 at 9:41 pm #

      Hi Bob,

      I was actually thinking of you when I was taking photos from the ridge overlooking the Oldman River. I think I probably saw a photo or two on your blog showing that stretch of river. It was -25°C when I took the picture. The geese were sure making a lot of noise on the river. Because of the freezing temperatures, most of the photos were taken within sight of my truck. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. David D February 11, 2021 at 7:04 am #

    I liked the pictures a lot. They kindle great memories. Reminds me I got to get down there someday soon again. But I really loved the title you chose even more. Perfect setting for it.


    • Vic Bergman February 11, 2021 at 1:34 pm #

      Hi David,

      I’m glad you like to photos. I nearly froze while taking a few of them. I borrowed the title of the post from the Haig-Brown book of the same title. It’s a classic. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Terry Maurer February 10, 2021 at 10:46 pm #

    Beautiful, just beautiful. Some nice hikes for those, too, Vic.

    Here, 1.4″ of snow for the season … our third straight mild winter. Things are starting to think about blooming, poor devis :-))

    Take care there … we are fine here and hope for a better 2021.

    • Vic Bergman February 11, 2021 at 1:30 pm #

      Hi Terry,

      Good to hear from you. It was a pretty mild winter here too, until a few days ago. It’s turned really cold. Way to cold to do any fishing on the river. I took a few of the blog post pics a couple of days ago when it was -25°C (-13°F). We haven’t had a ton of snow here this winter. The backcountry has been getting more. We usually get our biggest snowfalls in February & March. We’ll see what happens. Glad to hear you are doing fine. We are good too. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Diane Kay February 10, 2021 at 8:31 pm #

    Beautiful Images Vic. Just what I need to look at when it is 44 C here.
    Hope you are both keeping well. Diane

    • Vic Bergman February 10, 2021 at 9:10 pm #

      Hi Diane,

      It’s nice to hear from you. We are mired in a polar vortex at the moment. There are places in parts of Alberta that have gone down to -44 C or more, with the wind chill. Last night, the temperature in Crowsnest Pass and area dropped to -34 C. If you like, we’ll trade some of our cold temperatures for your warmth. Glad you like the photos. Thanks for commenting. Hope you and your family are staying safe!

  5. Walter Hildenbrandt February 10, 2021 at 8:00 pm #

    Awesome article and photos Vic as always. Much appreciated. Looking forward to Fishing the Crow Soon.

    • Vic Bergman February 10, 2021 at 9:02 pm #

      Hi Walter,

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Hope you are staying warm!

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