Our Man In Canada
January 18th, 1999

Alberta's South Ram River - Success at Stage One!

By Dave Jensen

 Last fall some may remember a distant plea for help to save a stretch of an obscure river in Alberta, Canada in Clive Schaupmeyer's "Our Man In Canada" column. The article was written by someone who was obviously at a wits end and facing an ultimate point of irony for any fly fisherman... imagine having to promote your favorite trout river to the masses in order to get enough support to save it. Imagine promoting a river that may see fewer than 40 people along its lower stretches over an entire season in order to protect it from those who are coming?

Now imagine a river, with so very few people on it, in a surrounding that is truly nothing short of a "national treasure" as one of our guests called it last summer. Imagine a river some 15 yards wide, flowing into pools 15 to 20 feet deep. Imagine a river where every corner is an adventure, every run a peaceful journey into the unknown, the undiscovered, the untouched. A river encapsuled by a canyon that at its deepest is said to be 1700 feet of nearly straight vertical towering cliffs. A river that has you casting to cutthroat trout to 26 inches (or better) with size #4 stoneflies on the surface while a herd or two of resident bighorn sheep looks down as the sun smiles on your 200th fish landed.

Imagine standing below one of 6 major sets of waterfalls, landing fish in every eddy of every rock in every run. Imagine casting below a series of 4 foot drops in the river, not 200 yards between the drops, each one tailing out into gravelly fans broken by scattered boulders. Imagine there a river like this with only 1 road access over nearly 25 miles of river. Imagine camping deep in the midst of all of this for several days, nothing but the massive trout, the bighorn sheep, the intense contrasts of the sunlight on the dark canyon walls and the occasional mule or white tail deer meandering past.

Are these all thoughts that none so few ponder and dream right about this time every year? Are they not what we all do long for... what keeps our dreams alive, our sanity in check, and our hopes motivated? Are these not simply impossible except perhaps in remote Alaska, surely no river in the lower 48 nor western Canada is no longer capable of any of these things, let alone all.

Welcome to that obscure watershed of west central Alberta, the South Ram River. All of what is written above is true, factual, and photographed. "A national treasure" is definitely the only befitting statement of the South Ram River. Located northwest of Calgary, Alberta, the South Ram flows out of Banff National Park, through alpine meadows and rock outcrops before cutting its way into the rugged canyon over the final 35 to 40 miles. I need not re-iterate what I have written above, it is fly fishing the way our dreams have conjured our emotions, or perhaps vice-versa.

And it appears that the future will emanate our emotional dreams well into the future. As the snow piles on my driveway and the bitter cold thickens the icy grip for another month or two, I write this article with a warmth of satisfaction and contentment in a spirit of saying "Thank You". As I began, we came to Fly Anglers Online with a plea for help last fall to protect a fairly much hushed river in Alberta, the South Ram. I wrote of how the increase of access to this river has seen one section of the river decimated due to the over-fishing that access brings. The difference in 3 short years after access opened the section historically producing 40-50 fish a day to 24 inches now averages 7 fish at 11 or 12 inches. Such is the fate of unprotected cutthroat populations. It has been repeated so countless many times in North America. But this impact was confined to about 5 miles of the river, so typically 2 miles upstream and down from road access.

It was confined, but the writing was on the wall of the future. Progress in Forestry means roads, and roads mean access. Access, well, it brings fishermen, some not as responsible as others. With this staring me in the face, we took it upon ourselves to ensure what happened upstream would not be repeated on the lower miles of the river. We set out a petition to have the river designated catch and release. We approached the local Fish & Wildlife officer we had talked to previously on this issue and he kindly helped with the wording of the petition as to what would be required.

We approached Mr. Barry Mitchell of the Alberta Fishing Guide magazine (Alberta's latest recipient of the order of the Bighorn for his dedication to fisheries) for some guidance as he had stirred the massive regulations review of the province a year earlier. We also approached groups and associations, businesses, individuals; a diverse group as possible. We were working on a very fine time line as the review of the watershed from Fish & Wildlife's perspective had to be done by the beginning of December, if this were to go ahead for 1999. Hence it would be an extremely short 6 week petition. We rolled up the sleeves and set out.

The long and short of it is that we received 600 signatures and 30 letters of support in only 6 weeks. This, plus our 70 page well rounded report on the river, its trout population, and the projected impacts to the river in the near future made an impact in the management of this fishery. The Alberta Natural Resources - Fish & Wildlife Service has now officially changed the regulation on the South Ram River to catch and release only, for a longer section than requested! The river from the Falls at the Forestry Trunk Road to the confluence of Fall Creek, some 5 miles downstream of the forks of the North & South Ram is now all included in this regulation. This is in effect beginning the start of the 1999 fishing season!

The main issues concerning the Ram, habitat and access, which play a far greater role in the long term viability of his population, are to be discussed by the Alberta Lands and Forest Service, Weldwood/Sunpine Forest Products, and myself. However, it can be said that this three part series (regulations, habitat, and access) in ensuring the long-term sustained health of the South Ram River and its cutthroats, we absolutely have scored a huge victory... success at Stage One!

For this, Fly Anglers Online, and all who read it, your faithful followers, and everyone who took the time to support a dream of hope for an uncompromised future, we thank you all. It is perhaps this that is truly the backbone of the fly fishing world... support and understanding of emotion that is so heartfelt by all who live fly fishing as a passion. Perhaps I still do not realize what has been accomplished. Perhaps the first time I fish next summer I will shed a tear of emotion as I did when I saw the new access constructed 3 years ago. But this time it will be a tear of contentment, knowing that the fly fishing community shares a bond of emotion for all of our home waters. For it is not simply a river, but a passion, a hope that springs within each opening day, and a struggle to overcome all of our anxieties in life... all rolled into a cast arcing across the current onto a tidy seam at the edge of an eddy... waiting in human anticipation... what's next?

I invite you all to experience this river, either on a helicopter or hiking trip to experience what we have all supported. See our website for guided fly fishing on Alberta's latest and most impressive catch and release river... the South Ram!

~ Dave Jensen

Our Man In Canada Archives

Bio on Our Man In Canada

Clive Schaupmeyer is an outdoor writer and photographer. He is the author of The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing, a 288-page book for novice and intermediate fly anglers. His photo of a boy fishing was judged the best outdoor picture of 1996 published by a member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada. He fly-fishes for trout in Alberta's foothill and mountain streams and for pike near his home in Brooks, Alberta. For information on where to find, or how to get a copy of Clive's book, Click here!

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