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.