Cruising through social media this morning and the above picture immediately caught my eye. Our friend, Bill Bohman Art on Facebook and @billbohmanart on instagram, crafts some really cool art that is often fly fishing centered. I have a set of Bill’s traditional fly pattern prints displayed in my family room. In reality, our family is not into the fly fishing art theme but, man…he hits the mark. His depiction of this scene instantly had me traveling back to a time before Fremont Canyon, aka Cardwell, had been manufactured and developed into what I often describe as a Disneyland fishery.
In the early 2000’s the Cardwell Access Area project was completed. This project had 4 major players that collaborated to develop the meadow below Pathfinder Dam and above the next entrance to Fremont Canyon. The Cardwell Family agreed to allow public access, the Bureau of Reclamation agreed to a 75 CFS minimum flow from Pathfinder, the Wyoming Game and Fish agreed to stock and manage the fishery, as well as, install pit toilets and parking areas while the Wyoming Fly Casters helped with the plan and raised cash and awareness. Voila! A small stream experience emerged from nothing…or did it? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on this fishery, this development has really been an overall benefit to anglers, the local visitation economy and the scenery. What most folks aren’t aware of is that there was already a thriving fishery, hiding in plain sight, with amazing access. It was a little sad when the track hoes showed up to manufacture a small stream bed in the meadow to optimize the 75 CFS minimum flow but we could also reasonably predict the consequences and realized it wasn’t a heartbreaking event then or now.
There were no fences, trails or trespassing signs. The traditional river bed is what you expect from a good-sized river whose flows were diverted through a tunnel carved in the canyon wall. Pathfinder is a granite block dam that seeps water. There was always some water coming from Pathfinder upstream and fish could access Fremont Canyon via Alcova Reservoir below…a fishery existed. Access also existed. Fremont Canyon has always been one of Wyoming’s shock-and-awe geologic features but it was only recognized by a few sightseeing locals and the local climbing community. There is a good road through the canyon and there was a sandy two track approach from Pathfinder Rd to the perfect campsite right at the mouth of the canyon. It was best when the North Platte River was released to flow down the canyon. It was hard to sleep, despite the ideal sandy spot to toss your sleeping bag, with the river roaring as it entered the mouth of the canyon. The beers flowed nicely while consumers were sitting on the diagonal rock layer depicted in Bill’s art above. Similar to a rock concert, being so close to the powerful, smooth tongue of the river as it dropped in encouraged tight lips or necessitated a pretty boisterous conversation.
The campsite was a sandy depression, flanked by the cliff and fronted by junipers that separated the fire pit from the river. One late night at the campfire my buddy pointed beyond me and firmly said “what are you doing?”. Knowing he wasn’t talking to me but rather something behind me, I immediately became concerned for my well being. A couple frogs had popped out and joined us at the fire. I survived that scare.
The Fremont story that has been the most impactful to my development as a guide, angler and my outdoor recreation ideology happened one afternoon after taking our guests/anglers to Miracle Mile for a few hours of wade fishing. North Platte Lodge was in operation prior to the Fremont Disneyland development but I would divert through the canyon after fishing the Mile to blow my guests’ minds with the views, and if they were game, drop in for some fishing. This particular afternoon I was leading another group along with my guests. The other guide was pretty inexperienced and not at all familiar with Fremont Canyon fishing. We parked along the road and I pointed he and his anglers to the prime hopper water in the meadow. The potholes in the slough were always good for a couple hopper eaters each. Easy pickings and some really impressive fish! I took my anglers around the bend and into the canyon. After a couple hours we emerged and the other guide was nowhere in sight…nor was his vehicle. We reunited back at the lodge and I asked where he went. He explained that as they were rigging their hopper rods a Game and Fish warden drove up and asked what they were doing. He stated the obvious and the warden replied with “there are no fish in here, we haven’t even stocked it”. That zapped all of his confidence and embarrassed him in front of his guests. They left without ever making a cast. I don’t recall how we did that afternoon in the canyon but I will never forget the lessons of that day. I often reflect on that experience and how misguided it was on several levels. Decades later we still struggle with these issues from all players in this story. Erik