Highway 3 is the most southerly major highway in Alberta. South of this highway, there is a pocket of wilderness that has been neglected by human progress. While its northern cousins, the Crowsnest, the Oldman and the Livingstone are being pounded by Anglers, there sits a drainage that is just a little to far away for the average angler.
And just the right amount of Wild for the Average Bushwhacker.
This is the Castle Wilderness Area.
The Castle River is the largest of the Oldman River Tributaries. Further down, there are many spots to access this River at bridges and campgrounds. The fishing for Cutthroat Trout is very good. It is the many gorgeous streams that feed this river that are what made me fall in love with this basin and its raw, rugged mountain landscapes that seem to be crafted by god himself.
This region is intertwined with the complex and crucial wildlife corridor known as the ‘Crown of the Continent.’ To the south, lies Waterton National Park, and to the east, on the other side of the Alberta BC border, lie the headwaters of Montana’s famous Flathead River. Taken together, the Flathead Valley in Canada and the Castle Wilderness Area are some of the last untouched Grizzly bear habitat in North America that is not protected. While this is not the time to get too far into this discussion, let us just say that it is crucial that we protect these areas, as Grizzlies rely on them as a transportation corridor and any development would lead to further fragmentation and habitat degradation. Luckily, the Alberta government has vowed to protect the Castle Wilderness area, accompanied by a sigh of relief by the avid fisherman who are brave enough to wander into its wilderness.
One time, as an 18 year old, I had the bright idea of going and exploring this wilderness for a couple of days by myself. I had scoped it on google earth. The logging roads looks simple enough; it was an area I had seen on my winter drives to Castle Mountain Ski Area. I was making my way through the small town of Beaver Mines right as the sun was beginning to set. I, in my youthful naivety, I had thought I was very close and was relieved to have made it before dark. I turned onto a logging road that I had determined would take me to where I had determined would be a good spot to camp.
And that’s when I discovered the expanse of this wilderness.
Turns out, I wasn’t close at all. I drove along a poorly maintained logging road for what seemed like hours. It was supposed to be beside the River; there was not a river in sight. The trees were towering pines and impenetrable. Soon enough it was completely dark, I was completely disoriented, and I hadn’t seen any of this prime cutthroat water that I driven 4 hours into the abyss to find. I doubled back on where I had come from, took a different road, and became even more confused. This time I decided to stick it out, and probably a good hour later, now very late into the night, I finally saw the sign that proclaimed I had miraculously arrived at the Provincial Recreation Area in which I had intended to camp at. I didn’t even make my tent. I slept in my car and awaited the morning light so I could figure out where on earth I was.
Turns out, I made it to a beautiful stretch of water where Lynx Creek flows into Carbondale Creek. The fishing was as advertised. Hungry Cutties, of pretty decent size smashing dry flies in pools that were invitingly deep and beautiful. The entire area was in a large burnout zone, which extended up the inviting mountainside valley which easily could have been from Lord of the Rings. I can see why this is crucial bear habitat; if I were a Grizzly, this is where I would live. At the bottom of this valley sits Lynx creek. Since that day, I have returned to this area several times. Each time, I go a little further, and a little deeper, away from the drone of ATV’s and dirtbikes, and into the mountain wilderness. Each time, I find somewhere to fish that is truly incredible.
What makes this area cool is that for each stretch of River that is open and accessible, there is literally hundreds of miles of creeks and rivers that are completely engulfed by trees and canyons and completely isolated from the campgrounds and recreation areas, despite being no more than 200 yards away from the FTR that you drove for kilometers to get to that access spot the entire time. You can get into some of the most untouched trout waters in the world with just a short hike from the bridge or your campground. Just be prepared for tough slugging, and be ready to encounter wildlife.
All of the water in this basin has good fishing for Cutthroat and Bull trout. The tributaries that I would recommend exploring include Carbondale Creek and Lynx Creek, Lost Creek, Mill Creek and the West Castle River.
Highway 507 is your starting point for the entire drainage. There is a campground where this highway crosses the main stem of the Castle. This is a good spot to fish if you don’t have much time to explore. To access the Upper portion of the Castle, Carbondale Creek, and Lynx Creek, use either Township Rd. 64 (just before Castle R. bridge, stay left entire time), or travel through Beaver Mines and take Hwy. 774 until you reach Castle River Road. Turn right from the highway and in about 10-15 minutes you will reach Castle Falls Campground, a beautiful spot to fish (although maybe the busiest), and if you continue onwards 30 or so minutes, it will take you to Carbondale and Lynx Creek Provincial Recreation areas, and other creeks. To access the West Castle River, stay on highway 774 towards Castle Mountain Ski resort. The River is on the left hand side most of the way. Upstream of the Ski resort, it is only accessible by heavy duty 4×4 or ATV. The fish are smaller but the water is absolutely beautiful, and the small river stretches far away up the valley, as far as one is willing to venture.
These logging roads took me a while to figure out. Give yourself many days to explore this basin and utilize the camping facilities and recreation areas. Bring many extra provisions; there is very little by way of services in this area. If you do need gas or food, the store in Beaver mines is the only place around (they also have the BEST Beef Jerky around). Load up before you head out. I highly recommend using the Alberta Backroads Mapbook to avoid getting lost like I did.
Get out there and enjoy this beautiful, gem of an ecosystem we have in right there in our backyard. Immersing yourself in it really makes you appreciate how lucky we are to have areas like this, and why its up to people like us, who enjoy what it can offer us, to protect it. Just make sure you bring your Bear spray!