One cannot have a conversation about Blue Ribbon trout waters and not bring up the names Pere Marquette, Au Sable, Batten Kill, and of coarse the Madison. It was this kind of river that I thought I would never be able to fish again after my accident that left me a T11 paraplegic eight years ago. I have always loved fly fishing and felt this type of trout water would be impossible to get on. The future of my fishing would be for blue gills on the banks of my pond. Little did I know that I would have the opportunity to attend a fishing camp called Camp Bullwheel.
Camp Bullwheel is in Ennis, Montana and is the creation of Peter Pauwels and Frank Bell. It has been designed to be an accessible camp that can provide disabled anglers a quality float trip and experience. Peter has spent many years at Craig Hospital in Denver in the Adaptive Engineering Department creating aids to make life easier for handicapped patients. Over the years he has also developed adaptive fishing rods, sip and puff casting systems, electric fishing reels, shooting systems, and adaptive boats. Frank is the owner of the cabin that has become the camp lodge. The name Bullwheel comes from a huge wood bullwheel that was left on the property after a turn of the century oil well failed and pulled out. Today the bullwheel is all that is left from that business venture. For many years the cabin was a rental unit for fisherman. It is located just a stones throw from the Varney Bridge Landing on a beautiful section of the Madison River. The cabin has been converted to have extra wide doorways, wheelchair ramps, and a roll in shower. The lodge has room for family members to come along and enjoy the experience. On this trip I was fortunate to have my wife Barb, our son Eric, our daughter Katie and her husband Paul join me on this adventure. Rafts and guides are also available so that everyone can fish together. Floating down the river and seeing each other catching fish, laughing, and enjoying the beautiful surroundings makes for an unforgettable family experience. Bullwheel is a very comfortable and family oriented fishing camp for all to enjoy.
Each day begins with a tasty breakfast as everyone gets moving. The raft trailers are hooked up and loaded with all of the gear that is needed for the day. The fishermen and rafts are dropped off at the launch site while the pick up vans and trailers are moved down river. The day’s float may be five, seven, or nine miles long. Peter has developed a raft system that has a front ramp that can be dropped on the shore and a wheelchair can roll onto the raft. The challenged angler can fish from his or her own wheelchair. The raft can take three people so that a caregiver or extra fisherman can be with the guide.
The river is slow moving in this section and the shoreline is absolutely beautiful. As you float you pass cliffs, mountains, and rolling hills. On the banks we saw mule deer, moose, and bald eagles. There are many places to pull over and have a shore lunch. The pace of the day can be as fast or slow as you like. The fishing is fantastic. The water has both brown and rainbow trout. It was very common for multiple fisherman to have fish on at one time. Camp Bullwheel practices catch and release
thus ensuring a great future for the river. The Madison is widely known as a fly fishing river however if you don’t fly fish that is not a problem. The camp has spinning rods set up and ready to go.
The evenings are a time to kick back, relax, and relive the day on the water. Fishing stories are always told and pictures are passed around. The chef serves a gourmet dinner and everyone eats way too much. Upon checking into camp a list is made of everyone’s favorite meals and the chef puts together a menu that will please all. After dinner some may elect to go into the town of Ennis, which is less than ten miles away. Ennis is a historic little town that bills its self as Trout Town USA. Here you will find great shops, excellent restaurants and bars, and fun loving people. If anyone were to ever need medical attention there is an excellent medical facility on the edge of town.
Camp Bullwheel had its inaugural season in 2018. The camp was founded on the premise of making the outdoors accessible and creating success for disabled outdoorsmen. Camp Bullwheel operates on all volunteer help and financial donations. The volunteers have had experience working with all levels of disabilities. In its first season the lodge was filled each week and was a great success. Peter and Frank’s vision of a camp where all can enjoy the great outdoors will serve as a model for camps in the future.