Where the impacts of human activity have either directly or indirectly affected the natural state of fish-bearing streams, mitigation or remedial measures may be required to compensate for those negative impacts. The methodology designed to repair or enhance both riparian and fish habitat has been used to facilitate the recovery of many streams in recent years. The technology used is still being developed, especially in the area of bio-engineering plants for the enhancement of riparian zones. It is of major importance that any in-stream structures emulate the appearance of natural stream habitat. This is achieved by the use of natural materials such as boulders, timber and living plants. The used of these materials adds a special challenge to the engineering and construction of structures that will stand up to the influences of high flow events, winter ice and frost conditions. Also important is the necessity of having all of the necessary permits and permissions from government agencies that are responsible for managing our flowing waterways. In some cases, this can be a lengthy process, but it is required by law and common sense. Riparian and fish habitat enhancement programs are not only beneficial to maintaining our streams, but they also arouse interest from the general public and help educate people of all ages about the importance of our flowing waters and how we all can protect them!
If you would like to contact the author, Guy Woods, please use the email on the right sidebar > Scroll Up. If you would like to access any of the seven volumes of Stream Tender Magazine, click on the links below:
In 1987 and again in 1996, a major fish habitat enhancement project was completed by Bow Valley Habitat Development, on the Bow River, just downstream of the River Ave. Bridge. Both projects involved the placement of very large boulders in the river channel, to create fish habitat at low flow conditions and during high flow as well. The 1987 project was a partnership between the then “Buck for Wildlife Program”, the Town of Cochrane and Bow Valley Habitat Development. BVHD took care of all of the project management and Sheldon Lowe, of Alberta River Engineering Branch, completed the design on both the 1987 and 1996 projects.
The 1996 project at the River Ave. site, was partnered by TransAlta Utilities, Foothills Pipelines and then Nova Gas Pipelines, which is now ATCO Pipelines, and the local Chapter of Trout Unlimited (Jumpingpound Chapter). Around that time, I was habitat chairman of the JP Chapter, so it was good practice to be involved with the group. The 1996 project involved the creation of 5 boulder sites, which were also called boulder gardens. The River Avenue site, received some more boulders for placement along with a few engineer approved modifications, request by Sheldon Lowe.
All of the necessary permits and permissions were obtained to complete both projects, including a public review process, which is standard on all permitted projects that BVHD has completed. TransAlta keep the water flow low for us, during the Three day construction period. A large 980 CAT loader and two different large track hoes were used on the larger 1996 project.
The boulder habitat enhanced section of the Bow River, just downstream of the River Ave. Bridge is a key vital habitat during low flow periods. Trout and mountain whitefish that are located both upstream downstream of the bridge, can find refuge in the habitat provided for these type of low flow conditions. With out this key habitat, the fishing populations would not exist on this section of the river. This was later confirmed during a number of fish population assessments completed on this section of the river.
Two of those assessments were completed by Bow Valley Habitat Development, in a 1998 video survey assessment and again in a 2000 video assessment. The video footage tells a true tale of the project’s success, with lots of rainbow trout and mountain whitefish, holding close in on the boulder habitats, during low flow conditions. You can check it out for yourself, in the videos below. Please note that during the 1998 assessment, my video camera was not set up to record my commentary, like the 2000 video was. Also, in the 1998 video, I was unable to use the viewer lens on my camera. So Check out both videos.
The River Ave. Bridge boulder enhancement site has become a popular fishing destination for local resident anglers, of Cochrane. The site can be fished at high flows and low flows and there are always fish present. This is one of my favorite haunts with a fly rod, when I have time to wet a line. Years ago, when I was fishing more often, the River Ave. site gave up many trout and whitefish, for a quick look and safe release, back into the river.
In 1997, a tour of the site was organized, and both Sheldon Lowe, the designing river engineer, and Allan Locke of AEP, an in-stream flow needs biologist, visited the site and prepared some remarks in letters that I received days later. Sheldon was so impressed that in his letter there was a recommendation for further boulder enhancement at all sites. Allan Locke’s comments detailed how important the boulder enhancement work is to that particular reach of the Bow River. In his comments he stated: “The boulder placements are extremely valuable since they provide a habitat type that is naturally in very limited supply.”
The willows planted along the Bighill Creek, as part of the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program, are now locked into the ice. The ice will continue to build over the early to mid winter months, hiding them completely in some spots. These are the younger plants from a few years ago, so they are still not very high in height. However, this will change in the coming years, and eventually, the plantings will tower over the stream channel.
All of this planting completed by Bow Valley Habitat Development, is slowly improving the stream bank stability on the lower reaches of the Bighill. It is becoming more and more obvious, as you watch the stream bed gravels, boulders and cobbles reveal the natural stream bed. The rocks were hidden for years, beneath a muddy, silt laden stream bed, in some locations.
This stream channel cleaning is a result of the stream bank stabilization work that has been carried out for years now, as part of the BVRR&E Program. Planting native willows and tree cuttings on eroding slopes, mainly on the outside bends in the channel, has reduced the annual loading of soil, silt and clay, from collapsing stream banks. The once eroding slopes now have a network of root systems holding the stream banks together. The once exposed soil and clay is intact in the fine and thick mat of roots that are also adding carbon to the soil.
Unlike a garden or a piece of tended ground, like a flower bed, the planted willows and tree cuttings are left on their own, so the survival success rate varies. The program depends on many plantings over the years, to establish a healthy riparian zone. The best place to start planting is right along the water’s edge, because this is where the fish habitat created can benefit the trout fishery the most.
The importance of woody structure is huge, for a healthy spring creek, trout fishery. The growth towering over the stream channel can provide shade and help keep the water temperatures in the preferred range by the resident trout population. Beavers don’t seem to mind either! However, this is all natural, so not only the fish and beavers benefit from the new riparian growth. I do love to watch the birds, while walking the path along the creek. Then there is the growing mink population that I see along the Bighill. The mink are also abundant along Nose Creek and West Nose Creek, thanks in part to the crawfish population in those streams.
It has now been 13 years since the completion of the Millennium Creek restoration program, in the town of Cochrane, Alberta. A small stream that had been loading with silt from roadside run-off, the trampled stream banks from livestock damage for years, was now restored to its historic channel width. The stream was suddenly brought back to life when the trout starting spawning in the creek that very same year that the project was completed.
Now, after the 13 years of mother nature taking care of the final details, and despite some vandalism, the creek is in perfect health. The newly created narrow stream channel has maintained its proper width and the enhanced fish habitat provides cover for those trout that migrate up the small creek to spawn. Also, the new fish habitat provides a home for the young trout that hatch from eggs every new year.
The clean, clear spring waters of Millennium are rich in nutrient, which makes the stream very productive for life, including a good food supply for nursery stream juvenile trout. The Millennium Creek is both a nursery stream for young trout and a spawning tributary, which makes the creek very important to maintaining trout populations in the Bighill Creek.
Recently, I was walking the creek and decided to use some old photos for a before and after comparison of what transformations have taken place on the stream, since it was restored in the four year Millennium Creek Project. When I got home and looked into the old photo files, I found the one shown below. It shows how a length of the creek looked like in 2004.
This has also been the 13th year of a trout hatch on Millennium Creek. The success rate for incubation and hatch of brook trout eggs on Millennium Creek has been high, which is good. This means lots of new generations of trout to replenish the wild trout populations on Bighill Creek. An additional spawning channel was constructed on Millennium Creek in 2010, so this added to the numbers of hatched eggs on the creek, annually. The restoration was a success, but now to have a trout hatchery in the town, is just wonderful, and it is all natural. The urban trout hatchery, what a concept!
It could have been two urban hatcheries in town, but the loss of the Ranch House Spring Creek spawning and living habitat, was a major shock to the Bighill Creek trout fishery. So Millennium Creek is our only hope, outside of the fact that there is still spawning in the main stem of Bighill Creek. A good sign of how landowners upstream of Cochrane, have taken good care of the watershed, but this is never a guarantee for future, so we all must be vigilant. I know that watershed groups like the Bighill Creek Preservation Society can and will play an important role in this.
This fall was a good time for the aquifers in our area, there was enough rain and snow before the freeze up to top up the water storage for this next spring. The creek channel was full of water right up to the grass this fall, which is a good indicator of maximum flow. All of the snow in the bush right now, is a good base for what is to come. The accumulation of ice and snow in the riparian zone and the north facing slopes, is required, to maintain storage for this next year’s melt. Trees and willows are a very important part of the watershed storage system. The wetland areas are high on the list of water storage areas as well.
When I was searching for photos for one of my books on fishing and the fishery in this area, the Glenbow Museum didn’t have a very large selection. If I recall there was only one that showed the Bighill Creek around the turn of the 1900’s. So it is hard to tell what flows might have been like historically. However, people would be surprised how much flow this creek is capable of. Some very long drought cycles can be flowed by some very long high flow years. Efforts to protect the upstream watershed have resulted in some very positive flow in recent years.
Ducks Unlimited did extensive work on the Hutchinson land, near the old Lochend Lakes area, which was once a very large wetland area, in the headwaters of Bighill Creek. There is another old Hutchinson wetland area on the west fork of the upper BH Creek as well. Due to the depth of the valley and the wetland areas, there is little chance of threat from development, but you never know these days. The DU work involved controlling water storage at key times in the spring, during nesting season for waterfowl. During those water storage periods, water can seep down into the aquifer and recharge the water table.
The tufa springs in the Bighill Provincial Park is a deep underground calcified spring water supply, which the BHC is dependent on for much of its water supply as well. Keeping the water supply in good condition involves not only conserving wetland areas but also protecting the deep springs of confined aquifers from any negative impacts. The water shed is very important for recharging aquifers as well, so we should protect those patches of timber and willows that enhance the landscape in our area. The wildlife would certainly not object to this effort!
I don’t know what Evan hooked this large brown trout on, but the pattern below is an all around good one for catching trout, using a fly. There is a wide range of color combinations to try, and to tie. The bead head helps sink the fly, so it is always a good option in your tying practice. Nowadays, the beads for the weight are sold in a wide range of colors and weights. However, the old brass color bead still works good and it is easier to find locally.
Although fly fishing on the Bow River near Cochrane isn’t what it once was, there are still a few good size browns to keep you interested. The nice thing about large brown trout, is that you only need to catch one in the day, to feel a great sense of accomplishment in these parts. The reproduction of this variety of trout is ongoing in the river itself and in the Bighill Creek as well. There are always plenty of wash downs from the Ghost Reservoir and upper Bow River that get flushed down into our reach of the river every spring, when there is a good run-off and the spill gates are opened up.
When I first started out with a fly rod, my main objective was to get good enough at it that I could catch a trout, or whitefish for that matter. This seems to be the general rule of the game, when you are starting out. After that first requirement has been accomplished, the next step is to learn how to tie a trout fly, which is very rewarding, even when you can’t catch trout on some of the first very imperfect trout fly patterns that depart from your fly tying vise to the nears trout waters. These ties that have been made up in your early efforts, may not all work, but if you are persistent, you will hit pay dirt, eventually.
When talk about the well rounded fly fisher, I am referring to someone who has learned how to tie a trout fly and knows a little about some the local aquatic invertebrate hatches, or bug hatches, whatever you wish to call the happening. These basic ingredients will not guarantee a reputation as an expert fly fisher, but it may put you on the map, in local circles, if that is where you want to go. However, just the satisfaction of being able to catch trout on a fly and have some good knowledge of the sport is really reward enough. It is nice when you can participate in conversations about hatches, patterns and good areas to try your luck.
After some of the basic fly fishing know how has been added to your on stream experience, your interest may be directed toward the conservation side of the sport, because it is, if you are interested in helping protect those trout waters that you love so much. A big part of the fly fishing journey in the future, will be related to stream protection and restoration. The restoration comes in when you finally figure out that you don’t need to drive 200 kilometres to get to the nearest trout stream, but you can wet a line on some nearby streams or even the river. After all, what is fly fishing, it is just an opportunity to experience nature in a pleasant setting, with plenty of trout to try and fool.
Recently, West Nose Creek in the city of Calgary has revealed its potential as a possible future fly fishing destination, for those that like to explore local waters. Presently, there are brown trout spawning as far upstream as just over 10 kilometres from the mouth on Nose Creek. This is the same location where I have caught a brown trout, the furthest up the system, so far, but I know they are slowly moving up the system. As the willow planting program progresses on the creek, the fish will find more suitable habitat to live in, further up the system. Realizing such possibilities also makes you a more well rounded fly fisher.
The same hold true for the Bighill Creek in Cochrane. So far the trout fishery recovery was going very well, but there have been a few set backs. The destruction of Ranch House Spring Creek, as a spawning tributary, and the poor fisheries management from the province , combined these two things are major set backs to the program. However, as time passes, good change will come, it is just a matter of time and foresight.
This land is changing fast. Presently, the Cochrane area has become a gravel pit mining capital of Canada, with land being stripped of the alluvial aggregate that is now so abundantly deposited in our area. Then there is the constant pace of development expanding out from the urban towns and cities in our area. If you think about it, much of the gravel ends up being transported some great distance to use elsewhere, putting a higher than normal demand on the product.
You would think that with the pandemic, the demand would be less, but it is such an essential product. I just don’t like to see the once pretty landscape getting so torn up. The most important thing is that any of these gravel pits don’t have any negative impacts on our local small streams. We have to plan smart and make sure we don’t make any big mistakes, like the Ranch House Spring Creek disaster.
Below are a few video links to show you what the Ranch House Spring Creek once looked like, and its importance to the trout population in the Bighill Creek. Please check out the old video:
As you can see, the Ranch House Spring Creek was once a very productive and important tributary to the Bighill Creek, and then the storm drain was constructed.
This winter, I am hoping to get some more of my slide photos digitized on my computer. The collection of may carousels of slides that I have accumulated over the years, prior to my digital camera years, is yet to be explored further. There are already some that have been scanned and recorded, but my scanner is not as efficient as it was, back in the day. The spawning trout photos that I am about to present to you, are from Canmore Creek, back in the 90’s, they do show some good spawning brook trout activity on the creek.
During a redd count, I would count the redds in the photo above as three brook trout redds. The depression in the streambed shows three redds in a straight line, with the mounds of gravel just downstream of the depressions. The depressions usually show the larger rocks, where only the lighter gravel could be fanned downstream. This left the larger rocks on the upstream side. This was a very active spawning site, for a number of years after the project was completed, but I have not been back to that stream in the fall, in many years. It would be nice to know if the trout are still spawning as actively in modern times.
If trout happen to be spawning within a community, this is a special thing, especially if the spawning is as important to the local fishery as it is in both the cities and town where it occurs around these parts. Canmore city has spawning habitats within the city boundaries, as well as Cochrane, Calgary and Airdrie. I mention Airdrie, because people are unaware that pike spawn within the city limits of Airdrie. The city of Calgary has spawning happening right in the Bow River and a number of tributaries that help keep this fishery alive. The city of Calgary has done a very good job of protecting its key spawning tributaries, and I am hoping that they continue with their support of protecting the West Nose Creek, where brown trout spawn every fall.
Large trout lay large eggs, when they spawn, and this insures a better chance of survival and larger trout during the hatch. A larger trout egg has more protein in the egg to support a fast growing trout, so if they have this extra boost of food to live off of, they also grow faster. This is why it is important to protect the larger mature trout, so they can continue the line of hearty generations of brown trout, in the future.
The creek is still flowing high, this is unusual for the Bighill Creek at this time of the fall. In places anchor ice forms in clouds across the stream bed. It is there for a few days and then it is gone, and then the same happens again. How tough this must be for the resident fish population, not just trout but all of the other important varieties of fish in the Bighill Creek. I like to watch the creek change thru the seasons, hoping to further understand how things work in the streams transformations. In places, ice dams have already been started and as the winter months past, this may be a lot more obvious to those that walk the trails.
When you have this much flow in the late fall, ice damming can be a problem, especially with constant weather changes, from sub-zero spells to warm chinook days. The creek is a beautiful place to admire nature, in an urban setting. This makes for a good excuse to get outside and enjoy part of the day, if you can. Many people are out in all climates, walking their dogs, so the trails are never deserted. The deer have been traveling about, due to the fact that the rutting season is now still underway. The deer have a preferred day time hang out in Glenbow Park, with plenty of open spaces to see what is going on.
Every now and then, I will see a buck chasing after a doe, back and forth, up and down the creek. It is really a good time to keep your distance from this activity, because some of the bucks can get a little moody. Dogs can especially be the target of an angry buck, if they wander in too close. The smaller dogs are a more enticing target if they don’t suddenly end up in the arms of their owners.
More Caddis Fun
This video is an amusing few minutes of the life of a caddis larva, with a round twig as a mobile shelter, kind of like a motorhome. Check it out.
Life below the surface can be very interesting to a fly fisher, or even those that would like to explore a new frontier. The more that we understand the aquatic world, the better our chances of protecting it. People in general will probably think that aquatic invertebrates are just bugs, but their lives are exciting to observe, under the surface. They are an important part of the food chain for all fish and this protein is what decides whether a trout population can thrive, in a small or large stream or river, or not.
The addition of aquatic invertebrate study will advance the intermediate fly fisher into a new world of exploration and fly tying fun. Just having a good understanding of what live in the water’s of a trout stream can improve your chances of catching trout on a fly.
Recently, someone emailed me a link to an article in Cochrane Now, about the proposed gravel pit on the Bighill Springs provincial park land. The reason I say park land is because what may influence the aquifer in the springs, in the park, may also have impacts on the fishery in the Bighill Creek and its water supply. This is something that we don’t know much about, but are very interested in. It is not clear if what any studies have shown, so we as the public, are very concerned. Something so unique and important as the Bighill Springs is of major interest to me, because we have all worked so hard to protect and restore the fishery on the lower reach.
There must have been some environmental assessment studies, prior to any licensing or permits were issued, so what stage are we at right now? Sometimes I wonder why the provincial government uses the term fish and wildlife, because when it comes to such matters as water in the creek and the fish that liver there, you would expect that things are being taken care of. This is what makes me personally feel uneasy about the whole matter, regarding the gravel pit. We Albertans have a bit of a red neck reputation when it comes time to forge ahead with any kind of development, as far as concerns for the environmental impacts studies, once required by law.
I am sure that if anything happens to the fishery in the creek, as a result of development in that particular area, DFO will step in and save the day, right? I like the fact that the group called the Bighill Creek Preservation Society is on the case and we look forward to hearing more about the topic in the future. To me personally, this is what watershed groups should do, in the result of any potential threats to our local trout streams. Thanks go out!
Bighill Creek is an Important Spawning Tributary to the Bow River
Both brown trout and brook trout presently spawn in the Bighill Creek. So it is very important to our local fishery that the trout in this creek are protected, and allowed to reproduce. Presently, the water quality in the creek is good enough to provide suitable spawning habitat for both of the fall spawners. The way the stream is recovering, the potential for possible rainbow trout is a real possibility, if the creek continues on its present course. We have come along way, since back when there were no environmental guidelines for transportation and development, but we still have to continue to be vigilant.
Just a Note
If you have to take a pee in the bushes along the Bighill Creek, make sure there isn’t a hidden trail camera taking your photo. This really aggravates me, when I am walking along the creek, I don’t like to be spied upon when I am fishing the creek. Do people that put up game cameras like to be spied on?
The many photos that are filed in my computer have some shots that are of interest to anyone that has a keen attraction to fish. The color of a trout might prompt me to take a photo for some future use, so there are plenty of those. The other day I was browsing some of my collection and I came across the shots of a brook trout that was blackish in color, and they was another photo of a sculpin guarding its clump of eggs, under a rock. I had to turn the rock over very carefully to get the shot I wanted. As soon as the rock was turned over, the fish swam right back to a position next to the eggs.
The flat rock that I turned over and discovered the sculpin and eggs, just looked like it might have something of interest underneath, because the large flat rock was positioned just off of the river bed, leaving a space underneath. The space below rocks is important to many aquatic invertebrates, like stoneflies, so finding that sculpin was a bonus. This is typical for fly fishers, turning over rocks is just part of the way you discover what the trout might be eating at that time. All creatures great and small are important components of a healthy bio-diverse eco-system.
The sculpin egg clusters are a unique way of how fish can incubate their eggs. The sculpin can fan water thru the egg clusters to keep them oxygenated and alive. Mountain whitefish are broadcast spawners, they lay their eggs over gravel and cobble, with the male fertilizing them as they fall into the gaps in the stones. Trout dig a nest and deposit their eggs in the depression made in the gravel. The eggs are also fertilized as they are laid down into the gravel. The Lake Trout or Grey Trout are also broadcast spawners.
The Fish Deserves A Better Name
The Lake Trout is the most commonly used name for this member of the Char family of fishes. The scientific name is Salvelinus namaycush. There are a lot of other names used to describe the Laker, but I like the native given names, mackinaw and masamacush. The lake trout name seems to generalized, meaning the trout that comes from the lake. I also like grey trout, even better gray trout. A magnificent trout such as the laker deserves a really good name, don’t you think? Even laker sounds better and it is shorter to say than lake trout.
The Ghost lake once produced some very large lake trout, but I haven’t heard of much being caught these days. Of course, I don’t fish much out there anymore, so this may be part of the reason of my being ill-informed. The harvest allowance is once again the main reason our fisheries are not what they once were. There are too many anglers with too much knowledge, cleaning out all of the mature trout. Fisheries biologists that are responsible for looking after this resource probably have a well used excuse for the lack of larger trout, if you were to ask them, but this is just typical. They don’t even know where the lake trout spawn on the Ghost! How pathetic is that?
The present day regulation for the harvest of lake trout in the Ghost is 5 trout of any size. Now that is ridiculous by any conservation standards. It almost appears to me that F&W is intentionally trying to destroy the sport fishery on the Ghost, maybe so they will have one less water body that they have to look after. No fish, no worries, right? You need a sense of humour in this case, to be able to cope with the disappointment of our local fisheries biologists and the poor characters that design the regulations.
All of the fish in the Ghost reservoir are wild fish, including the mountain whitefish, brown trout and lake trout. So where do they come from? Where do they spawn? How sustainable are the populations? These are not stocked fish, so if you allow harvest, is there enough reproduction to fill the void when the lake fishery is near to collapse? These are all questions that any fisheries biologist will know, if they are worth their salt and the position they fill. How can you manage a fishery, if you don’t know a thing about it? We Albertans are paying your wages, so you better get the job done!
This lack of attention for the Ghost lake fishery has been going on for years, yet they still don’t know where the lake trout spawn in the lake. They just write words down in the regulations that mislead the people into thinking that there are so many trout in the lake that they can allow a 5 fish daily limit. Is there something that all of us anglers don’t know about the lake. Sitting next to a hole in the ice for hours upon hours, waiting for just a bite on your lure, gives you plenty of time to think about just how poorly the fishery is managed in this area!
While conducting spawning surveys, there are two approaches, you can wait until the season is over and then do a redd count, and this works just fine. However, if you would like to take it a step further, you can monitor the spawning season to get feel for when the trout are actually spawning, and some their behaviors’ and such things. If you have restored a trout stream and actually added spawning gravel, you need to see if it is working properly, for the trout. This is the best way of learning which types of velocities, depths and stream contours are utilized the most. This can further be defined as furthering my own knowledge of spawning habitats.
I have witnessed trout fanning egg nests or what we call redds, for many years, but it is very difficult to get a still shot of this happening, because the fanning is very brief, it happens too fast. I could use a still shot frame from some video that I have, but the quality would not be very good. On the photo shown above, I just lucked out, with this shot. The clear water always helps. In the photo below, you can see how clear water shows how bad some streams are with silt loading. The picture of the fanning brook trout below, was taken on the Fallentimber creek, many years ago.
Whether there are still any trout left in that particular part of the stream is unknown to me, I haven’t fished the stream in that area for many years. The frustration of seeing how our wild trout streams get abused in that region of the province is just too much for this old fly fisher. The off roaders have really chewed up the stream channel in places. This is why I am committed to doing something to take care of our local trout waters, even if it means working close to home, on local streams. If we can keep the cattle, horses and mudders out of the creeks, we have some chance of saving them.
Really small spring creeks are much easier to protect, if you have some support from the landowners. The larger streams need the province to step up to take care of them. Smaller trout waters can be fenced or left to their own demise. In areas where there is no livestock, there may be plenty of human traffic, including dogs. In urban settings, if dogs are left to run unleashed, the damage will follow. Around Cochrane, there are a few small streams that need constant attention, but it is worth the investment in time and money, to preserve what we have.
The last photo of spawning trout, in a silty stream bottom, should give you a pretty good idea of the struggle wild trout have to survive, if a creek is in very bad condition. The right to life, for wildlife, must be an important consideration when city, town and municipality managers are planning any developments close to a flow stream. Because life abounds below the surface, as well as above, on a trout stream.