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             Introduction:

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.

All Kinds Of Willows

This wolf willow or silverberry was planted along the stream banks of Bighill Creek. It is important to maintain a diverse selection of native willows that would typically adorn the stream banks of Bighill Creek. Wolf willow is a beautiful willow, with yellow flowers that are the most fragrant native willow flowers, and one of my favorite smells while trout fishing the stream banks of the Dogpound Creek.

The Wolf willow has a latin name “Elaeagnus Commuitata”, which is one of the more catchy names of all of the native plants we plant. It is a clonal colony willow that will sucker into a patch over time, with one mother plant. The planted willow shown in the photo is planted in a patch of snowberry, which have a very limited root system and this wolf willow will help maintain stream bank stability. These are planted in limited quantities, so that they don’t dominate the riparian cover along the streams.

These are our planted willows, growing along Bighill Creek. There are more in the tall grass, yet to stand out in the thick cover. This is how our riparian plantings can appear in the early stages of growth. The snowberry shrubs will continue to grow, further up on the top of the stream bank. You can see a sandbar willow growing in the mix. This plants latin name is “Salix Exigua”. Some people also call the willow “coyote willow”.

A wide variety of different native willows and trees are used in our “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program”. There is a reason for this. Only the most hearty of plants will survive and in some cases, you need to plant a variety of native stock to achieve this goal. Only time will show what plants are meant to be. This is natures way of revegetating a riparian zone, with native willows and trees.

These are all planted native willows, there are four in the photo. One, on the downstream side of the most obvious two plants, is a sandbar willow. It is growing slowly, when compared to the others, but what you may not know, is that it was planted just a year ago and it is still in its early stages of development. This was the only way that these plants would survive, being planted in a thick stand of canary grass, they were planted right along the water’s edge.

The water was still pretty high and muddy, in the Bighill Creek, when I recently took the photos above. Nice to see that even during high flows in the creek, our willow plants are thriving. When these particular style of plantings are maturing, they will provide the maximum amount of habitat that can be created on a wild trout stream. No one will know that they were ever planted, and this is kind of the catch, in order to do a good job of riparian restoration, you need to emulate nature. Nature will take care of the rest, once the plants are in the proper placing along the stream banks, the earth they are planted in will take the plants for the rest of the way on their life’s journey.

This planting from last year, is growing slowly, but this is typical in some locations along the stream bank. Sometimes multiple plantings are required before you achieve the goal you have set for yourself. Never be in too big of a hurry, and your patience will be rewarded in the end.

Long Grass Provides Overhead Cover For Trout

The long grass growing along Bighill Creek provides really good cover for resident trout. Canary grass is the most effective tall grass for this type of trout habitat. Some of the grass will stand back up, when the warner dry weather returns, but some of the grass will stay put into the fall.

What I am impressed by the most, when it comes to shoreline grasses and sedge, is the amount of insects that live in this tall grass and sedge. Once, while collecting canary grass seed, I discovered just how many insects the tall grass provides. Harvesting the canary grass with a stick and tarp, like wild rice is collected, I found all types of insects living in the grass. This variety of terrestrial bugs would supply trout will an added food source, from this shoreline cover. When leaf hopper (jassids) season starts, in the summer, the grass is alive with lime green mini-hoppers, many of these end up in the creek, feeding hungry trout.

Our planted willows will do much the same. Small insects like ants are always found climbing our newly planted willows, and when the wind blows, some may fall into the creek, where wild trout will pick them off, one by one. This is all part of a healthy riparian zone and for those that fish for wild trout, they know that a healthy riparian zone means more trout and more large trout as well. The smaller trout need a series of micro habitats to survive their young lives, so added shoreline habitat will help keep these trout safe, until they can swim with the big trout.

This variety of willows and trees were planted in our program on Bighill Creek. The left tree is a balsam poplar, then a sandbar willow to the right and a lutea Salix, before another sandbar (Salix Exigua). Most of the cover on the far stream bank is snow berry, with some planted willows added here and there. There are a lot of bugs making this riparian cover their home.

What A Natural Stream Looks Like

This is what a healthy riparian zone looks like now, in the heart of Cochrane, Alberta. This particular section of the Bighill Creek appears remote and away from the daggers of development. Invasive plants, storm drains and the close-by town park area, put pressure on this natural gem.

This type of environment is exactly the type of environment that our native willow and tree plantings can create, over time. It is the best way to protect the stream and its occupants, both below and close to the water. A flowing spring creek needs stream bank stability, to preserve the few remaining natural eco-systems along the creek. The best way to stabilize the stream banks is with mature trees and willows. All of the woody debris that enters the creek, becomes habitat for wild trout and other fish.

These existing natural riparian areas are under intense pressure from urban influences, like storm drain run-off. The newer developments these days, have storm pond retention ponds built into the design, but the town of Cochrane has older areas where this is now impossible. With this in mind, you can understand why such areas require more attention.

Modern design on storm drain catchment and pre-treatment isn’t always the success story that it is suppose to be. When you look at the Ranch House Spring Creek, in Cochrane, as an example. Once the storm drain for a new development was constructed on the small trout spawning tributary to the Bighill Creek, the destruction of the creek began. Now the trout spawning and nursery habitat in the creek is pretty much totally in ruination. This happened very fast. Over a period of only approximately 7 years.

This graph shows the last few years of spawning on Ranch House Spring Creek. The 2014 failure to spawn, was a result of the pumping of Cochrane Lake water, into the Ranch House Spring Creek drainage.

The Ranch House Creek disaster could have been prevented, but not enough attention was paid to the trout fishery in the small spring creek. Is this creek dead for good or is there hope? It gets harder to be optimistic about such matters, but I still feel that some measures can be taken to save the creek.

Invasive Plants Move In

Over the years, I have monitored the invasive shrubs that have moved into the riparian zone, along the lower reach of Bighill Creek. The two most prevalent are the Manitoba maple and the Cotoneaster. Recently, more Tartarian Honeysuckle and now Lilac bush. These invasive shrubs are threatening the natural biodiversity of our riparian zone. Eventually, I suspect that there may be some efforts from our parks to deal with the invasion.

The light green growth on the side hill of the valley is Manitoba Maple. The mother plant is located on the top of the slope, on the left side of the photo. The seeds cast down onto the hillside are quickly spreading.

The Manitoba maple is an introduced plant from the province from which it is named. Settlers, desperate for wind break trees, would bring these hearty trees out West, on their journey to farm the barren prairies. You would often find an old homestead, where you find the Manitoba maple tree. Everyone knows what a maple leaf looks like. The younger plants are different in appearance, so take a good look at them, next time to walk that area.

This is a Cotoneaster, growing close to the Bighill and now taking over many native plants.

The Cotoneaster is from the Orient (i.e.: Korea), where it is abundant. North Americans brought it over for hedge plantings. The Cotoneaster comes from hedge rows along the houses at the top of the Bighill Creek valley, on the lower reach. I predict that this plant will totally take over the native riparian zone on the lower reach of Bighill Creek.

In this photo of the Bighill Creek, you can see that the Cotoneaster has totally taken over the left side of the stream bank. The existing natural riparian area on the right side of the channel may fall victim to an invasive over time.
Tartarian Honey suckle is growing well and spreading, along the lower reach of the Bighill Creek.
Tartarian Honeysuckle is recognizable by the scaly bark and pinkish flowers.

Tartarian Honeysuckle is from southern Russia and south into Kazakhstan. It was also brought to North America for hedge plantings. It produces an orange berry in the late summer and autumn. The berries are eaten by some animals but they are not edible for humans.

Lilac bush flowers are easily identified. There was at least one planting of a Lilac bush on the lower reach, by someone. Now the plant is starting to spread in that particular area.

The Lilac bush is a popular ornamental bush in areas all over the community. Once started, it is very difficult to control.

The Great Migrations

Our reach of the Bow River usually has a lot of trout moving up and down the system. With this really high flow on the Bow, lots of trout are migrating up the smaller creeks that feed the river. Along the river banks, trout are holding close to shoreline in the high velocity flow and large volumes of it. It is really unusual for us to get so much rain and snow over the past few years, maybe we are in for a run of higher flows in our area creeks. All except the Horse Creek, here in Cochrane.

The railway crossing on the lower reach of the Horse Creek is an unpassable barrier for trout migrations. The water flows under the railway tracks in what use to be a concrete culvert, with a sudden drop down into a pool, on the lower end of the culvert. This is a dead end for migration upstream and this is why no trout have ever been electro-fished in the upper reaches. CP rail needs to take the initiative to resolve this problem.

On other streams, like the Grand Valley Creek, there is a man-made dam that blocks all traveling trout from the upper reaches of the once healthy trout stream. How this dam was approved is beyond my understanding. Rumor has it that large brown trout have been caught downstream of the dam on the Grand Valley Creek. I remember a hockey player friend of mine, once lived on the Burns Ranch, and he showed me a wild cutthroat trout that he caught in the creek, this happened many years ago.

The streams the north will also be going thru the same migration experience right now. The Fallentimber, Little Red and Dogpound Creek will all be flowing high, with trout on the move. This is how nature replenishes the trout streams with new resident members from either upstream or downstream. Every year, when the young trout hatch, there first great migrations will be downstream, with the flow. Then later on, they will migrate back upstream to find safe refuge on the main stem or a smaller tributary, until they are a larger size.

It is a nice experience to be going thru this stream transformation, in my own lifetime. I recall seeing Glenbow Museum’s collection of historic photos of the Bighill Creek, with large volumes of flow on the creek, shown in the photos. With this higher volume of water coming down the stream, the creek will transform in habitat. More pools and deep runs. More productive riffle areas, producing more aquatic invertebrates. This adds more life to the stream, along with more habitat for hiding wild trout.

Late June – Early July – Trout Flies

The Bow River is still high, so the stone fly hatch will still be on when the waters start to go down. The golden stone dry and nymph are a must have item, in that favorite fly box of yours. Both of these large food bugs are high on the trout’s maniacal feeding frenzy favorites. The big bugs peak happening is in the late June and early July on average years, with hatches right thru summer and into the fall.

This pattern was fashioned after the Mitch’s sedge. It float well and is durable, even after numerous trout chewing it up on the catch end of things.
The soft hackle stone fly nymph is a wonderful imitation of the nymph. The full back is secondary pheasant tail, stacked two thick over the back. Soft hackle gives lots of movement to the legs,which would be constantly on the move when the nymph is washed free of the rocks.
The Bow River in Cochrane is still flowing high and fast.
The spring flowers are in bloom, along the banks of the Bow River. The flowers above are on a bush Cinquefoil, also called Pontentilla. This wild flower bush comes into bloom with these pretty yellow flowers on the open grassy areas along the river.

How Our Plants Handle The High Water or flood events

Floods, post planting, can be hard on our native willows and trees that we plant. The big problem is floating debris, like grass, branches and logs. If the floating debris large enough, it could strip off the small, developing limbs of our cuttings. Some plants will not survive some flood events, while others will fair alright. This is all normal, nature can be cruel to both animals, insects and plants. Post flood, the surviving plants will flourish, with all of the water and nutrient that flows onto them, they will quickly recover.

This planted cutting has survived the flood and when the water recedes, it will grow fast. The grass and leaves that wrap around the shaft of the cutting plant will enrich the soil, over time.

It is spring – animals and birds are having their young

The other day, on my morning walk, a small wren flew out of a hedge of cotoneaster and it landed right in front of me, at the base of the hedge. The tiny bird proceeded to jump and fly a few feet, just ahead of me, as I walked the paved path toward the creek. I already knew it had a nest in the hedge and the bird was doing just what all nesting birds will do, when their nest is threatened. It is that time of the year.

I have been avoiding certain areas where does have their fawns, when I am conducting my work programs. That same morning, a little later on, I spooked two mallards, a drake and hen, from under the path bridge on Bighill Creek. The two birds flew a short distance and landed in the creek, just upstream of the bridge. I knew that their nest was close by, and possibly a batch of young birds.

A few days before my encounter with the wren and ducks, I was walking on the path, downstream near the mouth on the Bow River. Close to where the lower Millennium Creek bridge is, a doe mule deer came out of the bush and walked by me towards a gentleman and his small dog. The deer then proceeded to threaten the small dog. I yelled that the deer probably had a fawn close by, but the man was too concerned at the time, to reply.

It was like the gunslinger stand off, the mans and his dogs eyes were fixed on the doe, which was only a few metres away and closing, with eyes also locked on the two, pedestrian and companion. The deer had its two front legs firmly planted, in fighting mode. The deer was probably defending her territory and the fawn nearby.

Knowing that there may be a problem, I walked in between the man, his dog, and the deer. I clapped my hands a few times and the deer backed off. I continued on my way and the man turned around and retreated from the area, his dog in tow.

It is a time to be careful, if you have a pet and walk the trail and path system along the creek.

Get A Grip

The first photograph that I saw of Gary LaFontaine was on the dust cover, on the back page fold of one of his books. The book was Caddis flies. He was casting a light weight rod over a hatch of adult Caddis flies. the book was about fishing Caddis flies, so I assumed that he was fishing them in the photo. In any case, the first thing that caught my attention was his grip on the fly rod that he was casting. His pointing finger was on the shaft of the butt section of the fly rod. This type of grip is rare, but also well know in the fly fishing community. The use for such a delicate looking hold on your fly rod can only be explained as; an aid in casting a fly accurately, and with a very light presentation on the water.

Often, when you are casting tiny may flies or Caddis flies over picky trout, you need to use all of the tricks up your sleeve. If your grip is part of this specialized art form, then you utilize it as you would any tool. I suspect the fly rod was a light weight, because this type of grip would also cause injury to your finger, if you were double hauling an 80 foot cast. The grip that I use, is the most common among instructors and other expert fly rod casters. The thumb is placed on the side, opposite the reel, or in a position with the reel just slightly angled up, to keep the reel handle out of the way of your line stripping.

One of the reasons for this, is that this will limit your wrist movement, which is very important, especially when you are learning how to cast. If you bend your wrist to 90 degrees, your thumb is also at 90 degrees to your forearm. If your thumb and wrist are straight inline with your forearm, you can only bend your wrist 45 degrees. The bottom line here, is that you are not suppose to bend your wrist more than 45 degrees, when you cast the fly rod. This is why it is so important to make sure you have a good grip on things.

It makes sense, when you consider how important the position of your thumbs is, in gripping a golf club or iron.

Photograph: Evan Marten – I tied some buggers up for Evan and he put them to good use, right away!

Close To Home

A flowing trout stream will mesmerize you with quite beauty. If you hold that glance for a minute, you will feel the comfort that the moving water will bring you. Maybe a rising trout will catch your attention, but you need to be watching closely. Even smaller, tiny mayflies may be floating down the stream on the surface film of the water. Riding the currents and in some places the choppy water of a riffle, where the velocity and gradient is steeper and quicker, flowing over gravel, cobble and boulders. There is always something to see along a trout stream.

To be able to have such views on our community trout streams, we need to take care of the riparian habitat. There is something about nature that will draw you into its grasp. Scenes like the one above, are what lure nature uses, to hold your attention. I became addicted to nature, from an early age, and once hooked, it is for life.

Fun Day On The Lake

Parker Amakkreel (left) and Evan Martens helped me out with an angling survey on a nearby lake yesterday. It was glass comb on the lake, and you could see the trout cruising by in front of you. Perfect morning for lake time.

These Green Days

The willows growing along this stream bank, were all planted, as part of the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program. The early plantings started in 2014 and continued up until a few years ago. The stream bank on the near side of the creek is still being planted.

12 Years Since Millennium Creek Project was Completed

The small spring creek is hidden with a cover of sedge, shrubs, with an over cover of native trees and willows. Perfect canopy for hiding wild trout, which are mainly very small. The restoration program was completed in 2008, with more spawning enhancement completed in 2010.

Wild brook trout have been spawning every year since the creek was worked over. The trout eggs have successfully incubated and new generations of trout have lived on to reproduce again and again. Is that worth taking care of?

Really Small Streams are Important To Wild Trout Populations

The photo of Millennium Creek just below, is an example of a prime nursery habitat for juvenile trout. I have never fished this small creek, because it is just perfect for yearly trout to live safely. The undercut stream banks and plentiful woody debris, make the stream ideal for hiding trout. Since the small creek was restored to life, in the mid 20’s, the creek has been vital for juvenile trout populations. This is why it is so important to protect it.

If we can’t look after something so precious, then we have a real problem, don’t we! If you look at the photo a few times, you can begin to understand we are dealing with a unique Eco-system that is located right in our back yard. That is with a capital E. Eco-system or riparian environment, it all means one thing, life depends on it, both above and below the surface of the stream. Some people consider any stream that they can’t catch trout in, as a waste of real estate, but after some careful thought, small trout are important in the end for these individuals.

Sometimes I wonder, how many people really care about such things, but I know there are plenty. Change in how we deal with such vital things as water and the streams that provide it, are in the works. The sooner the better! Before they are damaged for good. Restoration costs are high, but worth it, if the streams that are restored by people are protected in the future.

The low growing shrubs and downed timber create a unique habitat for juvenile trout.
The flows in the Bighill Creek are just starting to go down a bit. This is where a lot of small stream trout end up, in the main stem of the creeks that they flow into.

Young Stream Tenders

A new generation of stream tenders is happening and it just happens to be anglers that fish the local waters. They are vested stake holders and would like to see a healthy trout fishery in this area. Both are good anglers and do well on the local haunts. Evan Martens and Parker Amakkreel both also helped me on an angling survey work in our area. This is an excellent way of keeping fisheries managers aware of how poor the trout fishing is in a given stream, or how good it is.

Young anglers Parker Amakkreel (left) and Evan Martens, also helped me tend some maintenance work on Millennium Creek. I greatly appreciate their help.

Who will take care of our trout streams in the future? It is the younger generation that I have faith in. They are very smart and they realize that their recreational angling can only be world class, if they have enough wild trout to keep everyone happy. It is so easy, but it takes dedication, hard work and good support from those provincial biologists that have a responsibility to look after our wild trout fishery.

The angling survey that we completed on Harmony Lake was a fun experience and I do appreciate the help from both Evan and Parker. These guys are a lot of fun to fish with! It was exciting to see how fast our first stocking of brown trout were growing, after being planted in the lake in the fall of 2018. The lake enrichment program has succeeded, and the lake is now very productive and ready for more trout to be stocked, as part of the management plan. we are well on our way to creating a fantastic sport fishery in the future.

The most abundant aquatic plant to be started in the lake was the Chara weed. Now the bottom of the shallower, light penetrating areas on the lake, are covered with this plant. The abundance of aquatic invertebrates in the Chara, has provided a fantastic food base for the trout. It is exciting to think what the future of this lake fishery has in its potential.