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!
Every now and then you get a good day for photography, and I did myself, recently. The light was just right and there were plenty of young trout swimming out from their cover habitats. I took some video as well. I couldn’t pass up on some good and fortunate circumstances for photographing baby trout.
There seems to be a noticeably high number of newly hatched trout this year, in Millennium Creek. This surprises me, because the during the spawn, only 18 brook trout redds were documented on the creek. The appearance of numerous trout will be good for the Bighill Creek into the future. The reliability of this little stream to produce such high numbers of new trout for the system is really good news to report.
Video of the young trout
The video sequences below, will show you some small brook trout fry, feeding on a sunny day. There was a hatch of small midge flies about, so the young trout were focusing their attention on the surface of the stream. These are all Millennium Creek brook trout from the winter hatch.
All of the trout video and photos is carried out on areas of the Millennium Creek, where restoration and habitat enhancement work has occurred. Which basically means that the areas in the photos, are habitats that were created by the hand of women and man, during the MC program. This makes everything worthwhile.
The Millennium Creek Program was completed by Bow Valley Habitat Development, its partners and volunteers. Guy Woods, director of BVHD, was responsible for project design, and the successful implementation. All of the projects were carried out with all of the necessary provincial and federal agencies involved thru permits and authorizations. A “Big Thanks” goes out to Andy Degraw, from the Town of Cochrane, parks and facilities. Andy was key in getting the “ball rolling” on this endevour.
I feel lucky to have had such a great day of photographing something I love to see. It is a real privilege to preserve a glimpse into the secret world of baby trout. The interestingly diverse habitats in which the tiny trout thrive is also impressive.
On my walk along the creek today, I met one of the team members for the Millennium Creek Restoration Project. We stopped to chat for a bit and then it was time to part ways. I had mentioned that I was on my way to the Millennium Creek that afternoon, to hopefully get a few photos of recently hatched brook trout. As it turned out, I did get some photos later on.
Having been involved in the restoration of Millennium Creek, and conducting follow up reports, is something that I enjoy doing. There was the first spawning event occurring just weeks after the completion of the restoration program in 2008, so we have had reproduction occurring since that first year. The total number of spawning events per annum is now 13. With an average number of trout redds in the twenties range, that would mean that a lot of new trout are hatched every year, from Millennium Creek’s spawning beds..
It is nice to be able to inform all of the partners and volunteers in this Millennium Creek project that things are working out just fine on the creek. The added coverage also contributes to the publics interest in maintaining and protecting such a unique natural asset, here in the community of Cochrane, Alberta.
There is definitely interest in protecting the Millennium Creek by some locals and all of the volunteers and partners. A lot has been invested in this stream so far and it would be a shame to loose any part of it. The stream and its riparian habitat are all sensitive environments that need to be preserved. As long as the clean ground water flows, this creek can continue to thrive with life. It is an important part of our community now.
You may not have the opportunity to experience some of the things that I have, in observations of the stream’s life, but just knowing that things are alright, should give you some piece of mind. The natural environment of a flow stream can provide all types of life. We should feel responsible for such things.
Spring Planting Is Not That Far Off
This year’s “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program” will be a good one. Not as large as some of the previous years, but big enough to make a real difference. The May start date is not that far off, so I am starting to get more excited about getting on the stream banks and planting more native willows and trees. We have made quite an investment so far, with over 70,000 plants in the ground, since the first year in 2014.
New Addition To Trout Flies (Check out menu above)
The first reveals of new generations of trout that have hatched in 2020 is a great time to boost ones optimism and look forward to the future of the fishery. Recently, I reviewed some of the video footage and photos of young trout that I have accumulated over the years. It is important to document and compile photo evidence of such things for future reference, like establishing a baseline. There is always a good chance that all of this natural aquatic life may disappear, but this is a fear that I hope will not come to pass.
It is like the old Joni Mitchell song lyrics; “You don’t know what you got, till it’s gone!”. That is one of the first environmental tunes that I recall from my youth.
Only a small percentage of the eggs laid down to incubate, will eventually hatch. After a small number of trout fry emerge from their spawning beds, only a small number of those will survive to see their first year’s end. This is just the way nature works for wild trout. Trout are very environmentally sensitive and they are often considered “Canaries In A Cage”, as indicators of the condition of the water and their natural environment. Very vulnerable to pollution and loss of habitat.
The spring creek tributaries that allow for such an abundance of life, including the spawning, incubation and hatching of trout eggs, are very important to entire aquatic balance in the main-stem of the Bighill Creek. One of them has almost been total destroyed by a storm drain inflow, from a nearby development. I doubt if there is much hope for the future of Ranch House Spring Creek.
When trout eggs hatch into trout larva, their tails and fins are under developed and it takes weeks for this transformation. During that period of time, the trout are relatively poor swimmers. The trout fry are just learning how to get about and over time the word quickly can be added to this statement. It takes time to develop muscles and sharpen their mobility. After a few weeks, when the trout become better at swimming, they will venture further away from their nursery habitats.
Something that you will notice in all of the photos of young trout that I show, the water is crystal clear, yet the environment is rich in nutrient and there is a constant food supply for young trout. Some years the trout egg hatch is high in number and there are lots of new young trout to photograph.
In all of the years that I have monitored the winter hatch of trout, I have never seen any sign of whirling disease. The pure spring creek ground water is most likely why the parasite has not yet made it up into the headwaters. Wild trout are especially vulnerable to whirling disease, in their first weeks of free swimming. The young trout have soft, undeveloped spinal cartilage. This makes them an easy victim of the parasite, often transmitted thru the water as spores.
Juvenile Brook Trout on Ranch House Spring Creek
The Ranch House Spring Creek was once a spawning tributary to the Bighill Creek, but a new storm drain has destroyed what once was. The video below shows newly hatched trout in the creek, before it was changed forever.
The chart above shows a zero for the year 2014, in which there was no spawning on RH Spring Creek. The reason for this was that the creek was used as an outflow, while pumping down a nearby lake that season. The water quality was very poor and the trout sensed this and didn’t spawn that fall.
The saying “Hope Springs Eternal”, the proverb means that “it is human nature to always find cause for optimism”. So the title above can mean this also applies to the new growth on plants that at first looked like they were goners. That is just a passing thought, when you look at the photograph below:
This new growth that appeared a few years later, on the plant shown above, was something that I have seen before on numerous occasions. It is very uplifting to witness a tough little plant that is hanging onto life. After all, the planting site has not seen a healthy riparian zone of willow growth, in many decades. Now there is hope for new generations of willow plants. It is all about resilience!
As long as there is enough moisture and roots to sustain a plant, they may struggle, but eventually they may show signs of survival. It is kind of like life in general, for many of us humans on this planet. This is why it is an important lesson to teach young people how to plant willows and trees. They can see for themselves that our environments are fragile, just like human beings. If we end up with in-fertile soil along our streams, the recovery will be long and difficult for our native plants, like willows and trees.
Unstable Stream Banks Are Now Showing Recovery
I enjoy planting native willows and trees along unstable stream banks, the rewards are so evident after only a few years of growth. When you plant cuttings into exposed soil, there is no immediate competition from other types of plants, for a while anyway! This lack of competition for moisture and nutrient gives the new plantings a great advantage, for that critical first season of growth. Once the plants are established they can flourish with the good start, growing thick over time.
The Winter Emergence Has Begun
I didn’t have time to get down to the creek and check for January emergence, but I did find newly emerged trout later on. Yesterday as a matter of fact! This is fantastic news, once again, and this makes the 10th year that trout eggs have successfully incubated and hatched in the Millennium Creek Spawning Channel. A project that has proven itself over and over. This is uplifting to me every time. Seeing a new generation of tiny trout appear in the harshest weather, mid-winter, is a sight to behold.
The recently hatched brook trout in the photos are living in a microscopic world. That is why they have such large eyes in relationship to their body size. Over time, this will change and they end up like the more familiar looking trout. During their first year, the trout fry live on a diet of Diptera, like the smaller Mosquitoes, Gnats and Midges, along with other small food items. Tiny shrimp are common, and the earlier stages of hatched Mayfly and Caddis fly larva.
After a brook trout egg hatches in the early winter, the trout larva will spent weeks in their gravel beds, so they are quite comfortable at hiding in the gravel and cobble of a stream bed. There are predators about, including large water beetles, dragonfly nymphs and other aquatic predators. Birds like Dippers, Grebes and Mergansers feed on young trout, so there are threats from above as well.
The past two seasons have seen good survival rates for our planted native willows and trees. The large rainfall in the spring and summer has helped sustain good moisture for newly planted stock. The quality of the soil that we are planting in is relatively poor, so any boost from a wet or damp ground is well accepted.
It is the new limbs with buds already formed that will fair well in the spring this year. A nice fact new branch, with plenty of flex, indicates a healthy appendage of new growth. The fat branches retain enough moisture to prevent the branch from drying out, over the winter months. There is also a certain color to the branches that is hard to explain, but to the experienced planter it is easy to recognize.
I like using small diameter cuttings that have been rooted and already have top development, when they are planted. As is the case on most riparian plantings that I have had something to do with, there will always be failure, if the soil is poor and not moist. The small plants will tell you if they in the wrong location on the stream bank, and at the wrong time. They will just die. That is the way it works in a natural environment, with no tending by the planter, other than the initial planting.
Rodents also play a role in the long term outcomes of planted sites, along streams. Everyone wants a piece of the action, including muskrats, mice, voles, gophers and yes of course, beavers. If the plant can survive the first season, chances are pretty good that the plant will survive into future years. This is mainly with willows, not trees. willows have evolved to survive ungulate, beaver and other rodent grazing. If the beavers are starving and there are few willows, they will bite the willow base right off at near ground level. This may not leave any buds or bud nodes left on the plant, and the new willows will die.
The plant will provide multiple new shoots, after the beavers have taken most of the maturing wood off of the plant. The plant is still growing, so the root systems are getting larger every year. Some willows will create shoots from roots, further away from the water’s edge.
More Trout Flies From My Collection
Although the trout may be slowly disappearing from some area streams, I still have fond memories of some great days on the water. My old classic trout flies bring back memories from my youth, when trout fishing with a wet fly was magic to me. It is nice to look at some of the old classics that remind me of those special days.
“The title sounds like a building where ice is stored”, but it really means a small shack that is used for ice fishing. “It may have inspired the first tiny home“, which is now a new trend for some. The reason I compare an ice shank to a tiny home, is the conveniences that some owners of ice shacks will install in their custom builds. This might be TV’s, Stereo Systems and other things to create the perfect getaway. Of course, the ice shack floor may have a few holes in it, unlike a tiny home would, and an oversized wood stove for those sub-zero days on the lake.
The Ghost Reservoir
The place where I have ice fished the most, and some would say too much, is the Ghost Lake or reservoir. Many an hour has been spent looking down a hole in the ice, contemplating life in general, and trying to avoid any bad thoughts about everyday life. This is fishing at its most dedicated, and if you don’t have an ice shack or some type of heater, your a real keener. Some enjoy facing the elements, by having the right clothing and keeping the wind to their backs. I have been there and it can be very uncomfortable. Nowadays, I have a small foldup, on a chair, for those nice days.
Ice fishing is definitely a form of escape. A place far from four walls and a TV, and come to think of it, some are escaping other things that we won’t discuss. I just know that it is a very peaceful type of recreation that I have loved to do, over the years. The sound of a hand cranked ice auger is still a comforting sound to my ears these days, in the early hours before first light. The annoying pitch of power augers usually means that someone is moving in on your favorite spot. The sounds of solitude and a single hole in the ice, is often much more rewarding than having twenty new holes to choose from, if you really want to relax and enjoy the day.
By the time the guy with the power auger is finished drilling too many holes in the ice, the trout have long since retreated from the area! Oh well, this is just part of the experience these days, and you wouldn’t want to convey your own personal thoughts to the guy that is now by the way, fishing only a few feet away. This can happen to you, just try not to yelp and holler too loud, when you catch a fish. The queiter approach will help in your quest for solitude.
Eventually, the fish in the Ghost Reservoir get nearly fished out. Fished Out; This is a term that means that almost all of the fish have been caught by anglers. Then the serenity of the lake starts to become more peaceful again. Thus the cycle begins again, the trout and whitefish populations may slowly start to recover again. This seems to be how we manage our fisheries these days.
There are two new additions to the main menu above. One is titled the Millennium Creek Project and the other is about our volunteer groups. It is a photo essay of past planters in our “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program”.
In the photo essay, you will see from the smiles, everyone is having a good time. They know that they are doing something beneficial to the environment. Close to where they live, as well.
Having nature and a small trout stream, right down the block, it is easy to escape the walls of home for a brief walk. There are always deer or signs of their presence, crisscrossing the trail. I feel lucky to have such a retreat so close to my house. It would be too bad to have to travel some distance to find a little bit of nature. Fortunately, the City of Calgary, also has some waterways that also provide some nature reserve along their course. It is important to have access to some nature in our lives, it is like having your spirits lifted by a bit of this earth, and its natural environments.
One of the highlights of my winter experience is to monitor the trout hatch on some of our spring creeks where brook trout spawn, hatch and emerge in the winter months. A few photos are usually part of the program, so this may happen soon. Tiny trout can appear as early as January and as late as April and May. The hatch on the main stem of the Bighill Creek happens late in the spring, usually May. This was revealed in the 1999 Bighill Creek Fisheries Study, which is listed in the main menu at the top of this page.
This week has been harsh, weather wise. Temperatures have dropped down to minus 30 C and colder during the night. It has been a good time to work on the 2020 Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program. So far, we are looking pretty good for this spring. I will know more by March, on how big the program will be this year. However, I can guarantee that it will be productive.
Right now, while the severe weather makes everything outside an adventure, I will continue with getting the 2020 planting program off to a good start, by organizing some more partnership involvement. I know there are a few school groups that will be helping out this spring, so it is up to me to make sure they have a project to look forward to. They already have, so this is great!
The summer holds promise of a few tasks to perform, and one of these is to do some more photo documentation of our planting sites. A little video will also be on the agenda. Recently, DFO got in touch with me to get some update info for a survey that they are compiling on our program, of which they are a participant, and they want to complete some follow up. So any additional media coverage for our planting program is also good for spreading the word.
The highlight of this year will be to inspect and take a few photos of some of our first plantings that we have completed a number of years ago. Some areas should be pretty impressive, with plantings that are now standing out on the stream channel. What I really enjoy, is seeing how our plants have created trout and other fish habitat, not to mention, the eventual wildlife habitat that will result from our efforts.
There is a good chance that “Friends of the Nose Creek” group will be involved in another planting this spring. They expressed interest in a recent email, so we will be in touch later on this winter. The watershed group completed a planting with BVHD in 2018, on West Nose Creek, and if we do another planting this spring, it will take place in the same area, so that the members can observe their previous accomplishments.
Watershed groups are becoming more popular these days, with their efforts concentrating on one particular stream system. This is the best approach for a grass roots effort. It is surprising how many people have an interest in contributing to some local worthwhile efforts to conserve and protect their area streams, and the remnant ecosystem that is still hanging on, in many cases. These folks like to get their hands dirty and make a real difference. The friends of Nose Creek have done a great job of cleaning up many areas of the Nose Creek, in the City of Calgary.
One of the most critical areas for snow collection on stream watersheds, during the winter months, is the riparian zone and beyond. Willows allow snow to fall and collect around their base, on the ground. The snow falls through the leafless branches in the winter and slowly builds. In shaded valley bottoms, this snow will stay until spring. The sun’s arc across the horizon is low, so valley bottoms don’t get much of the sun’s heat, on those warmer Chinook days. Once the frost is out of the ground, the melting snow will percolate down into the ground and eventually into the creek.
The snow that falls thru winter poplars does the same, but there are a good bed of leaves on the ground, where the accumulating water freezes and can be stored as ice until spring. The spruce and pines will eventually shed the snow in the form of melt, the melting snow will flow as water into the ground cover of moss. The melt water will also form ice in the moss and be there for the spring thaw. The spruce trees in our area are mostly on the north facing slopes, so there is always lots of moss to store water in.
It is now only a few days until the new year and we have huge amounts of snow in the bush, along the creeks. If this keeps up, we may see a banner year for flow in the streams, come spring thaw.
Using Permanent Markers For Fly Tying
A neat little trick for tying multi color thorax nymph patterns is to use a permanent marker for color effects on your tying thread. The wing case on a nymph pattern is usually darker than the thorax underneath, so by darkening the thread with a marker pen, you can tie a more realistic pattern.
The marker pen ink should be left to dry a bit, before the head cement is added to the top of the wing case. After application, I leave the head cement a few seconds, before I blot the top of the wing case with my thumb, to take away any shiny cement. This leaves the top of the wing case with a more natural texture on the finished fly pattern.
This method of putting color permanent ink on the thread will save you having to change thread color for some patterns. I always have multiple color ink markers handy, when I am tying flies.
West Nose Creek Brown Trout – Moving Upstream
There is now a growing population of brown trout in West Nose Creek. In recent years, the spawning on West Nose Creek has occurred on the bottom reach, which includes about 10 kilometres of stream channel. This area is also populated with a growing number of brown trout. In the last few years, I have learned that other fly fishers have or are exploring the stream with their fly rods. This is great news, because now there are a few other anglers that can help keep me up to date on how the fishery is doing.
A few years ago, I was able to confirm a successful hatch of spawned brown trout eggs from the previous fall. This occurred when I actually caught a juvenile brown trout from the previous fall’s spawn on the creek. The trout was only 80 mm in length and I caught it on a size 20 nymph. The catch was made, just downstream of Harvest Hills overpass, on West Nose Creek, in the early fall of 2016.
A monitoring of trout populations on West Nose Creek will continue in the future. There are good spawning habitats further upstream, but it will take a few years before the trout can migrate up into the upper reaches, within the city of Calgary. I know that our willow and tree planting efforts will help create the well needed habitat to enhance what already exists, in pool and deep run habitats on West Nose Creek.