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!
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What most people call shrimp, in our local streams, are actually gammarus. This aquatic invertebrate has a very important role in the biodiversity of a trout stream. They are also plentiful in lakes and ponds, but in our immediate area, streams are more numerous. There are other varieties of shrimp, such as fairy shrimp and Mysis relicta, which fly fishers are most familiar with. The Kananaskis has lots of Mysis relicta or possum shrimp. They are named this for the simple fact that they swim upside down.
As has been mentioned by some experts, if you get good moisture in the fall, the creeks will flow good the following year. We have had a great year for flow on the Bighill Creek this year, and going into the fall, the water flow levels are still pretty high. This volume of flow is great for everything that lives under the water, so we are in pretty good shape. Recent snows, with more on the way, are helping to top up the ground springs and prepare for the winter months, and going into 2021, we should see levels like I personally have never seen, in the Bighill Creek.
The higher flows help create more habitat for the trout population and its food supply as well. So all is good water wise! We seem to make it thru a long period of dry weather in the late summer around these parts, with creek dropping slightly during that time window. However, the trout can handle a brief period of low flow, if they have some good habitat to retreat to. Other trout will migrate downstream into the Bow River for refuge. Some fish use the creeks as wintering habitats, if the flows are good.
One thing that seems to be absent these days are the large numbers of juvenile mountain whitefish that once moved into the Bighill Creek to winter over. I have not seen much for whitefish in the last five or so years. Even in the river, the numbers are down, from what I have heard. Whether there is recovery in the future for the mountain whitefish, this is yet to be determined. I have not read or heard much about why they have almost totally vanished from the Bow River in our area, except for a few reports of smaller fish being caught.
A good volume of flow in a small stream like the Bighill Creek, extends the growing season for trout, it also shortens the amount of migration necessary to move between habitats, when the water levels fluctuate. This reduces the overall stress for trout, which also keeps them healthier and more actively feeding. The trout will grow faster and larger, when the growing conditions are good. This is where habitat comes into play. There needs to be sufficient cover habitat for the trout, the more habitat the more trout.
If the trout are not significantly reduced in numbers by harvest, a healthy population can sustain itself. This is why I personally frown on the harvest of any trout from our flowing streams. Let the native birds and animals feed on the fish, like they are suppose to. There can still be a catch and release sport fishery active on a small trout stream. Actually, there would be an increase in the amount of sport fishing, if the stream was managed properly, as far as fishing regulations go. This would be the wise approach to maintaining a healthy trout stream.
There are a few really good anglers that got part of their start in sport fishing in our area, by fishing Mitford Trout ponds, the Bow River and the Bighill Creek. If their were no trout due to overharvest, these young folks would not have had their opportunity to get into a very rewarding form of recreation. After all, it is just about entertaining yourself, while sport fishing, and if there are no trout to entertain you, you soon forget about the creek. And it dies a slow death. If a trout stream has a purpose, in our society, it seems to be the only thing that draws the added attention, to take care of it. Very few people seems to think about such things, but this is the way it is.
In the meantime, I know of lots of people that do care about our creek, and so it is getting a little more attention than some other streams. The Bighill Creek has seen some significant improvements in recent years and it is primarily related to the increased flows in the stream. Along with a little help from willow and tree planters. The restoration of Millennium Creek has also made a major difference in the health of the fishery, by just being a primary spawning tributary and and nursery habitat for juvenile trout.
The Ranch House Spring Creek disaster made a huge impact on the fishery in the Bighill Creek. Trout once spawned in the Ranch House, but now the tiny spring creek eco-system has been totally altered by a storm drain system. This happened with little regard to the stream’s wild trout population and its importance as a primary spawning habitat. So this is why we need to protect what we have left. When I say we, I mean the trout and those of us that care about them.
In previous posts, I have mentioned how the Canary grass will relax in the late season, falling down onto the surface of the stream, at the water’s edge. The posts also mentioned how beneficial this is to the creation of fish and invertebrate habitat, above and below the surface. The recent snows that we experienced was a perfect time to take a few photos of this annual phenomenon, so this is exactly what I did. The melting snow had permeated the grass with moisture, bringing out the rich fall gold color of the stocks.
After a good look at this photo and many others, of Bighill Creek, you can see how important it is to preserve such natural beauty. Last night, I watched a Nova documentary on the restoration of a huge area of land in the headwaters area of the Yellow River. It amazed me how some very smart people, which are residents of the area, restored the entire land that they have been living on for thousands of years. These folks did it all by hand labour and the government paid them to do it. The net result was a more beautiful and productive land for both nature and farming. The government investment was returned by the increased productivity and the happier folks that now live a more rewarding life.
We have our own natural treasures, in this land, but we must protect them, before they are lost, some forever. It is evident that people that live near the Bighill Creek, and use the path system regularly, would agree about the importance of natural reserves, like the Bighill. This protection includes all life and habitat under the water’s surface, as well. Recently, I watched another television documentary, regarding the loss of our cod fishery down east. The program showed how both Norway and Iceland managed to save their cod fishery, before it was gone.
The Canadian cod fishery has been gone for over 30 years, and there is now sign of recovery yet. Then, I watched on the TV news, how both the natives and commercial lobster fishers are having a war over who gets the last of the lobster fishery in this country. Greed seems to be the prime motivation for the war. How can we manage our fisheries with politics playing such a major role. The DFO biologists that believe in sustainable fisheries have to cope with treaty rights that were designed in an earlier age and don’t particularly respect the danger of a collapse in the resource. The management of the amount of the harvest should be the priority here!
This is an issue for all Canadians, even if it is all happening on the east coast. We can start doing our part, here in the West, by taking care of our own resources, including the fisheries. Maybe this will help re-enforce the need for a new attitude towards the natural world and so it should be. Fighting to protect our natural resources, like our fisheries, is in everyone’s interest and this is a good fight. Those that fight to protect their own interests, at the cost of the resource that they are fighting for, are in it for the money, and not just their livelihood. A well managed fishery can benefit all. Just look at the Norway and Icelandic solutions.
Something that I do every fall, is watch trout spawn, while I conduct spawning surveys. The brown trout and brook trout are busy in the fall, because it is the time for procreation. The trout will first migrate to their spawning beds and then the courtship begins. Multiple males will compete to earn the right to spawn, the big guys usually win this competition. Then the process of spawning can begin.
The female, who has already dug a redd or nest in the gravel, is in no hurry to make her final decision, so some times the larger male will continue to nudge her to get her interested in depositing her eggs. The large males may have to continue to fight off any other males that don’t know when to give up. It is a simple process, but very important to the survival of the trout. Once the eggs have been deposited in the nest, the female will fan gravel over the eggs.
The female may guard the nest for a bit and then return to the creek or river from where it came. The male brook trout will stick around and wait for any other females that move into position and start to excavate their depression in the gravel. Sometimes, if no females show up, the males will move further upstream to check out what is happening at any other spawning bed that exists in the same stream. The fish have great sense of smell, and they can pick up the scent of any other fish, further upstream. Yes, fish have nostrils, but their smells are scents in the flowing water.
Starting To See The Change
It was 2014 when the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program first started and now the effects of planting native willows and trees is becoming more apparent on lots of stream banks, in our area. Some of the earlier plantings are now getting larger and the more recent plantings are coming along very nicely. It is always good to have a diverse selection of year classes as well as a good variety of native plants, to emulate what happens in nature. In the fall, the yellow leaves of the willows makes them stand out along the creeks.
This recent snow has certainly changed the look of the autumn colors along the trout streams. So it is a good time to use up the remaining nice shots of early fall that I have on file. The prettier side of fall seems to have been too short lived, but I suppose that is always the case. Now that the streams have made it thru to a well needed blast of moisture, this should guarantee good flows right into late winter. As you can see from the photo below, the stream levels were great, just before the first snow of the fall arrived.
As you can see in the photo, the new fall of late autumn leaves into the stream is enriching it for another year of good growth, both for the aquatic invertebrates that live beneath the surface, but also the trout and other coarse fish. When I say coarse fish, I mean suckers, minnows, sculpins, burbot and whitefish, if there are any of them left. Whitefish are not in very good shape as far as the fisheries go, but these days there always seems to be something in trouble in our local streams. So good flow in the creeks and a enriched trout stream is great news!
I once got some video of a tube cased Caddis Larva, struggling to get across the shallow water habitat, in a bit of a current. The bug would get washed free and roll along, like it was just a normal days outing. The Caddis had picked a hollow twig for its shelter, but whether it was responsible for hollowing out the small twig, is a mystery. The Caddis do have very strong mandibles, so it is possible. I observed a Great Late Summer Caddis Larva, eat a shrimp like it was a snack, one time, so I know that they can shred a core out of a decaying twig, with ease. Some members of the Caddis family are grazers, so they can eat plant material like a caterpillar would, a leaf.
There are a true tube cased Caddis fly larva, which make their own tubes, spun from the silk that they use to hold other types of cases together. The silk is like a glue, and the caterpillar uses the same kind of silk, thus the name silk worm. The Caddis featured in this video below, is a Caddis that has utilized the hollow twig, much the same way that a hermit crab would. The idea is to protect its vulnerable abdomen.
In any case, the video of the rolling caddis larva is an interesting view into the life of another aquatic invertebrate. Keep your eyes peeled for other invertebrates in the video. Please check it out.
You will also see a small Mayfly catching a ride on another cased Caddis shown in this video. Keep your eye open for this. There are other smaller cased Caddis larva in the show.
The First Snow
On October 12th, the first snow came during the early morning hours. My walk along the creek showed that the flows were even better in the creek this morning, due to the melting snow, but also the leaf clutter was starting to collect behind rocks and limbs in the stream channel. This nutrient added to the creek will provide great forage for some Caddis fly larva in the stream, and other aquatic invertebrates will benefit as well. The ground was getting pretty dry, but the plantings of willows and trees were already entering their dormant period, after a long growing season this year.
The beavers are busy building up their food cache and dams in some areas of the local trout streams. This submerged wood will also enrich the creek’s food supply for the insects and microbial life that benefit for it. This enrichment will be good for the winter months and when the ice melts in the spring, the added supply of fish food, will get things off to a resounding start to the open water seasons.
The colors of fall, despite the snow, are still hanging heavy along the Bighill Creek, here in Cochrane. The purple color of red osier dogwood leaves is very dark on some of the willows. A warmer jacket is now required for the start of my morning walks, if I am out the door too early. On my exploration of local trout streams, it seems the spawning is going to be a little later in the fall this year. Maybe the trout know something that we don’t.
While doing some video of Caddis fly larva, years ago, I caught some good sequences of a Mayfly nymph hitching a ride on the back of a cased Caddis fly larva. The small Mayfly nymph was using the case of the Caddis as a protective fortress, to travel some new territory. They may have been long time buddies for all I know, but the Mayfly seemed to be quite comfortable hiding in the package of timber that the Caddis fly was carrying.
The Mayfly uses the larger bug as a mode of transportation, much like in older times, a person would catch a train or hitch a ride. It reminds me of that old Leonard Skinner song: Going to Catch a Freight Train! There must be a level of thought.
In part of the footage, there are a few other smaller Caddis fly larva that momentarily stop the progress of the big bug that is featured in the video. It seems the larger Caddis was being courteous of the two smaller travelers. Maybe they were its relatives? Watch out for them, see if you can spot the smaller cased Caddis. Check out the video below:
Interestingly enough, I have caught videoed other Mayflies doing the same thing as the one in the video presented. So aquatic bugs are smarter than you might think. Catching a free ride is probably normal for some types of Mayfly nymphs. The open terrain of a stream bed, with limited cover habitat, can be a dangerous journey for a Mayfly to cross.
The micro habitats where some of the many thousands of aquatic invertebrates live are incredible little worlds that need to be explored. After observing life in such a small scale, you learn to respect it even more. This helps fortify your realization of just how important water quality, quantity and habitat are, in our local trout streams. When you study aquatic invertebrates and in some cases you will do what are called “kick samples” of what is lurking on the bottom of a stream. However, there are alternative methods that you can use to determine the health of the invertebrate populations and the diversity of the same.
Using video and just plain viewing glass equipment, you can explore the micro world of aquatic insects, below the surface. Video is so important, for educating young people, you can just view the video on your computer, tablet or phone. Further to that, a television is a good way to view footage, but if the quality is poor, a smaller screen works just fine. I have conducted aquatic invertebrate sampling with classes from the local elementary school, Glenbow Elementary, and the kids are always fascinated at what lives below the surface of the creek. In recent years, the kids carry nets on their outdoor education trips, so they can sample small bugs in backwaters and shallows.
Once you can see the eye of the brown trout in the photo above, you will then be able to make out the mouth. Zoom in to 150% and have a good look at this photo. The trout is a female brown trout. She has excavated a redd or egg nest, and she is waiting for a male brown trout to arrive on the scene, so that they can spawn and the eggs can incubate in the gravel, until they hatch, next year. In the new year. Probably in April or May, is when the trout larva will swim free of their gravel nest.
Sometimes, the male brown trout don’t show up for some time. So the female just waits. In a creek with a healthy brown trout population, there is not usually a problem with the supply of male trout, to spawn. This is why it is so important to manage a stream’s fishery with the appropriate regulations for angling and also seasonal closures for spawning. Unfortunately, in our area, this has yet to happen. It really is shameful of how poorly our fisheries are managed. I am talking about wild stream trout.
Now that I have had my say, the video below shows the same spawning brown trout as in the photo above. Have a look. Don’t you feel sorry for that lonely female, waiting for big handsome to come swimming by.
In past posts I have talked about suspended lateral margin habitat and submerged root cover. In the photo below, you can see two mature poplar trees growing right along the water’s edge. The photo reveals how roots from the trees grow right along the water’s edge, both upstream and downstream of the trunks. These roots make perfect trout habitat, especially for juvenile trout. The stability of the strong roots is a safe place for trout to hang out, especially during high flows, when there is a lot of wood floating down the stream.
Riffle areas, like the one shown below, are ideal habitats for juvenile trout and there is a really good food supply, hidden under the rocks. A good riffle to pool ratio is a good thing for a wild trout population, and the creek shown in the photo has plenty of both.
During higher flows, this reach of the creek is bordered by plenty of good current breaks and little nooks and crannies where trout can take refuge. The steep slope on the right hand side of the stream channel, is held together by a network of tree and willow roots, so stream bank stability is a huge factor in a healthy riparian zone.
The importance of good riparian habitat is under estimated on some creeks. As these creek loose their riparian growth, the trout slowly start to disappear. Remember that a healthy riparian zone helps to clean out the surface water run-off, by physical filtration and bio-filtration. So water quality is also at stake, when riparian growth vanishes from the stream banks of a trout stream.
I found some more video of spawning trout on Canmore Creek. This was a few years after the lower portion of the creek had received fish habitat enhancement work, including spawning enhancement work. On the first segment, you will see brook trout spawning over our spawning gravel that we added to the stream. I wonder what is happening up there in Canmore these days?
All of the spawning video is being added to the Canmore Creek title, on the main menu, at the top of this page. You can do a quick review or watch a bunch of video.
As the leaves start falling and the cooler days signal the arrival of the fall season, the brown trout and brook trout prepare to reproduce in their annual spawning event. The trout will find the right type of habitat to dig their redds or egg nests in, and start the ritual when the female finds a male and starts fanning the gravel out to create her first nest. The male trout will then move in and try to stimulate her to lay her eggs, by quivering up against her side. If the female is ready to drop her eggs into the nest, the male will immediately fertilize the eggs. the eggs are heavier than water, so they sink fast into the freshly excavated nest.
Once the eggs are deposited in the first redd, the female trout will move ahead and fan the gravel upstream of the hole, so that it covers the eggs. This is where the female can deposit more eggs, just ahead of the first batch, but this depends on the how mature the female is, and how many eggs she has to lay. Large trout can carry a lot of eggs, over 2,000, so this can be cause for two good sized redds. The brook trout egg nests are considerably smaller, due to the average size of brook trout, so their redds are smaller when compared to the brown trout.