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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As fly fishers, some of us know that a bush growing along the water’s edge is a likely spot for trout to hang out under. It is a basic understanding of fish habitat that leads us as anglers to follow our instincts on where to cast our trout flies or which spots deserve a close inspection. A few planted willows can provide a great new home for resident stream trout, if there is limited cover already available. This created trout habitat can be broken down into providing reach cover habitats and some that can be defined as a single habitat unit.
If you examine the photo above, you can see that the plantings are going to provide some great cover habitat for resident trout, in the Bighill Creek. The newer plantings are still pretty small to get close to the full affect when the plants grow mature. This is a very interesting quest for me, just to record how our plantings transform the stream landscape in the years to come. Check out the photo below for a glimpse of some willows now really starting to take off, in Glenbow Park, in the Town of Cochrane, Alberta.
The great trout hatch on Millennium Creek this year is perfect timing, for all of the vacant habitat that is now available on the Bighill Creek, thanks to our riparian planting program. Even single habitat units will provide the necessary cover habitat for a small juvenile brook trout or brown trout. Also, rainbow trout from last years small population coming out of the Jumpingpound Creek, had perfect access to the Bighill Creek and those trout will be filling some habitat units as well. This recharging of new generations of trout will have a very positive effect on the Bighill Creek’s sport fishery and its natural populations will help feed a lot of other wildlife that call the Bighill their home.
The willow plantings are already benefiting the beavers and muskrats which seem to like eating our new plants and those that make it thru the first growing season. However, this is just normal, and the town of Cochrane keeps a pretty good balance on the populations, the muskrats even have predators that keep their numbers in check as well. The recent increase in mink numbers in the Bighill Creek and Millennium Creek will affect how many muskrats there are in the area as well. The grazing on our plants does not kill all of them, it is just the natural process!
The photo that I took above, happened just before the rat ducked under the cover of dead grass and an undercut stream bank. You can see the escape opening just to the 10 oclock position, from the rat’s direction. These are the little hiding spots so typical to the muskrat family, so watch for them swimming just behind this cover or along the face of it, like in this photo. Just like beavers, the oil in the fur helps keep the rats dry and easily able to glide thru the water using its tail and feet for propulsion. Imagen their perspective, from the surface level of the water, an interesting world to live in.
The muskrats will nimble or eat the limbs of our planted willows, but that is life! The critters keep your interest up when you walk the stream banks of a trout stream, there is always something new to see. As you recall, recently I posted the photos of a blue heron on the Bighill Creek, so there is always something to take a photo of, just to share and help people understand the importance of this little trout stream. Can we or are we capable of taking care of something as special as this, right here in the heart of the community? I sure hope so, because this is the only hope for the world, is taking care of something that is right here in your own backyard!
Wanting to get a good photo of as many plants as I could, I did manage to photograph a tightly packed group of plants that were planted in an unstable stream bank, on Bighill Creek. One of the recent unstable stream banks that had or continued to settle for recent collapse.
As soon as the sun has a chance, the greenery will come and all will be well again along the trout streams. The hum of tiny midge hoards and mosquitoes will greet the fly fisher and other wildlife will linger along the creeks foraging and seeking the shelter from riparian growth. This includes the life along the Bow River here in Cochrane and both upstream and down along the entire river.
The Bow River, Jumpingpound Creek and Bighill Creek are a sanctuary for so many different types of wildlife that it is just like a park. The hatches are in peak mode right now, so dry fly is at its premium in this mid June wet weather. I have had some great days on the Little Red and Fallentimber during spring weather like this, and on some really cold days, but the bugs were always hatching! The big drakes are soon to appear, if they haven’t already. The brown and greed drakes on the streams to the north will be consistently good hatches to follow. This is a major feeding time for the big trout, so opportunity does present itself if you are observant.
Planting a dry fly on the water does fit under the category of this title: Spring Plantings, but in a different way, a good fun way. The big fly hatches always stay with you, just like the really small hatches when you happen to have the right micro-patterns, it is all part of the enjoyment of the fly fisher’s sport. Finally, a chance to try out those new ties that you worked on this past winter, during the big covid time, when hobbies all of a sudden, became the norm for those cooped up indoors.
Another trip to the creek allowed me an opportunity to take a quick snapshot of another Millennium Creek young of the year. The photo is not as clear as most photos that I take of small trout, but the trout are getting so hard to photograph these days, and my bright light colored clothing was not the best stealth apparel.
The trout are definitely on the move these days, so keeping the stream channel free from blockages is an ongoing job. When you mix large numbers of people, including kids, along a trout stream’s lower course, there are bound to be some man made alterations in the natural flow. I can’t recall all of the blockages that I have removed from the creek, like little rock dams that I have removed over the years, it is such a high count, so why let it worry your mind!
The main thing is to keep the channel open and let the trout do their thing. It is so inconsiderate to think that people really don’t care much about this, but you know how important it is to the Bighill Creek’s fishery, so you keep on doing it. As humans, we tend to walk all over things like the natural world, as if it needs to be conquered by us and destroyed as a reminder. It saddens me to what the slow damage occur near the mouth of the Millennium Creek, the site is despicable!
Fifth Year Plants
The growth may be slow on some planting sites, due mainly to the poor soil quality, including PH levels not as conducive to willow plant growing. However, once the plants are started, they will enrich the soil over time, creating carbon rich soil. Fine mesh roots that are 40 to 60% carbon, are constantly dying off, regenerate soil over time. The floating debris that they catch in their limbs will also add rich soil to the base of the plant, year after year. That floating debris is usually dead grasses, aquatic weeds and sedges freed from the soil by flood waters or just spring freshets.
Second Year Plants
It is always my pleasure to announce or report on good news from our riparian planting program. The cuttings that were pre-grown and planted last spring are coming along nicely in some areas along the Bighill Creek. The toughened limbs are yielding new leaves and the limbs will grow fast if this rainy weather continues. The start of June has been a wet one, but this is always good news for our program.
The second year growth is always a spirits lifter for the time you are planting the new crop of native willows and trees, you get rewarded by observing the surviving plants from the previous year. Check out the photos below to see a few.
It is June 10th and here in Cochrane, the rain is drizzling down outside right now. This added moisture is great for the creek, which was flowing clear just the other day. For me personally, having fished the Bighill Creek since the early 1960’s, this is the best condition that I have ever seen the creek in. Being a keen fisher for years has taught me how to read water, and I can tell if a stream looks fishy or not. The trout have a new home on the Bighill Creek and it is good to be back. There are only six more days until opening day for those that fly fish the creek, so there are bound to be a few regulars on the creek opening day or soon after.
The struggle for survival and continued growth is no easy task for a willow growing right along the water’s edge. The weight of snow on canary grass in the early or late fall can flatten down some of our planted willows, but they do continue to survive and grow. Multiple plantings over the years can create a little patch of the willows in time. They are presently growing in life spans of just planted to eight years of age. The smaller ones are the ones that provide lots of photo opportunities to show how they grow and the various impacts that hold them back some years.
I have cropped the photo and enlarged it for a better look, below.
The willows from the first plantings are now looking pretty good, because that was back in 2014 and it has been eight years. The photo below will show you a mix of plants from plantings in 2014, 2015 and so on. You tell which ones were the first in the photo. There is one existing willow plant on the very top left of the photo, on the left stream bank, it was already growing on this reach. The stream bank on the right is a stabilization planting site, which was done on a very steep collapsing slope.
The photo above is a great shot for showing just how natural the creek looks, when compared to when it was first planted, under such extreme conditions. These type of planting sites as shown below, are dangerous to plant, so I plant them by myself, taking all of the cautioned that I have learned to take, over the years. The most dangerous time is when the frost is or just has come out of the ground. The ground is very wet at this time and spring rains can worsen the situation by making the ground more likely to slide if there is any disturbance at the toe of the slope.
In the next photo you will notice that the cable is more exposed and the eroded top of the stream bank is further back from the water’s edge now. This is because it is still stabilizing into a natural state, but the silt, soil and clay loading that once happened annually, is now prevented, by a healthy riparian willow crop. I should say crops, because there were multiple plantings on the site, over the years.
The habitat is incredible now, and it was all done by just planting native willows and trees along the creek. This is the type of fish habitat enhancement work I like to do these days, especially, with everyone so keen on taking what they can from this planet, it is nice to be putting something back. With the pandemic it was clear to me right from the get go that there are a lot of people who don’t really give a shit about much of anything, except for themselves, and it is good for ones piece of mind to know that you do care. It is the only way ahead!
The most important part of our Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program is the stream bank stabilization sites. These critical erosion sites are planted with native willows and some trees, to form a network of root systems that bind the stream banks soil together and help prevent further collapse and silt loading into the stream channel. The first few years are very important, because getting that first crop of plantings to get off to a good start is the key. Post spring run-off plantings are a good idea in some cases. Also, these stream bank sites cannot be planted when soil conditions make it too dangerous.
As the frost leaves the soil, the erosion sites can be very saturated with moisture and will collapse under the right conditions. The photos taken recently and that are shown below, will help show you how these erosion sites can stabilize over time. The second photo will show you how a movement of sod and soil from this spring is being held from entering the stream channel, by the planted willows from our program, in the early years.
When the conditions shown above occur, you can plant more willows in the cracks between the chunks of sod. There are always new planting spots on streams under riparian recovery. Once the native willows are established, the loss of soil and clay will diminish. The plants from this spring are now in pretty good condition, 3 weeks after planting, so this particular erosion site shown below will get stabilized sooner than one might expect.
In the photo above, you can see a plant from last year on the near side of the stream channel, a Salix Exigua. The Exigua is a clonal colony plant, with new shoots suckering up from the mother plant, after a few years of growth. The larger plant to the left, is an older planting that is now about the same size as the large one on the opposite side of the stream channel.
As mentioned back in February, the hatch of trout on Millennium Creek has been spectacular this year, with lots of new generation trout moving down the creek to the confluence with the Bighill Creek. These new fish will re-populate the Bighill Creek’s lower reach, with some trout traveling into the Bow River and exploring a big new world. The migratory routes need to be kept open, during key migration periods, so keeping the Millennium Creek free from new rock dams and woody debris obstructions is an annual activity for me personally, but offers of help have been accepted and now a program is in place for this year.
The ongoing activities, such as stream maintenance and keeping up on spawning and hatch activity, are really important duties, but I love to watch out for these unique Millennium Creek trout and their habitat. The restoration of Millennium Creek has turned out to be of major importance to our local trout fishery and in particular, the Bighill Creek itself.
These past few days I have been checking out the small stream and its population of new trout, so photography is the best way of sharing the success of this little tributary to the BH Creek. Where we go from here on in is hard to say, but as long as I can personally, the work will continue.
With the recent confirmation of juvenile brown trout from the hatch this early spring have now join the already abundant brook trout population in Bighill Creek and for sure the Bow River. This is not like another notch in the handle of a gunfighters pistol, but it is just another bonus point for Millennium Creek’s importance to the local trout fishery. This is why we join clubs and other stuff, because we want to help the trout, right? Well, the trout seem to be relatively safe these days, but never let your guard down.
The juvenile trout already exhibit a lot of the habits that older trout still use, the art of blending in. When you cast a distinct shadow, it is a good idea to make it blend in with any overhead structure, even a shaft of grass. The crystal clear waters of Millennium Creek have lots of good cover habitat and juvenile trout take full advantage of this. If you know what to look for and you are patient, you will be rewarded with an interesting discovery.
At this growth stage in the Millennium Creek trout from this year’s emergence from the spawning beds, the trout are getting larger and more competitive. Soon, many of the smaller trout will be crowded out and end up downstream in the larger water of the Bighill. However, for young trout, it is hard to beat the accommodations of such a wonderful little nursery spring creek. This is what makes the Millennium Creek so special and important to those that care about it. Why not protect such a great little stream, from the growing hoards and any further threats to the trout fishery.
We Are Sure Getting It Now
The recent rains have been really nice, and I look forward to the explosion of green coming soon. It is the 7th day of June and one more week until opening day on many trout streams in the province. The Bow River is still in run-off stage and the trout will be exploring other tributaries like the Bighill Creek right now. The rain will help charge up the aquafer’s and good flow in creeks like Millennium will follow. I hope you get out and enjoy the green and the flowing waters soon!
If you have read my writing in the past, you may have recalled the mention that my own personal focus behind this riparian planting program (BVRR&E), is to enhance fish habitat, but this also involves improving water quality, stream bank integrity and restore riparian growth that will benefit all wildlife. In the end, we all benefit from this change, in the quality of life we enjoy, living so close to such natural wonders as a trout stream. The mention that trout are a keystone species, so this is a well established scientific pursuit, in the field of riparian restoration and enhanced bio-diversity.
There are lots of photos of early stage growth on willows planted along the water’s edge, so check some out below. The outside of the stream bend is a great place to plant, the willows will reduce future erosion and provide the best habitat on the outside of the meanders in the creek channel. This is where helical flow will scour a deep run or pool in the stream channel. The willows provide the over head cover and lots of well needed shade for our cold water species of fish, the trout. It really is a simple formula to follow in trout habitat enhancement work, and so, so cost effective.
The photo above is of second year plantings and the photo below is of third year growth. The beavers are soon to follow, but this will help thicken the plants up over time and make the landscape along the creeks more natural in appearance.
It is time for a really cool before and after photo of our planting site just downstream of Glenbow Drive, on the Bighill Creek, in the town of Cochrane.
Check out the recent photo from the same position with the camera, below.
This is the exciting news that I have been hopeful for, for some time now. This past fall was not the first time that I have seen brown trout in the creek, during the spawning season, but this is the first time that I can confirm that they are spawning in the Millennium Creek and that hatch was successful. It takes evidence to confirm such a fantastic thing such as this and finally, I was lucky enough to get some today!
If you remember earlier this spring, I posted that the photograph of the juvenile trout below could be a brown trout. Well, I went back to the same spot today and took a photo of what I believe to be a brown trout in Millennium Creek, from this spring’s hatch on the creek.
This is such fantastic news for me and other keeners that want to see our wild trout taken care of and thrive into the future. This just re-enforces my determination to take care of the creek until some good management strategy is put together, to look after such a great natural asset to our community. In the meantime, me and some other fishers will put in some more of our time to look after things. Rainbow trout have also been spotted in the creek this spring, so we will see where that goes in the future!
Below is a photo of a brook trout, that was taken the same time as the brown trout, and you can see some subtle differences in the trout.
This is the part of the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program that I have been looking forward to. The older plantings are now providing major trout habitat along the streams in the program. The Bighill Creek always shows the best results, because the town has a very effective beaver management program.
By keeping the balance along the stream, right here in the heart of the community, the riparian zone has had an opportunity to grow, along with our plantings. This is a very nice stage of the program to be observing and things will only get better from this point on. Remember, natural recruitment starts when the first plantings are completed, the seed distribution happens right from the get go!
On the Bighill Creek, the stream bed is cleaning up as well, making the stream a new home for many trout and other important varieties of fish. This is only complimented by the good flows or volumes of flow in the creeks these days. On average, the BH Creek in Cochrane has been flowing good for years now. I personally first started to notice the difference in the time just before the Millennia. Helping the trout recovery out by enhancement of habitat is just a way of speeding things up on natural recovery, so this approach has worked well, and it is paying off with more trout and spawning habitat.
The spawning habitat is improving on the lower reach of the creek, along with the riparian recovery work. The cleaner flows, along with clean spawning gravel beds and consistently good quality water are all key ingredients in a healthy trout fishery. The return of the wild life that is typical to the area is also a big bonus. Even Kingfishers have been photographed along the Bighill Creek, here in town, so this is incredibly good news for the bio-diversity of the stream, from a historical perspective. I love to catch a glimpse of a blue heron in the early morning hours, along the lower end of the creek.
In a few more years, the willows shown above will be much thicker, with many more limbs to grow, despite the predators that feed on them. If willows are abundant along a reach of creek, the dominant beavers will claim the territory and defend it vigorously, from other migrant beavers. So if there are enough willows to sustain a small population of beavers, the creek can recover over time. Just think of the nice habitat unit that we created, and in the future it will be a lot more effective for the resident brown trout in the creek.
I Took This Photo Yesterday
There are a few small natural patches of riparian growth along the Bighill Creek’s lower reach. Yesterday, I was driving by one of them in my truck and I spotted a blue heron fishing on the Bighill Creek. There was a parking spot real close, so I parked the truck and walked back a bit to take the photo below. It is ironic, because just a few posts ago, I was talking about how some of the cherished fishing birds are going to benefit from the healthy trout fishery in the creek, and bingo, I get a photo of a blue heron.
Nesting Blue Jay Update
The nesting blue jays just outside of the kitchen window, in my house, are now proud parents, and the other day, one of the new born was exercising by doing some limb jumping around the cedar tree. This photo opportunity came about, when I was walking out onto my deck and just about to go down the stairs into my backyard, when I noticed the small bird jumping and doing a balancing act every time it landed.
To the average person, the photo below, showing the planted willow along the water’s edge on West Nose Creek, is just a willow growing on the edge of the stream bank. They don’t see the potential in trout habitat or the constriction of flow that they create, increasing the velocity of flow in the main channel. This increase in flow velocity helps to scour a deeper stream channel, and this is also really good for the trout population.
This is why I do this type of work, to benefit the trout. Having been a fisherman and later a fly fisher at an early age, I have long had a keen interest in streams, the water and the trout. The total environment had me captivated since I could walk to the creek, from where I lived at the time. So basically, this work of planting native willows and trees along stream banks in my area, is a love and passion. Just to watch the change over time, is a religious experience for me personally.
The streams look so much more natural and beautiful, with native willows and trees growing along them, just like it was historically. You know that restoring a trout stream is a good thing! The Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program has provided the opportunity to make a really significant positive change for the better, for Nose Creek, West Nose Creek and the Bighill Creek. Now that the initial crops are planted the acceleration in growth and more plants will become so much more apparent in the next 10 years. I really look forward to covering this new change in this publication.
Some More Photos of Bighill Creek Willows That We Planted
The potential of using this technology for trout habitat enhancement is enormous, but it does take time, and most folks these days are in such a big rush for instant results. Not me, in such a field of riparian restoration, there is one thing that time teaches you, and that is patience. The good news is that we have done enough of this type of planting to see some very positive results, so that the next people that decide to continue the program of riparian planting, can do so with a wealth of knowledge to guide them along. The virtual workshop under the heading “Head Start Planting System”, is on the main menu at the top of this page.