About Guy Woods

I am Director of Bow Valley Habitat Development, based in the Town of Cochrane, Alberta, Canada. I love to fly fish and it is this past time that prompted me to get involved in the field of riparian and fish habitat enhancement. I have been working in this pursuit for over 50 years!

A Link To The Past

I was browsing for some old stuff that was once on the Town of Cochrane website, and guess what? I found some stuff. Check out the Millennium Creek Newsletter from 2010 and the Millennium Creek Newsletter from 2011. It is really cool that something interesting like that is in the Archives of the town in which you live, so that someone in the future can investigate what has been done to the Millennium Creek, in the past. I will send you links to more such stuff in the future. The thing about the internet is that as long as I continue to pay annual website fees, I will continue to provide you with some past history of our local trout streams.

The 2010 newsletter was published on the same year that the spawning channel was constructed on the Millennium Creek. This makes the publication significant in that respect, but it is always interesting to look back on what was going on in my head when I wrote it. Pretty much the same stuff that is in my head these days, so nothing even close to breaking news! It sure feels good to know that since 2010, we have had ten successful spawning events in the spawning channel, with many thousands of new trout generations being made for the Bighill Creek and even the Bow River. I have caught some really nice, healthy brook trout in the Bow River, over the years!

In any case, the Millennium Creek is still in the radar and trout continue to rely on it as a nursery habitat and spawning tributary to the Bighill Creek, right here in the town of Cochrane, Alberta. An ongoing stream maintenance program continues on the Millennium Creek. Every year, I get the necessary permits to keep the creek obstruction free to allow trout migration both ways, upstream and down, and also clean out garbage and repair any fish habitat structures that are vandalized. There is a weirdo on the loose, so annual maintenance is required. You only have to talk to town staff to find out just how bad vandalism is in this community. It ends up costing us tax payers plenty in the long term.

However, the fight still goes on and we continue to forge ahead with both riparian habitat work and trout stream maintenance work. The new signage that will eventually be placed on Millennium Creek should help educate folks about how important this little trout stream is. It is a way too small to sport fish on, so the trout are generally pretty safe, but remember that they are very small, so they need all of the breaks that they can get, to survive. Eventually, the small trout grow large enough to cope in the big water of the Bighill and Bow. What a gem that little spring stream is!

A Break for Something Interesting

Yesterday, I wanted to watch the testimony of the Capital Police officers that fought off the hoards on the raid on the capital in the US. These guys are true hero’s and they will be remembered as such. It was so nice to hear from some decent folks that carry a lot of common sense and dignity Today, when you watch the news, you hear from politicians, tv pundits and a lot of crazy people, all reporting or interpreting, but by listening to these American cops talk about their thoughts and share their own personal experiences from that terrible day, it is refreshing to know that some sanity still exists south of the border!

It is hard to understand why so many people are allowing their own manipulation. Like our vaccination campaign, it is crazy how many people are refusing to get a shot in the arm, to hasten the recovery of society and life as we recall it to be. However, with other issues like climate change now happening and our forests are burning up every year. We cannot prevent this, without the help of our natural world, which is dying. So as you can probably guess, there is just too much happening out there, and it is high time we started working on a grass roots level to save this planet and mankind. We really aren’t going to escape to another habitable planet in the future, when it is too late, so the sooner this sinks in, the better!

By the way, I think that social media is destroying this world as we know it! The new era of misinformation is being used as a tool by foreign actors and evil empires, so just keep this in mind when you are considering my point of view. Just look back over the last decade to witness the slow change in society and how it responds to falsehoods drilled into their minds. It is called, appropriately, brain washing!

Back to the Willows and Clean Air and Water

It is time to get a grasp back onto reality and deal with the important issues that we face, going into the future. First off, we need to change our life styles, to reduce the amount of carbon we burn. Next, we need to participate in measures that will reduce the existing green house gases in our atmosphere. Planting trees and willows is a great pursuit, because they are such high carbon removers, with root systems that are composed of 40 to 60% carbon, and all of this stays in the ground, once the plant dies off, as a matter of fact, the dead plants feed more growth and better growth from the chemicals and organics that they leave in the soil.

The word “Carbon Sink” has been used to describe grasslands for years, and this is exactly what it is a geographical bed of plant produced carbon, and it filters our air and produces oxygen. Well, a riparian zone is an even larger carbon sink, with all of the native willows doing their bit every day and night of the year. And they are not that bad to look at as well! All of the green and the wildlife and even in the winter the riparian zone is alive with life.

Nowadays, we can even plant more stuff in our own back yard, which will actually benefit us in other ways, like food, for example. I started to plant a garden this last year, and I love it! I feed myself and at the same time produce plants that will help clean the air. The taste of fresh garden vegetables is beyond description. It is fabulous!!!

One of our plantings on the Bighill Creek, after a few years of growth.

A Close Look At A Pre-rooted Cutting

By now, our willow crop from this spring is either showing good growth or it has not survived. More willows will struggle to make it thru this first growing season, which has been less than a good one, based on the lack of moisture and dependent on how many rodents there are to damage or kill our plants. Then by late fall, the true results will show how well our crop did. The new limbs must be thick enough not to dry out over the winter months. As long as there is one primary limb that makes it thru the growing season unscathed, it should make it thru the winter.

In July, the cuttings that were planted in May are now advanced enough to show the good growth, if the soil conditions are acceptable for the plant.

Survival of new plants is very important, but unless you are familiar with all of the threats to young plants, growing on their own along the stream banks, it is hard to understand this aspect of the natural world. This is the knowledge which often scarce people off, when it comes to first year planter’s or NGO’s. Saturation planting allows the natural processes to take place and still have enough surviving plants to insure riparian recovery. We are just speeding up the natural process of recovery, which would take many years to unfold. These days, natural recovery of deforested land is too slow, we can’t wait. Planting is the only way to encourage a speedy recovery of whatever ground we plant on.

This BVRR&E Program of riparian planting focuses on streams, but these areas are under ownership by cities and towns, so permission to plant is pretty straight forward, and once you established a degree of trust, things go a lot better! Also, once you can produce results, like we have in our riparian planting program, the road has been paved to a for a very successful contribution to riparian recovery on trout streams. The natural habitat provided by our plantings cannot be surpassed in beauty or approval by the general public, who are always watching closely.

Our planted willows and trees may look a little suspicious at first, but over time, they will grow into great riparian habitat for both fish and wildlife. The willows in the photo are into their third year of growth. Growth may be slow for these particular plants, but they are in good shape for the future.

One of the main things that stands out when it comes to willow and tree planting, if you push a cutting into the soil or even punch a hole and then place the cutting in the hole, you are not disturbing the stream banks. The alternative, which is a problematic method of planting along streams, is the shovel planted willow or tree. This can damage and destabilize a stream bank, if not done properly, far enough away from the water’s edge. Also, the displaced sod and soil from the shovel planting, always gets left on site, where it will end up in the creek, during a high flow spring run-off event.

Another problem with shovel planters is that sometimes they end up planting the wrong variety of plant. It might be an Alberta willow, but it is only found on the Milk River watershed, further south in the province. This makes it an invasive willow when planted along a Bow River tributary. Conifers are often planted along the creeks, but they are not the right plant for a typical riparian choice for our area trout streams, which around these parts are deciduous trees and the existing native willows which are presently still found on private land on the creeks that we plant on. This insures the bio-diversity is consistent with what already exists in this country.

This is how some of our plantings start out, planted on severe clay slopes at the water’s edge, usually on the outside of the stream channel, on a bend in the creek. These are considered stream bank stabilization plantings.
A typical May planting, found in July along the Bighill Creek in the town of Cochrane, Alberta. The new growth looks encouraging for a winter survivor.

As Promised

A few years back, I promised to show some good before and after photos of our planting sites, in the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program. Some of those photos of the sites are one year after planting, so you will see some of our plants growing on the stream banks in the before shots of the planting sites. The stream bank erosion sites are the most positively impacted stabilization sites that deserve some attention, and they usually get a lot of attention on this web blog.

This erosion site was planted the year before this photo was taken, in the early spring. You can see some of our plantings, which have catkins forming already. Check out the same site in the photo below, year’s later!
I had to position myself for this photo, just a little to the right of where I stood taking the original, so that I could show you the full extent of willow growth along that once eroding stream bank.

The site where I took both of the photos above is just downstream of the Glenbow Drive, and the Alliance Church building, just across the road. The original planting was completed in 2014, the first year of the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program, on the Bighill Creek, here in the town of Cochrane. There are also willows growing on the right hand side of the stream channel, in the tall shoreline grasses, but these have grown slowly, due to the competition for soil, with the native grasses and sedges. However, the transformation in growth continues to develop from year to year.

The trout habitat in the photo above is phenomenal for the Bighill Creek’s struggling trout population. It is a stream with no hope of sustaining a healthy biodiversity with the present fisheries sport fishing regulations that discriminate against wild trout! Allowing a daily 2 trout harvest is a crime in a conservationists eyes and it also screws up the balance of the entire ecosystem. There should always be a sport fishery maintain for recreationalists, but the trout’s survival should be the priority and this cannot happen when all of the mature spawning age trout are targeted by those that kill to eat. There is no such thing as living off of the land, when it comes time to oversee our natural resources in communities like Calgary, Cochrane and Airdrie, in no particular order!

Our planted willows add so much to once barren stream banks, as you can see in the photos of our plantings years later.
This faster flowing section of the Bighill Creek will eventually be hidden from view, once our plantings have matured to a certain height, and the bushes thicken to dense patches of brush. The trout will be happily hidden from view as well, so it will benefit the wild trout population immensely!

It is now the 26th of July, when the summer gets late the loss of plants is a common sight in riparian planting. Lots of plants die off the first year, either because they were planted in poor soil and conditions or rodents get at them. It is just part of the riparian planting experience, so you need to get use to it, if you plan on planting for a long time! This is why saturation planting is the only way to get the riparian growth started. Once started, the willows will immediately start to enrich the soil and make future plantings more successful. Remember, the organics from willows builds rich soil and promotes future growth!

The Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program title emphasizes words recovery and enhancement. The recovery is intended to mean the recovery of a natural riparian zone, to what it would have been historically. The word enhancement means the enhancement of habitat for both fish and wildlife. In our area, the fish most cherished is the trout, so the enhancement of trout habitat is my primary goal. Which also includes cleaning up the water and stream bed which falls under the category of recovery. Everyone may see different primary benefits from riparian restoration work, but it is all good and we are well on our way to seeing what the results can be!

A Riparian Planting Plan

The riparian planting program that I organize every year is well planned in advance, so special instructions for planting are carried out in key areas of the stream. Usually, it is a plan to use another variety in an area where trying to grow willows has been difficult. It is wise to think things over in advance, when problematic planting areas are to be dealt with. Having a plan can save you disappointment when later you realize that you had thought of using a different plant, but had forgot about such a thing in the long pause of time, before summer tours and the fall season, when thoughts of the new year plan are starting to be put together.

All of the willows in this photograph were planted in the BVRR&E Program. There are different year classes, because some plants don’t survive, so you always fill the gap with a new plant of a different variety perhaps.

There is great pride in seeing that your plants have worked out and you can maintain and continue to plant a very diverse selection of native willows and trees. For the observers of the community, they can also see that your planting efforts are producing the right mix of native plants and grasses that should be growing along the creek. As a fish habitat specialist, there has always been a need to duplicate what would exist historically and naturally on a creek. This is why we use native riparian plants to create fish habitat, just like it was when the first settlers arrived, to alter the land forever in some cases.

Now, it feels good to know that your efforts are headed in the right direction, so we will continue on with the program. The need for more planted willows and trees continues on the Bighill Creek, here in my home town of Cochrane, so we will do just that! There will continue to be set backs, but there always is in this line of riparian restoration work. The trout are still producing in the system, including on the Millennium Creek, which we restored over the years, thanks mainly to our local NGO like the Cochrane Foundation and the very important corporate partners, workers and volunteers.

There was a lot of support from the town of Cochrane park’s staff, so these are defined as workers and also a few contractors and paid works were also involved, but the Millennium Creek restoration program was a big success and trout still spawn in a creek that they didn’t in the past. Now, our riparian plantings from years ago are growing nicely on the Bighill Creek and the wild trout have new digs to make them feel safe and hopefully thrive, when new fishing regulations are designed to protect them, not like nowadays!

Our native willow crop is growing over the stream channel on the Bighill Creek, in areas where there hasn’t been native willows in decades. If you have habitat, the trout will come; sound familiar?
This is one of our planted poplar trees from this spring, the willow is also from this spring’s plantings. Look how nice the stream bed looks, it has received a tremendous cleaning, since our first plantings.
This is perfect habitat for a large brown trout or brook trout to hang out in. Even a large rainbow trout could surprise the next angler to dip a line. The willows in this photo were planted by me a number of years ago, and now the stream channel is looking pretty fishy for someone who tries to catch and release any trout that will take a fly. I know for sure, because I have caught and released a lot of trout in this very spot, and they all fell for my streaming wet fly patterns, which is a good bet for such habitat.

A Third Year Plant

The growth rate varies from site to site and even within metres soil conditions are different, so some plants grow slow and some fast. The main thing is that they continue to grow. The planted willow in the photo below was planted in 2019 and it is now in its third year of growth. It doesn’t look like much now, but give it a few more years and you will see some real change. There is already a new limb showing just downstream of the main cutting, which means that there is more willow under the dead grass than we can see, so it will really is struggling to get up in the air a bit more than it is. However, it is these willows that provide the best trout habitat when they do get larger.

It is good to visualize the progress of growth for our native willow and tree crops, so the photo below will help show you what the willow above will look like in a few more years, because the photo below shows some of our earlier plantings around a pool habitat on the Bighill Creek. These more mature willows are going to look even more beautiful in a few more years, so there is always a good variety of year class plantings to show and compare.

This folks is the results, and you have to acknowledge that it is not a bad sight to see, along the once barren stream banks of the lower Bighill Creek, in the Town of Cochrane, Alberta. All fly fishers will agree that this is what they like to see on small trout streams, good pool habitats with lots of good cover habitat to provide a home for their beloved wild trout. The other night I watched a really good program on TV, the series “Nature” did a piece on “Keystone Species”, something that I have mentioned in this blog in the past. Our wild trout are a keystone species, so this knowledge gained in the science of eco-systems will be of great benefit for our wild trout when it becomes more popular and well known.

This keystone species science supports my quest for a total catch and release sport fishery, for streams and rivers. Just let mother nature have a chance to heal and she will. Our riparian planting program helps speed up the process, but the protection of the wild trout in our streams needs to be protected by our provincial fisheries biologists! If you would like to help, join the cause and let your government know your displeasure at the way they are handling our fishing regulations in this area! Zero Kill is the way to go!!

Not Much For Rain This Year

The Bighill Creek has maintained really good flows recently, with the dry – hot weather that we have experienced, but this could change in the near future, if we don’t get some rain. It is very concerning when you have some much at stake, when stream levels drop below a certain level. There are in-stream flow needs that every creek has, to maintain a wild trout population, and we have lots of data in our area, thanks to Allan Locke, who did a study and computer model on area streams, which led to the basic “In-stream Flow Needs” rating for these streams. Bighill Creek has a minimum requirement in volume of flow, to maintain the trout in the creek.

The most important follow-up to Allan’s work would be proper enforcement and having some provincial technologists do some monitoring of where the water is going, during low flow periods. Are there new users of the water that are not permitted to do so? The big problem with heavy rural development is that there is usually a higher demand for the area’s water supply, including subterranean ground water, springs and creeks. All of the water required to keep wild trout alive is now under a lot more pressure and enforcement is so important to maintain flows.

The pressure on our area ground water supply is very hard to enforce, and this will not improve in the future. We have to be very vigilant to keep the aquifers feeding our springs and creeks, for the trout and other wildlife that use the riparian zone and the valleys for habitat. To me, it is a simple, but intelligent approach to make some effort to help save this planet, we do have to start working on a local level to make our own contribution. Water conservation is a must and fortunately, in the town of Cochrane, we have always pursued this goal, despite having the entire Bow River, Jumpingpound Creek and Bighill Creek, plus a few more smaller creeks flowing right thru our community. Now that is a responsible approach, and no one seems to complain about it!

We Plant Side Channels Too

In the eight years of planting in the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program, we have planted lots of side channels on area streams. These side channels are key habitats for trout, especially juvenile trout, so they need some cover habitats, and the best way of naturally creating these natural habitats is to plant riparian growing willows right along the stream bank’s edge. We have been doing that for a long time now, and the results are in. I will take two side channels, located just metres apart, right in the heart of Glenbow Park, on the Bighill Creek, to demonstrate what has resulted by planting heavily over the years.

The side channels are located just downstream of the Alliance Church and Glenbow Drive. The following photographs will show you what the planted sites look like these days, and all of the willows in the pictures are planted willows, from the BVRR&E Program.

This photo looks like a narrow deep main channel of the Bighill Creek, but it is actually the side channel, the first one downstream of Glenbow Drive. Check the next photo for the outflow, back into the main channel of the BH Creek.
This is a photo of where that same side channel re-enters the Bighill Creek’s main channel. All of the willows in both photographs are planted willows, from our BVRR&E Program.
This second side channel, downstream of Glenbow Drive, disappears under a canopy of tall canary grass and our planted willows. What a great place for a trout to hide, safe from the anglers hook and line.

Only approximately 20 metres downstream of the first side channel in Glenbow Park, the second one is also a key habitat with plenty of good overhead cover. There are deeper pockets hidden beneath the tangle of grass and bush, so a number of habitat units could be utilized. The weed covering the bottom is full of aquatic invertebrates, so a good food supply would keep the trout content to hold in this cover.

You can hardly make out the small side channel’s re-entry into the main flow, but this is exactly what trout love, especially with predator birds floating down the creek on a regular basis.

It is true that side channel habitats are gems when it comes to trout holding capability, even on the lower Bow River, fly fishers love to fish side channels, with less flow than the mighty river, and sometimes less pressure from the crowds and you will probably see a few drift boats float by in a day. However, from a river flow dynamics, these side channels can be the starting point in a change of direction of flow for a river, so reducing erosion potential by riparian planting is a good approach, especially in communities, where the streams can cause major damage if they start to change course.

The infra structure that is build on small trout streams can require ongoing maintenance for keep things intact, if the stream decides to change its course. This is why stream stability projects, using riparian planting, can help keep the stream banks intact and where they exist, for a longer period of time. The side channels in the park in Cochrane are being watch very closely and all of the baseline photography that I take may be of benefit for the future management of the park which is surrounding the Bighill Creek, on both sides. Our plantings have already help to slow down some very big erosion sites, but the job is not done yet!

This is a great photograph of our willows growing on both sides of the stream channel in Glenbow Park. The ones on the far side were from our first plantings in the BVRR&E Program. The creek looks beautiful in this photo. The water is even flowing clean, with a rocky bottom and some large sheath pond weed.

The photos that I am showing you are close-ups of the stream channel, with the houses and open park space that borders the Bighill Creek. The reason is that I want you to see and feel the natural habitat that we have created, by simply planting willows, and how it makes the creek so much more appealing for nature lovers and wildlife. By focusing close in on the creek, you can capture a bit of the natural world and imagine that you are looking at the creek the way it was, before we humans from another world, settled this country, at least that was the way that the resident indigenous folks saw us!

Native folks have always had an appreciation for the land and they are definitely more closely allied with the natural world. Not a bad way to be, but nowadays like many people, what is happening to the natural world is of major concern. Climate change has affected all of our lives and this is going to get worse, before it gets any better, so be prepared! At least by conducting riparian planting every year, I feel it is something that will also help our current situation in a very small way, but a good way! This is a consideration when understanding what the benefits are for a riparian planting program.

We will continue with this riparian planting program, so with the 2022 season already in the works, it is a good feeling to know that we are still forging ahead!

Watch Where The Thalweg Goes

The centre of the current is quite easy to spot, if you have sufficient velocity of flow. In the photo below, the Thalweg is on the right hand side of the stream channel and it leads to deep pocket of habitat, right below one of our planted willows. By the way, all of the willows shown in this photo were planted in our Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program. The current’s focus is easy to distinguish, the small waves show the path. Trout love to hold in spots where the main current can bring them their breakfast, lunch and dinner, not to mention the in-between snacks!

In my last post, my readers were so impressed with the sample photo of good pocket water, so I decided to add another photo or two to keep the hoards from busting down my door. It is so nice to take photos along the creek right now that I could not pass up the opportunity to get outdoors, despite the smog. It sure makes for good, diffused light, for photography. It makes the photos appear softer in appearance. If I stare long enough at the nice looking pocket water in the photo, I may start seeing trout!

As you can see from the recent photographs of the Bighill Creek, the water levels and quality are good right now. Perfect for growing new riparian plants and nourishing our plantings from the past. As usual, I didn’t take a walk along the creek without checking out this spring’s plantings. The photo below will give you a glimpse, so check it out!

Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

Isn’t that the title of an old Tom Cochrane tune, off of his early album. Wait a minute, that was a Meatloaf tune, but in case, it is a good summary of what is in the next photo. It first off looks like it should be two out of four ain’t bad, but one of the cuttings is from last year’s planting program.

There are two plants from this springs planting that are doing well, one of three didn’t fair so well, but like the title says, two our of three ain’t bad. The cutting in the lower part of the photo is from last year’s planting.

The plantings on an eroding stream bank shown above, are vital for stabilization work, which means lots of willow planting. This method of stream bank stabilization by riparian planting, using a push planting method, is a safe way of getting willows started in unstable stream banks, and it is also a very cost effective way as well. Even though the labour is volunteer, the job can go so fast, with hundreds of plantings completed in an early morning’s work. It should be carried out early in the day or in the evening, when the cooler weather will help reduce the planting shock.

Trampled Trout Habitat

Another benefit from push planting almost horizontal into the stream bank, the Bighill Creek stomper has more difficulty tramping the willows down to the ground, rather they end up in the water. However, if they survive, they become really nice habitat, so we can hardly thank the stomper for that, or maybe I just don’t hate him quite as much; Not! Check out the photo below of a willow plant that was stomped down into the creek. Now it is providing primo trout habitat. The silly fool is actually into fish habitat enhancement and he doesn’t even know it. Well, he has got to be stupid, so it really doesn’t matter whether he knows this ultimate result, which makes him kind of a fish habitat specialist, in a way!

Sometimes you just know where the trout are holding, but you can’t fish for them. No big deal, the way that I look at it, they are there to maintain some level of population, too bad our fisheries managers aren’t on their side, we would be looking at a lot higher quality of sport fishing and an abundance of wildlife, if the the trout were protected!

You have to have a sense of humour when you are dealing with the town numbskull, it is the only way of coping with damage, which doesn’t slow me down a bit. I will plant 100 more plants on the stomper’s behalf this next spring! I will plant them right along the stream bank, where he can stomp them down into the water to create fish habitat.

Stream Flows Good – In The Bighill Creek

This photo was taken the other day and it clearly shows the water levels are right up to the grass, on the water’s edge, which is the baseline for normal summer flow. We are probably better off than many streams right now, because the dry weather has taken it’s toll on the sport fishery this season.

It really is a privilege to be an area where you can grab the fly rod and hit the water for an evening’s fish or try to beat the heat in the early hours of the morning. With concerns and actual changes in the climate, effecting our trout streams, we do need to take special measures to sustain our wild trout populations. Harvest is not part of that plan, they are wild trout so controlling harvested numbers is pretty difficult, the best way to go is to put a no-kill policy in place for all flowing waters. Survival for wild stream trout is hard enough these days, with the warmer water’s and less of it. Then there is the angling pressure which is within our control to fix, but complacent fisheries biologists for the province and political leaders don’t really seem to do much to protect these wild trout streams.

This is why it is my belief that municipal government should get involved in putting special fisheries management policies in place to protect what is in the immediate community. A more grass roots level of taking care of our natural gems, like the Bighill Creek, West Nose Creek and Nose Creek. We should be helping these trout streams recover, rather than hinder the survival of a very limited population of whatever trout species that exists in the each stream, and in the case of Nose Creek, pike as well.

Why have fishing regulations that are directed at pleasing only a few anglers that will kill their catch, when the vast majority of fishers these days are catch and release. It is no secret that one really good angler can fish out a small trout stream in a summer, with a two trout harvest limit for each day of fishing. If you are really ambitious, which some meat anglers are, they will be on the water every day until the fishing is not worth the effort, then they leave the stream to the rest of us poor souls that are trying to find a trout to take our fly pattern. I know this for a fact, because when I was younger, I would fish out streams in the same manor. That is the way fishing was back in those days, but there were a lot less fishers to piss off, by over fishing there favorite trout streams. Now, the pressure on our wild trout streams is just to great for any killing of trout to be allowed!

The sport fishery in this area has been teetering on collapse for so many years, I can’t really think of any reliable trout streams to fish in the immediate area, yet there are streams with the potential to keep you very satisfied on a fly fishing outing. The management policy has changed from year to year to leave us all bewildered about what the future has instore. Yet the killing of stream trout still continues. This is how antiquated our sport fishery policy is in this province and it is all run from the Edmonton office. What do they know about our trout streams down south, where we are diligently working to protect what we have in our own community, but get snubbed on our demands.

New Growth For 2021

If you take a look at the photo below, of Bighill Creek, you can see that all of the willows, which we planted in our BVRR&E Program, are creating a new magical riparian habitat right in the heart of Glenbow Park. If you look at the photo and imagine what the creek might look like without any native willows growing, you can appreciate the improvement. This year’s new growth for the 2021 growing season is incredible and the thick growth will only get better over time.

Sights like this really keep the enthusiasm peaked, when it comes to willow planting. These willows are all from the BVRR&E Program on the Bighill Creek in the Town of Cochrane, Alberta.

All of the plantings in the eighth year of the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program are growing really well this year, so we can expect a high survival rate. The thickening growth that are plantings from our program, will also cast seed every year, and this growth will be exponential over time, with more and more native plants starting from our seed stock crop. The beauty is so obvious to me personally, I can envision a much healthier trout stream in the future and actually more water flow, from less evaporation, which is the big factor in having a shaded stream.

The baseline data would show that the water temperatures are going to be colder with more shade to help achieve this benefit from our plantings. The trout juvenile numbers should be much higher, which is also of long term benefit to the trout fishery on the creek. When I talk about fishery, I am not just taking about sport fishery, I mean that lots of other wildlife depend on a keystone species like trout, to keep the bio-diversity on track.

The shoreline cover that our plantings is providing is really great for the trout population, even if they are mostly small these days. The 2 trout harvest in the regulations is and has already damaged the trout populations in the Bighill Creek, the spawning numbers have declined on a steady drop since the new law was put in place in 2017, before that, an angler could only keep one trout under 35cm, which nobody would bother fishing for, if they were interested in meat fishing our wild trout into extinction!

Check Out The Trout Habitat

The best way of showing someone some primo trout habitat is with a photo, if they can’t get out and walk the creeks these days, so check out the trout habitat in the photo below. The combo of aquatic Large Sheath Pond Weed and our planted willows from the BVRR&E Program, growing right along the water’s edge. What a great spot for a trout to take cover under, either or!

The willows in the photo have created a framework for the dead canary grass to relax down onto, in the fall. The result is an overhead canopy of both our planted willows and the dead grass. Most of the deeper part of the stream channel is located adjacent to this mix of cover habitat for trout.

With the dense summer aquatic weeds like the large sheath pond weed available for cover for trout, the threats from angling are minimized during this crucial time of the season, when water temperatures get warmer and more terrestrial life ends up on the wild trout’s diet. Things like ants, beetles, grasshoppers and so on are all abundant on the stream banks of the Bighill Creek. Fortunately, this will be the saving grace for the remaining trout population, so forget about dipping a fly line in the creek now or any line for that matter.

When the willows become taller, they will provide enough shade to reduce the amount of large sheath choking the stream channel, so this is one of the little known benefits of our riparian planting program. Aquatic weeds are no different than other plants, they need sunlight, and more riparian cover to shade the sun will reduce the amount of weed choking in the stream. The photo above shows some nice holding habitat for trout, just below what looks like the stream bank, below the planted willows, where the sunlight can’t support dense weed growth. This makes some primo trout cover habitat!

It has only taken eight years to finally realize what potential there is in advanced riparian planting techniques. The main goal right from the get go was to have more available trout habitat, including proper spawning habitat. The knowledge that cleaner stream beds, with cleaner water was also on the target. The amount of aquatic invertebrate bio-mass had been increased substantially, which is part of the ABC’s of riparian restoration.

Now that the trout habitat situation is being addressed, all we need is some good fisheries management, to maintain a reliable population of trout. but don’t get too excited! The provincial department that looks after our wild trout populations has a reputation for letting fisheries collapse entirely, before any positive change. Just look at the mess we had when the pike and walleye populations collapsed in this province, but now they have got that problem under control, the next victim will be our wild trout, however, it may be too late already for some streams.

Remember folks, if we were smart enough to recognize that times have changed since the good old days of Field and Stream and frying a wild trout over a campfire, we have to start conserving what we have left and reverse the trend. Believe me, the trout fishing in this area is nothing to write home about, except for the Bow River, which receives too much attention from too many supervisors!! And the fly shop crowd will blow your mind with their thoughts on the matter! Zero limit is the only way to go, when it comes to trout fishing on wild trout streams where natural reproduction is a fragile thing these days.

The new growth mentioned is plants, how about some new growth in the agency that is responsible for taking care of our trout streams? If they would stop trying to figure things out from themselves and just put a zero catch limit on all flowing waters, then they are totally out of the picture, so there is less chance of screw ups. For once and for all, our provincial enforcement officers should be able to work with a simple directive, on behalf of the trout fishery! Remember ZERO kill !!!

Every Picture Tells A Story

In the photo below, you can see that a beaver has a stash of our planted willows at the mouth of the entrance to its bank lodge or den. We call these bank beavers and they are present on streams with little sign of the normal beaver activity, like dams. The beaver has been eating our willows and this cache or stash is handy for a midday snack or a late supper. This is what beavers do! What you don’t notice right off the bat is the presence of two our our planted willows from this spring, growing right over the entrance to the den.

Can you see the two planted willows, there are actually three, but I will focus on the two that are on both sides of the entrance. Check out the next photo that was taken with a zoom.
These are Salix Exigua, one on the extreme right and the other just off centre in the photo. You can also see an old cutting that didn’t survive, just to the left of the off centre plant.

The bank beavers become bank beavers because either the stream or river is too fast to build a dam, or there is just too little willow and poplar around, to use it for building a dam, when it is so scarce that the beavers only eat what is available. This is why beaver management (trapping) is the best option, in a city or town, just to help keep the balance and don’t let the beavers get too plentiful that they are going to suffer a mass starvation, when all of the available habitat is already occupied. Yes, beavers do have territories that they will defend from other beavers, so there is only so much real estate on the stream. Even family units are going to break up when it gets too crowded.

The Salix Exigua is not one of the beaver’s favorite willows to eat, but it will feed on them if all else is gone. We’ll see if the two Salix Exigua in the photo survive the beaver, at least make it a year, so that even if they are eaten the plants will continue to grow. This is why the narrow leaf varieties are used in special applications relating to beavers and also some stream bank stabilization sites. The rapid root growth makes the narrow leaf willows a prime component of stream banks that need extensive root development in a short period of time.

The narrow leaf willow in this photo was planted 5 years ago and it is now getting well established. The Salix Exigua will sucker up all along the stream bank over time and it is less vulnerable to beaver damage. The Bighill Creek Willow Stomper will really get his workout in the future, all for not, but at least he will feel fulfilled in his life!

The Bighill Creek Willow Stomper is not the name of a country band or a piece of commercial machinery, it is a deranged idiot that keeps stomping my willow plants, over the years. This has bee going on for a long time and sooner or later, I will catch the culprit and after making him a felon for vandalism, he can wear the reputation like a collar for the rest of his life. Every year, the odds grow against the looser, so eventually he is going to get his video and picture taken in the act.

This is another one of our willow plants that has been stomped down to the ground level. The vandal always stomps the plant right at ground level, to break the main trunk off or damage it enough so that the willow will die. This is the trade mark of the BH Stomper, a real low-life!

The damage to the willows occurred this past week of approximately July 15th to 17th, on Bighill Creek in Glenbow Park, in the Town of Cochrane. If you did see this event of vandalism, please report it back to me, I will press charges if you can give a positive identification. People do see this happen, so eventually someone is going to find out and the rumours will start and then I may get some valuable information to get this looser some well needed justice. It is a felony and once you are charged, the record sticks! And there will be retribution costs from civil court as well!

Just think about it, who would be deranged enough to destroy something that will benefit the stream trout and the other wildlife of the Bighill Creek that makes our natural riparian areas a thing of beauty? Some people?

Zoom In

It is really hard to see the leaves on this planted willow, from the BVRR&E Program. You have to zoom in for a closer look, but the next photo will save you the trouble.
A closer look or zoom in, reveals the top of the old cutting, from which the willow plant started as a clone.

The willow in the photo above was planted in 2018 and it is now into its 3rd year of growing along the stream. You will have to guess where this photo was taken, but let me give you a hint: Bighill Creek or West Nose Creek. It doesn’t really matter, because this plant represents thousands of similar plants that were planted on the spring of 2018. Our total plantings in the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program for that particular year was 9,700 native willows with a few deciduous trees thrown in for a good mix.

This close up or zoom in on the top of the cutting, from the original clone, is how the willow started its life on the creek.

The photo above does give you a better idea of how some of our plantings are positioned on the stream bank. This is where the plantings will do the most good for the resident trout population. The new habitat that they provide is a key factor in a trout’s survival, having good cover habitat where the fish can hide from birds that would prey on them or animals like mink, which are great fishers and usually fish upstream, taking the trout from behind, so they are blind to anything that approaches from directly behind. Trout always swim facing upstream, unless they are spooked into fleeing downstream.

Please Do Not Adjust Your TV SET!

In the photograph below, you don’t have to rotate or adjust this photo, it is taken in the right position, horizontal that is! The cutting was planted horizontal into the stream bank, close to the water’s edge. This is how the larger willow shown above was also planted in 2018, so now you have a better understanding on the use of pre-rooted cuttings and how they are push planted into the stream bank.

This cutting was planted in early May and now it is just starting to show some really good growth, with two limbs carrying leaves.

Yes, you guessed it, the photo of the three year planting was taken on Bighill Creek, so I thought that it would be appropriate to show a comparison of two horizontal plantings. This unique method of planting pre-grown cuttings into the stream bank is an important component of the program. The soil or clay is usually very soft in the spring, so pushing the cuttings into the soft ground is a fast and efficient system and you get the plants where they will do the most good.

This photo from this spring shows how the pre-rooted cuttings look, on the day of planting. The cutting above was simply pushed into the soft stream bank and left to grow. This is why this system is so efficient for mass plantings. Don’t worry about shearing off the roots when you push the plants into the ground, the sheared root will quickly grow into the new soil along the creek.

That is right, you don’t have to worry about shearing roots on push planting detail. The roots have already started on the main shaft of the cutting and shearing them off will not hurt the plant, which doesn’t suffer planter’s shock when they are planted, they just take a day or two to get started and then the plant will grow quickly. How about that, planting trees and willows without shovels and also without damaging the stream banks, like shovel planters do. Check out the old photo that I took of what a poor shovel planting project can do to the stream banks.

All of the chunks of stream bank sod that you see in the photo above, are from a messy shovel planting along the Bighill Creek, illegal as well! These types of messy plantings are not necessary and do more damage than good. That loose soil and those chunks of sod end up in the stream.
This is another one of this springs plantings, the photo was taken on July 17th, on the Bighill creek.

This year, my planting involved a lot more of the Salix Exigua. The idea is too try and get them started on key areas of the stream where other varieties haven’t done as well. Hopefully enough of them will survived to create colonies off of the mother plant, and then the seed distribution is really good with this willow. The narrow leaf varieties are good stream bank stabilization willows and great primary recruitment willows, with other varieties that follow over time. The nitrogen fixing of the Salix Exigua and Interior is really good for enriching soil, and another factor that is not usually factored in, is that the dense growth of the two varieties works as a debris catcher during floods.

The organics added to the stream bank from debris is a quick way of restoring soil chemistry to better riparian growth and more habitat. Even riparian grasses and aquatic weeds that get caught up in the tangle of Sandbar willow make a huge contribution to soil enrichment. Bringing down the PH level to be more beneficial to riparian growth and even a few spruce trees as well, but spruce trees should never be planted if they did not exist on the ground in history past. Upstream on the Bighill Creek, there are more spruce trees growing in the north facing valley bottom, but not out in the open, like you would find in the forestry where the riparian mix is different.

Most willow planter groups use a narrow leaf variety for their planting projects, because they are so easy to collect in buckets for later planting. The shafts are straight and the willow colonies are thick with growth, confined to a small area, so collection happens fast. The bundles that I grow willows in are much easier to make, when using the straight shafts of Salix Exigua or the like.

In our program, we have planted a balance of different varieties of Salix willow and dogwood, plus a few Wolf willow and even a few Mountain Alder, which grow at the confluence of the Jumpingpound Creek and the Bow River, right here in the town of Cochrane. The Mountain Alder is a great riparian willow and it is native to this immediate area, most of the seed stock has come down the Jumpingpound Creek valley, over time, but that fact that they exist naturally, makes them a candidate for the Bighill Creek. I have only planted a small few of the alders.

Keep Your Eye Open

There is an individual that takes great relish in vandalizing my willow plants, as shown in some recent photographs. The guy likes to stomp down some willow plants, so if you see him in action, please let me know, and better yet, take a photograph.

This is one of four in a 10 metre section of Bighill Creek that was stomped down by some sicko! Some willows will recover, but some will not! So if you see the culprit, please report the incident, it is vandelizm and I am not the only victim.