Thick Cover, Willows and Trout Fly Casting

The growth along creeks, where sheep, cattle and horses are kept out, will start to transform the stream. The thick native cover has a chance to grow to height and if willows are planted, they to can start a major shift in riparian recovery. A shift into high gear, so to speak. Native wheat grass, dock and plantain can be a big player in the stream’s recovery. After all, they are native to our area and the wild streams that once flowed into the Bow River.

There are two of our planted willows in this photo. It is very hard to find them in the tall grass, along the water’s edge. The stream channel looks so good to a fly fisher. What a great place for wild trout to hide. I fish under conditions like this, but my casts are very limited to short distances and good accuracy. The overhanging grass is big challenge for any fly caster. Short leader really help!

Sometimes you just flip your fly onto the water or sling-shot to a confined target of water, it all makes the experience a well thought out endeavor. But that is ok, at least you know that the trout are pretty safe in their tight little micro habitats, in the creek. This is the only real protection that keeps this population going, having all of the good habitat to hide and live in. Once our willow plants have grown large enough, the habitat will be there all year long, and not just during the late summer months. The lush growth along the streams right now is even hard to walk thru, to get to the creek. Yesterday, I was waist deep in thistles, ploughing a trail down to West Nose Creek, to take this photo.

No, I didn’t have my fly rod, but the thoughts are always there. You think about where you would cast your fly and know that trout could easily lurk under the thick canopy along the creek channel. The trip that I took into West Nose was part of an ongoing monitoring program. We planted many willows and some trees right along the water’s edge, so it is necessary to keep track of their growth. For many plants, you can’t see them in the tall grass, but if you look onto the stream channel, you can see them reaching out for sunlight.

Some of the plants have been constantly grazed upon by muskrats and beavers, but a number of them are showing lots of new branches growing out. A few of the plants are carrying a heavy load of grass weighing them, but they will survive and grow. Eventually, the willows will crowd out the taller grasses and some smaller native grasses may take root. Tall grass and willow compete for the sun, so as the willows grow past the upper limit for the grass, things start to change. The shade will also change the stream below the water as well. Aquatic weed like Large Sheath Pond Weed will clean out, providing more depth for the resident trout, maybe a gravel bottom will be exposed.

Back to the Fly Fishing

This is how you hold a trout fly, when you bow and arrow cast, or sling-shot. The other options may hurt a bit, if you mess up. Bye the way, I forgot to bend the barb down on this fly! Dangerous when fly fishing!

An Old Pool Habitat

A log v-weir pool, built in 2008. Now the pool is so natural looking you wouldn’t think it was constructed. Another ten or so years and this pool should be grown in on both sides, with canary grass and willows. There is already a water birch limb hanging down onto the surface.

It is so important to maintain the natural appearance of any structures built on a stream. People will have to look at what ever you build, well into the future, and you don’t won’t to leave them a pile of junk to clean up. It should blend in to the surrounding environment and the benefits better be worthwhile. When the shrubs, willows and trees take over the project site, this helps big time. Ultimately, it will be nice when the larger growth dominates the stream. The volume of flow in the stream is also a key ingredient in success. Recently, the flow in our local project streams has been pretty good, on the twenty year average. The 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were poor decades for water around these parts.

We are bless with good ground water and the aquafers are in good shape, as far as the evidence of flow indicates. It really became apparent to me at the start of the Millennium. Not the project, but the new era. This was just a few years before the springs in Millennium Creek started to charge up and the flow in the Bighill Creek was good enough to encourage trout migrations upstream. Since that time we have been in recovery mode, so I am good with that! Mother nature can work wonders if she has enough water.

Riparian Recovery

Spending a life time observing nature teaches you things that are often overlooked in our modern world and times. Nature can be harsh! It is not every trout egg hatches, and of those that do hatch only a few survive their first season of life, and so on. Out of the Million seeds cast from a patch of willows, every year, only hundreds may germinate, and only a few of those will survive the first winter.

Change takes time in the natural world. Riparian restoration is not a quick fix and only those that have attempted to restore a riparian zone know this. We often expect things to happen in a more efficient and fast way, but in nature, you are dealing with variables that teach you quickly that this is not like planting a garden or landscaping your yard.

More patience is required in this field of work. Soon you will realize that it may take years to actually see the first real benefits, but you still forge ahead. I have always said that “Mother Nature Adds The Final Brush Strokes In This Painting”, So give it a few years and see the results. We still know for sure that riparian restoration is possible, but rarely put to task, in a big way. No one person or group is going to quickly solve the problem of lost riparian habitat and biodiversity, but you can be a player. There is no “Playing God” involved, there is no “Devine intervention“, nobody else is going to do it for you, so “snap out of it“, don’t waste time waiting! We have the technology!

It was nice to get seven years of planting into the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program”. Although, there will not be as much planting in the program as in the past seven years, it will continue. The most important thing is that those seven years of planting can now be monitored into the future and both the methodology and the experience can be passed on. In the mean time, I will continue to plant native willows and trees along local streams.

Next year, just the Bighill Creek will be planted. With the town of Cochrane adding more land to the riparian recovery, things are heading in the right direction. All of the new land that will be absorbed into the existing riparian habitat, is already sprouting new shoots of poplar, so this growth will happen fast. No tree planting required on that piece of ground. As you have witnessed in this publication, we have already had some significant results to report.

Native willows and trees are great at absorbing carbon. The roots of willows are 40-60% carbon, and where do you think they got it? As the roots die off, in growth, they leave that carbon in the soil, thus the carbon sink is actively storing more. This is another way of looking at riparian restoration programs. I have no idea of how much oxygen a willow plant can produce in one year, or the weight of carbon that they absorb, but I do know that it is all good!

BVHD provided over 600 native plants for Canon Canada’s Branch Out planting project on West Nose Creek. The group above is one of two groups over a two day period. A nice break from the office for all involved.

One thing that sticks out in my mind, from my corporate plantings, is that everyone had a chance to work together doing something very positive for this planet. Smiles were the dead give away, from all of the corporate groups that I worked with. A chance to put on the old jeans and running shoes, and get dirty. It was good fun and the memories attest to that. Sometimes your plants grow well, after a planting and sometimes only a portion survive, but this is life’s lesson.

Stonefly Magic

My golden stonefly nymphs work great on Bow River trout. I like to use plastic bristle for antenna and tail, it is a lot more durable than goose biot. The soft hackle grouse is primo leg material, you should see it in the water!

There are late season stonefly hatches that don’t seem to get much attention, but the nymph pattern for these hatches can be very effective during the late summer and into the fall. Stoneflies are one of those aquatic invertebrates that trout will eat all year round, so it isn’t like you need to catch the hatch to catch fish. The Stonefly goes thru a series of instars, when they shed their old exoskeleton and they grow for years, so if they loose their grip on the rocks the trout will be waiting. The under-body of the stonefly, with the new exoskeleton, is usually gold in color, and this signals to the trout a vulnerable time in their lives. The darker back of the thorax should be copied on the tying vise.

Working As A Volunteer

My time is spent on creeks these days, volunteer planting and do some maintenance on past project sites. Nothing in-stream, as far as construction goes, just clean up, removing man-made blockages on the streams. Although, I do still hold the permits for the project sites and there is always maintenance to do. Because the projects are located in urban and suburban settings, problems do arise and it is up to me to fix them. This activity is especially important in the spawning season, little rock dams and such can disrupt the migration of spawning trout. Trout migrate all of the time, in the open water season, the juvenile trout is what I am talking about primarily. So it is important to make sure the channel stays open. In a natural setting, the stream could take care of itself, but when people disturb things, they have to be fixed!

A small rock dam made by kids is typical stuff that needs to be removed. On small spring creeks, the dams are usually made of small rocks and they will create a total blockage for trout, except for the water, which flows thru the gaps, but does not allow passage.

Kids built these rock dams and blockages on Millennium Creek, all of the time, and I have to remove them, to keep the channel open for trout migrations. Millennium Creek is a spawning tributary spring creek.

Some provincial fisheries biologists may take care of this duty, but I can’t think of any off hand. Even parks staff can help out from time to time, when the need arises. Town staff don’t hesitate to remove any type of man produced timber, out of the creek, so this is good. Some groups do clean-ups and this is fantastic, but when it comes time to pull that shopping cart out of the water, make sure it is not during spawning season.

Shopping carts can cause a lot of silt disturbance, when they have been sitting in the creek for some time. If it is just a plastic bag or something, you can pull it out of the creek anytime. I will often remove garbage on my tours on the creeks, but not always, there is sometimes just too much and here is where the clubs come into play. An organized group can remove a lot of trash, and the city or town will usually be very helpful in disposing of it properly. This type of effort will be well received by those that care about a clean natural environment, like a nearby stream, with trout, yes especially if it has trout. They are the fish that always adds a lot more interest in a local creek, flowing close to home.

A fall midge pupa selection. Tied to fish still water hatches in the late fall. Small hooks are required.

The leaves are turning their fall yellow along Bighill Creek and soon the stream bottom will be covered with leaves during the fall shed. This will help reveal the deeper pools where trout are in a race to fatten up for the long cold winter months. Some trout will migrate back into the Bow River and end up downstream in Bearspaw Dam or upstream in one of the larger river pools. Trout do migrate during the fall. Large brown trout will be moving up the river from Bearspaw and every now and then you will hear tale of a monster being caught and released on our reach of the Bow River. We may be in for some warmer Indian Summer weather in October, but prepare for the slide into colder weather.

The flow in all local streams is great, so this should help provide the habitat for wintering trout on those same smaller streams. Trout will retreat into deep water in the winter, some place where they can rest and conserve their energy. The body fat accumulated in the fall will help maintain their reserves for the tough winter months, when frigid cold water and little insect activity makes live a survival game for wild trout. From my experience of ice fishing area lakes and reservoirs, the trout will feed at given times, but often for only a brief time during daylight. There may be one particular food item that they are on the search for, and it may be snails, shrimp or some other common insect that is always available, during the winter months.

Gammarus or shrimp are a main food item for winter trout.

The Cross Over

Sometimes you need to expand the boundaries a bit and tie something totally different for the trout to inspect and sometimes hammer. I never did get around to tying a totally foam and plastic hopper pattern, but there are no regrets, my traditional style patterns work just fine. Having a little foam so that the pattern floats for longer, is ok I guess, I did tie a few.

This foam body pattern has silicone legs and that is it, as far as plastic and foam goes. Trout will chow down on the fly, so that is good enough for this tier and fisher. The deer hair tail and wing will be the main floatation material, but the foam body repels water nicely on the cast. The good old grizzly just seemed right for this pattern, but I am sure that brown would work as well or maybe better. It could be called a madam X, but not by me. I will call it the foam and deer hair hopper, or the fly with another name, for a lark!

There are still a few warm sunny days left yet, before the snow flies, so I may have to get out and give this pattern some real water time, to find out if it is better than I thought. I have caught trout on it, but never gave it a full workout, because my old fashion ties for hopper patterns are hard to break away from. I did sell a lot of this pattern in K Country and in the Highwood, when I was tying for K Country Campgrounds, which included Boulton Creek trading post and the Highwood House, west of Longview. I suspect that the good sales were due to the popularity of the fly.

It is like the old saying goes: ” You Can’t Catch Trout Unless Your Fly Spends Some Time On The Water! “, which makes perfect sense. For a full evaluation of how good a pattern is, it needs to be tested at the right time and place. I have tied experimental flies that failed miserably on the first try, yet at a later date, the fly turns out to be a killer pattern, for a particular time and place. So my fly boxes stay fully packed for when the occasion calls for something specific. The only problem I have, is that I will often leave those fly boxes at home, to reduce the amount of stuff I am carrying.

You can carry a lot of dry flies, but the weighted fly patterns will weigh you down, if you are walking a distance, while fly fishing. So always make sure you plan out your trip, with the right trout flies in your pack. Easier said than done, for this water flogger. Back when I took my fly fishing a little more seriously, I would carry an extra small pack, with my extra fly boxes. It is a dilemma that most fly tiers know all too well, with their planned fly fishing trips.

Planting the Outside Banks

There are some things that you can only learn thru experience, and your goal is to always be an efficient planter, so the knowledge you gain is of major importance when assessing planting sites. I have always had better luck on planting the outside of bends and oxbows in the stream channel, so sharing this with you may be of benefit.

The willows and trees we plant in our BVRR&E Program do a lot better when planted in native grasses, on the outside of bends. The water’s capillary action is boosted when a slight amount of pressure, from the helical flow at the outside of the bend, helps force moisture further up into the stream bank. If the outside of the bend is north facing, the reduction of evaporation also has an influence.

The outside bends in streams is the best place to plant also, because that is where you will find the erosion sites. During flood events, the outside of sharp bends in the channel will get major toe erosion, sometimes causing the slope or bank to collapse. Once a strong network of roots from both willows or trees have taken a firm grip on the soil on the outside banks, the erosion problems are reduced significantly. This is why our riparian planting program can produce such great results over time. the first thing that you will notice, once stream banks stabilize, is that the stream bed starts to clean out, showing gravel, cobble and boulders that were once smothered in a thick layer of silt.

The new growth is also a great preventer of further major erosion problems. I have witnessed some major expenditures made to stabilize eroding stream banks, when all you really need are trees and willows. The type of stream bank stabilization you are faced to fix, will also influence your decision making, when it comes to stream bank stabilization projects. All of the creeks in the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program” are pretty much the same in the type of stream banks, they have soft soil or clay banks, covered with sedge and grass. The type of planting I do with advanced growth cuttings is ideal for this type of soft soil planting site application.

Agriculture Is Responsible For More Phosphorous Than Urban Waste Water

The huge amounts of phosphorous that comes from agricultural surface water run-off is enormous. Many farmers over fertilizer and even if they follow the guidelines, the rain may wash much of it downslope into the creeks and springs. This is not just my opinion, it has been labeled a major contributor to the eutrophication of Lake Winnipeg, in different studies. All of our major rivers like the Bow River, Saskatchewan, Oldman and Milk River systems flow into Lake Winnipeg, eventually. The phosphorous flows via small streams into rivers and then into the lake, where terrible algae blooms have been occurring in recent years. Ultimately, the water ends up in the Hudson’s Bay and the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean.

So here is the really interesting part for me personally, we are actually responsible for polluting the oceans and not just our streams and rivers. I have heard the words, “we are polluting the oceans”, in conversation, where the person talking doesn’t realize that we can actually do something about it, close to home. There is a very direct result in taking care of our local streams and rivers, down to the smallest of tributaries.

There is no way to really control what individual farmers will do with a good supply of fertilizer, so we must look at it from the perspective of what can we do, to reduce the amounts polluting our rivers, streams and lakes. One thing that can be a big help is the restoration of natural riparian areas where beavers can build dams and wet lands can help absorb some of the run-off chemicals. However, this costs money and outside of some type of farmer provincial or federal tax credit for doing something, I don’t see how things will change much. Even the municipal tax system could play a role. It does cost money to maintain fences to protect riparian zones, even if they are electric, and portable. Then there is all of the hard work to keep things maintained.

Waste water treatment involves treating phosphorous at their treatment plants, there is some control here. With agriculture, only a constant water monitoring program can reveal how phosphorous levels are and sometimes pin-point the source. I do know of some groups that have water monitoring programs, and this is always a good way to help keep the public informed of what condition our flowing stream’s water quality is in. Possibly in the future, a fixed water monitoring station with remote spectrographic analysis, can be installed on some streams to keep track water quality in a more consistent level. We do have the technology, just need the funding I suppose.

Besides fertilizer, the common cow or horse pie is another concern. There have been attempts locally, to move the location of corrals and feedlots on ranches, away from trout streams, with success. As long as cattle are allowed to graze close to a trout stream, there will be high nutrient load into the stream’s flowing water. On livestock trails that led down valleys to the stream at the bottom, the poop will have a perfect route to wash downslope to the creek or river. Because it is a main trail, the cattle or horses are not going to step off trail to drop a load. Riparian zones, with lots of thick cover can help filter and catch much of the nutrient, but not all.

So you can see there is a high degree of need to take care of our riparian zones, along streams. Before recovery can start, some type of fencing or pasture management needs to be designed to allow growth along the streams. The Dogpound Creek, to the north of Cochrane, has been fenced back in the mid-1980’s, Roger Packham was responsible for signing up landowners along many kilometres of the creek. The results have been spectacular, but there are maintenance costs involved, so this type of program is a hard one to push. Maybe if there were tax benefits to areas fenced on private land, we could forge ahead with the program. Landowners are very interest in taking care of the creek that flows thru their property, but they need some help to get the job done and continue to invest time and effort to maintain a fencing program.

Old Favourite

This is a Ray Mead Salmon Fly that I tied, back in the day. It was one of my favourite patterns to dress up my tying vise. The married black and yellow dyed goose quill is what I love the most. When I was just a small kid, my folks had a chrome yellow and black 1954 Ford station wagon, which I can still clearly remember. Year’s later, I saw it in a small gravel pit on the Stoney Nations land to the west. It was pretty rusted up, but the color was still the same.
Our planted willows and the tall canary grass hide the Bighill Creek in places, in the community of Glenbow, in the town of Cochrane. The creek in Cochrane is slowly transforming into a wonderful habitat, with song birds, waterfowl, including Grebes and Mergansers. A few mink have also claim their territory and fish in the creek at different times of the year, including winter.

Slow Growth has its benefits

The willows that are planted right along the water’s edge my grow slower than the ones planted right on top of the stream bank and further back, but the benefits of having the plants right above and in the water are easy for the experience fly fisher to understand. Where the plants grow right on the surface of the stream, new habitat is taking shape. It will take time, but the new willows will continue to grow and thicken. Beavers and muskrats will graze upon the willows, but they will survive this and over time become more outstanding along the stream banks.

You will see three willows that we planted, growing right on the edge of the water, on the far bank. This deep run has aquatic weeds at the top end and once the willows have grown a bit more, plenty of overhead cover and shade will be provided, for the resident trout population.

In the centre of the photo, you can see a rusty color plant, which is called Western Curly Dock. It has a high level of tannic acid (tannin) and was used for the hide tanning process by early settlers. It is native to our western trout streams, and the streams where we plant willows and trees have lots of the Dock plants along the streams. The weed in the stream channel is Large Sheath Pond Weed (Potamogeton vaginatus Turcz.), which is common on the Bow River and tributaries. It provides great cover habitat for trout and is full of aquatic invertebrates that provide food for trout. Muskrats eat the roots and base of the stem on this aquatic weed.

Willows and Trees Along The Water’s Edge

It was my goal to start a planting system that could target planting areas right along the water’s edge, without having to dig a hole or disturb the stream bank in any way. The result was to push plant a pre-rooted cutting straight into the stream bank. This method would not destabilize the stream bank in anyway and as long as the cuttings were collected from the watershed, they would be planted as being native to the watershed.

From a fisheries perspective, the habitat benefits would be the most rewarding to me personally, but there are many other benefits that have been mentioned from time to time on this website. They are as follows:

  • Improve stream bank stability and provide a healthy riparian zone.
  • reduce the annual loading of the stream channel with clay, soil, sand or silt, by planting on erosion sites.
  • Improve water quality thru bio-filtration in the riparian zone.
  • Help maintain cold water temperatures for trout.
  • Provide fish habitat for resident stream trout, this includes habitat for aquatic invertebrates, which is a food base for wild trout.
  • Help create “in channel” flow constriction, created by the planted willows and trees growing in over the water and under, hopefully on both sides of the channel or stream banks.
  • Boost the submerged, suspended aquatic invertebrate habitat.

If you examine the art rendering below, the stream habitat benefits mentioned above will show how the habitat part of the list is helping boost the trout habitat and population, by planting right along the water’s edge.

This drawing may help you better understand the importance of willows and trees along the water’s edge.
This illustration shows how the willows and trees can encroach on the stream channel’s flow, creating a constriction, which increases velocity in the centre of the channel. The increased velocity will scour the bottom clean, exposing gravel and cobble, with boulders. This substrate provides excellent aquatic invertebrate habitat.

Constricted flow in a stream with a given volume of water flowing at a specific gradient creates the velocity of flow. The constriction can also cause a damming effect, backing up the flow and increasing the depth in the channel. During flood events the scouring effects are very forceful and this helps keep the channel narrow and deep. Trout benefit from the results of a healthy riparian grown, of willows and trees.

Multiple years of planting, in the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program has resulted in new native willow plants growing on both sides of the stream channel, at all of the planting sites. You know that resident trout will enjoy the benefits of our planting efforts, thru better fish habitat, and it all is quite natural in appearance.

Program Update for September 2020

Just completed the seventh year of the program, so it was nice to let you know all is going as planned. Except for the pandemic of course! This year, in the spring, I planted 3,400 native willow and tree plants myself. I had to cancel the school groups planting that was planned for the spring, which is expected. Despite this drawback, the program is now responsible for a total planting count of 75,214 native willow and tree plants, since the first year in 2014. I am happy to report another 8th year of planting will occur in 2021. The program will stay scaled down, due in part to the lack of volunteer help, besides myself.

As the old saying goes; “The show Must Go On!” and that is exactly what I plan on working towards. However, this next year, I am going to concentrate on the Bighill Creek, alone!

Evan Martens Fishing Report

It is the time of year where the leaves begin to turn. There is a chill in the air overnight, frost on the ground in the morning, mist and fog in the air; for char and brown trout, this is a time of year where they fatten up and migrate to their spawning grounds. 

Left; Evan Martens and right; Parker Makkreel, hold a couple of slabs. Location undisclosed!

Fall has always been my favorite season, many large trout can be caught on the migration upstream, prior to spawning. Large Brown Trout can be seen sipping off the surface, chasing baitfish along the water’s edge. To me, a fisherman, it creates a smile; in recognition that happiness is enjoying the little things in life.

They say the best of summer has gone, and the new fall has not yet been born. 

Summer is on its last legs, bringing me to recollect all the memories I have been humbled by this summer. 

Through the people I met, to experiences I had, 2020 so far, has been one of my best. 

A wise man once said a picture can say a thousand words. In this case, that is the truth. 

Publisher’s Note

Both Evan and Parker discovered the benefits of having some wheels to get to those many fishing destinations that had been building up on their wish list. I remember fondly the times when my fishing buddies and I would head out for adventures in exploration and quality time on the water. Getting outdoors in a time of pandemic is the type of escape we all cherish, good for you both!

West Nose Creek Plantings

Recently, I inspected a few planting sites on West Nose Creek. It was good to see the planted willows and trees were really growing well this year. Despite the tall grass and heavy beaver traffic along the creek, our willow plantings are coming along nicely.

In spots where the soil was just right, the willows planted, starting in 2015, are getting taller and thicker along the stream banks.
If you venture into the tall grass and new willow growth, you get a better perspective of how the cover habitats are coming. Lots of new willow stands means more nesting habitat, and an improved wildlife corridor for native ungulates and fur bearing animals. The new nesting habitat will be ideal for song birds and waterfowl.

There are a growing number of storm drain retention ponds along the West Nose Creek, every place these are found, you usually find ground spring water as well. When large infra structure, in the form of large diameter concrete storm drain pipes are laid deep in the earth of a city, they encounter ground springs, the exit outflows are usually where you will find these ground water outflows as well. The storm water pipes flow into the nearest drainage, usually a creek or river. The ground spring water that flows into the creek can help keep water temperatures cold, and clean the water up a bit as well.

This added flow of ground spring water is welcome to the wild trout population and the other important aquatic life that abounds. There are also a lot of what can be called course fish, like suckers and minnows. These fish are important forage to the larger German brown trout, which like to make a meal of another fish. So in summary, West Nose Creek is not in as bad a shape as you might think. It supports enough life that it deserves the attention such a huge aquatic life chain should deserve! All within the city of Calgary, – isn’t that great!

Trico Time On The Bow

The tiny Trico Mayfly has been probably one of the smallest and hardest patterns to fish successfully on the Bow, in my own experience. I have tried the smaller Cleon Mayflies with success, but that is getting a little ridiculously small. The Trico dry fly can be imitated with a size 18 down to 22 fly hook. Not much to tie the adult, but you must have the right materials to do it right. I like calf tail for the wing, and boar hair or similar for the three tails. Three tails does matter, so don’t skimp!

I tied this Trico dry with white calf hair for the wing.

If there is lots of large sheath pond weed on the river at the time of your Trico outing, be prepared for some disappointment, breaking off big trout on light leaders is easy to do with enough weeds on the bottom. In some places, you might as well forget it. I know of some clean tail-outs where the weeds are not bad, this is where I fish the hatch. Light rods are a really good idea, because you can break fish off on the set, if your rod is too stiff.

Lucky Thirteen

Just dropped by an old enhancement site to check out the pool habitats. It is nice to see that after thirteen years the pool depths are still good and the available cover habitats are great for resident trout. The creek is low volume flow with a low percent gradient, so the enhancement structures for pool habitats had to be very effective to maintain long term depth. The creek is also a spring creek, so run-off events are never to overwhelming. Yet the log v-weirs are doing a find job. Some of the pool habitats are hardly recognizable as v-weir pools. “Keep It Natural”, as I always say, and do!

The planted willows are growing around and over the pool habitat, constructed with a log v-weir. The red-osier dogwood on the far side of the pool, is my favorite for darker areas along creeks. Underneath, trout lurk in the cover habitats.
Some log v-weir pool habitats are not easily recognizable as just that, the new growth has overtaken the outer stream banks. Even in the water, the narrow leaf plantain has covered the exposed log, from our structure. Check out the cover habitat and depth in this photo.

The Canary Grass Is High

Canary grass grows thick on local streams. It grows tall and when it lays down, it provides great resident trout habitat. The bugs are thick on the tall grass, in the summer. It is a favorite home to to leaf hoppers or Jassids. It is really hard to get to the creek, to cast, when you are a fly fisher. This helps protect trout from predators, the two footed kind.

The canary grass in this photo is really high, over my own head in height. It is a great cover habitat grass that grows along many locals streams and it helps protect the creek from predators, including fly fishers. The fallen grass creates dense overhead cover on the surface of the stream, when the late fall snows help flatten the grass. Under the weight of the snow and ice some of the grass lays down on the water’s edge, where it suspends along the stream banks. Underneath, the trout find shelter and plenty of food from crawling insects.

The Flow Is Still Good

The flow on Bighill Creek has been good all summer, when it dropped a bit in late July and August, it was not by much. Trout can still migrate up the system and possibly stay there, if the water keeps coming.
This pool habitat on West Nose Creek, has our willow plants growing along the stream bank, where they were planted in 2016. The large sheath pond weed is providing great cover habitat for the resident brown trout populations. You will be hearing a lot more about this gem of a spring creek, in the future. It is hard to believe that we are lucky enough to have a stream like this, flowing thru the heart of the city of Calgary!

I wonder what some fly fishers will do when they discover an interesting little spring creek in their own back yard, in the city of Calgary. Presently, there are many days when the creek flows turbid, from cattle in the water, further upstream. On some days it flows just like a mud puddle. Pretty sad to see, but this is the reality of what has happened to some streams over time, when agriculture goes wild. However, there is some hope and a number of outside influences that can help this stream, within the city limits. And as the city expands further upstream, more of the creek can be saved!

The number of good springs feeding the main stem of the West Nose Creek are of major benefit to the aquatic life in the stream, including the wild German Brown trout. This member of the trout family is one of the heartiest, enabled to withstand higher pollution and water temperature ranges, than other cold water varieties. It has made a home of the West Nose Creek. The trout now spawns in the stream, recruiting new resident strains of the West Nose.

I did manage to capture an 80 mm brown trout fry, by angling with a fly, and this confirmed that the incubation of some brown trout eggs from the spawn on West Nose, are actually hatching. The 80mm trout could not have migrated up from any Bow River spawning sites, to the place where I captured the trout. There were just too many beaver dams downstream and an 80mm brown trout fry is still not that great a swimmer.

This is the photo I took, of the 80mm brown trout that I captured and released, on West Nose Creek. A study document was put together about my research on this area, you can check it out on a PDF download.

If you are interested in having a look at the findings of that study, check out the link:

During the fall, the water quality in West Nose Creek is more conducive to fall spawning brown trout. Fortunately, some of the fall spawning habitat on West Nose is on the Country Hills Golf Course, so the trout are pretty much protected during the fall spawn. This is really important for the trout population on the creek. Presently, there are no fishing regulations in place to protect this wonderful strain of brown trout. This has been an ongoing problem for our wild trout in this province, poor fisheries management.

A New Approach To Fish Habitat Enhancement

For the last seven years I have been planting mostly native willows, on local trout streams. There was a lot of planting going on prior to this particular project and seven year span, but the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program has been the best fish habitat enhancement program that I have ever been involved in, producing more great natural habitat than all of my previous fish habitat enhancement projects have done. The riparian planting, right along the water’s edge is the most beneficial for trout habitat, the other planting further back from the water’s edge is just as important for habitat creation and this includes other wildlife that is native to the area.

It is reasonable in cost benefit, to just plant native willows and trees, rather than spend a considerable amount of money doing some type of in-stream enhancement work. The placement of boulders in rivers and streams is great for trout habitat, but the process involved in organizing such enhancement projects is monumental for the average group of volunteers. Sometimes more money needs to be available for project management, with some labour costs. So the alternative to working on big water, is too work on smaller streams, where riparian planting is more realistic.

These planted willows are right along the water’s edge, and they are already providing some shade and cover habitat for stream trout. You can imagine in the next five years of growth, how much more cover habitat will be provided by these two plants. They are both 4 to 5 years of age. Multiple plantings occurred at this particular planting site. These two plants will also provide seed for the surrounding area, and natural recruitment will occur as well.

Growth is exponential, and in the future the riparian growth at the site shown above will be very different, and more beneficial for the stream and its wildlife. The plants growing over the water are the real goal of the riparian planting program, so their success in growth and abundance is the thing to watch over the years. It will change from year to year, but hopefully I can keep you up to date in the future.

So far, as I have shown you over the summer, our past plantings are growing nicely, and now providing some fish habitat, as well as nesting cover for some song birds. This will improve as the willow cover grows each year. Now, we are starting to see considerable change in the appearance of the stream’s channel on both Bighill, Nose and West Nose Creek, at our planting sites.

These planted willows are now providing excellent overhead cover for resident stream trout. They were planted in 2014, the first year of the BVRR&E Program.
This newly planted cutting shows you what the plants look like in the beginning. From this stage, they may grow into mature willows and trees, if they survive natures wrath.

It is a very simple process, this is why it is great for volunteers, students and corporate groups, as a method of chipping in and helping the natural world recover from previous abuse. You just punch a hole in the ground, put the plant, a cutting with pre-grown roots and leaves, add a little soil mix, water and add some more soil. After the hole around the plant is full of the soil mix, and the plants are wet with water, you can gently tamp the soil around the top of the hole. Now you have had a hand in restoring a riparian zone back to health!

The Blue Winged Olive

The fall Baetis hatches are now starting to happen and having a few Blue Winged Olive (BWO) in your fly box is a good idea. More than a few actually! The tiny dry flies are must, during a hatch on the Bow River or other outlying streams. Don’t forget your light tippet material, drying salts and floatant, either.

The small Blue Winged Olive or more commonly called BMO, is a great small dry fly for fall hatches, and of course, you will need them in the spring too. They don’t take up much room in your fly box. Size 18 and 20 are a good mix. The tippet you tie them on should be 4X or lighter.

Large trout will pod up and feed on this tiny Baetis imitation, the pod or school keeps constant watch for any approaching danger, so you need to move from a downstream direction and fish the trout at the tail end of the pod, first. Sometimes this works and other times you only get one hook up before the group scrambles for cover. Long runs where multiple pods or some single fish find a feeding station and keep it while the small mayflies are drifting with the slower current. Some really good fly fishers will boast of catching three or four from a pod, but the trout must have been spread out a bit.

Fly fishing light leaders and small dry flies is a whole other realm of magic, so you need to take this type of angling very seriously and walk and observe from a distance, until you have figured out a plan. The trout are generally in shallower water, or just below the surface, so a little stealth goes a long way. Try to keep your casts relatively short, so you have more control and you can fine tune your presentation. Light fly rods are a blast, but please consider the amount of time that you have to fight these larger trout, to safely release them in good condition. Not too much lactic acid build up, or stress, in other words. Nets are nice! They will shorten the amount of time you have the trout hooked and insure a quicker hook removal and release.

Photos Along The Creek

The Buffalo berries are now growing along Bighill Creek, in the town of Cochrane. Not too many bears to worry about, just yet. There have been times in years past, when bears would wonder into town, looking for fall loot.

I ran into a nanny and some kids walking along the path today. I overheard one of the kids, who were very close by, asking what type of berries those are, so I automatically added “Buffalo Berries”, as an quick answer to the child’s question. I also told the kids that bears like to feed on them, just thought they might be interested in knowing that.

Because I was wearing my cowboy hat, sun glasses and a bandana, my appearance may have scared the kids more than my comment about the bears liking the berries! It was kind of funny to see the look on their young faces, I will remember that for a while. I ducked into the bush close by, because I was taking a few photos of the creek. At least the kids now know what buffalo berries are, thanks no doubt to my intervention in the conversation. The young Asian women that was tending the flock, was just about ready to make her self defense stance, I’m sure. Kids just don’t like to listen to their elders anymore, I guess.

I think that photos of the creek are of interest to those that like to see what the creek looks like these days. Sometimes I will throw in a photo of a good looking trout pool or habitat, just to keep those readers that like this type of photo, coming back to my site. It is also good to educate the public to what a creek should look like or to have a look at a section of creek that has been planted and is now growing in. The added trout photos are also of high interest to those that can’t get out on the water as much as they would like to.

Theories Abound

We started to see some changes in the Upper Bow River, in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Reports and discussions about that decline in mountain whitefish numbers was the first alarm, and this was the topic of the day, in some fly shops in Canmore, back then. It was right around the time that Banff upgraded it’s sewage treatment plant and just a few years later, Canmore. The fishing was just never the same we thought back then. Later on, Didymo or rock snot started to be problematic on the Bow River, where it flows thru the town of Cochrane, Alberta. Soon, the sport fishery in the river started to change dramatically, after the loss of the mountain whitefish, the rainbow trout populations soon followed. We didn’t know if it was because of whirling disease or the problems with the rock snot.

It is common scientific research that determined that Didymosphenia geminata was the cause of aquatic invertebrate population crashes on the river. The dense Benthic diatom can coat the bottom rocks and smoother any insect life that lives on the surface of the rocks, like caddis larva and midge larva flies, not to mention Mayfly nymphs. The only remnant population of stoneflies to survive today, are living most of the time under the rocks, so there is some present in the river today, but not like it use to be. If there is little food for trout, they will move to a habitat where it is present, and this can mean either some local streams or the Bearspaw Dam.

Didymo or rock snot first appeared as problematic in the late 1980’s, on Vancouver Island. It was always present on the Island, it was even mentioned by Roderick Haig-Brown in his writings, in the 1940’s or around that time. This is when Haig-Brown was a popular fish conservationist and writer. I suspect that the abundance of it back then was not nearly as bad as it is today. The diatom has spread across the world now, and it has decimated the sport fishery on many streams and rivers. Now we have problems with it on the Bow River, between Ghost Reservoir and Bearspaw Reservoir.

A very low soluble reactive phosphorous (SRP) has turned out to be the cause of a bloom, ultimately the outbreak can be linked to climate change, amoung other things. There is natural occurring Phosphorous in all streams and rivers, but when these levels drop, Didymo or rock snot moves in. So what is happening to the natural occurring phosphorous in the Bow River?

Here is where it gets kind of complicated. In waste water treatment plants, phosphorous is treated to remove it from the effluent, before treated water is returned to the river. Regulations on the amount of phosphorous in treated effluent have become very stringent in recent years, so removal of it in waste water treatment is a high priority. I have researched what chemicals are used in phosphorous removal process and let me quote from a supplier of chemicals website:

“Traditional commodity chemicals will not remove enough phosphorus”

“Changing outdated chemical phosphorus removal habits with specialty, high-performance Rare Earth chemicals that outperform alum and ferric by as much as 80%.”

You can get the idea from the sales pitch above, chemicals, including rare earth chemicals can be used for this problem. Unfortunately, I could not find any info on whether any of these chemical treatments end up in the river, where they would remove existing natural phosphorous levels. It is time to understand that we don’t really know that much about how our waste water treatment process and how it is impacting our rivers and streams, and possibly causing horrendous damage to the fisheries and aquatic life in those waters. Has there been any studies related to this theory?

The Alberta Government published a 50 page document on Phosphorous levels in the Bow River, titled: “The Bow River Phosphorous Management Plan”, published in 2014. The document is full of information regarding how bad too much phosphorous is for a river system. How it could cause advanced eutrophication or make the streams and rivers so rich that algae blooms and such may occur. But it doesn’t deal with the drawbacks of too much phosphorous removal from those same streams. There must be a balance here and I don’t know if it is being looked at that closely. We have tons’ of provincial fisheries biologists to investigate such things, but I have not been able to discover any research on this topic, especially local documentation on the web, yet!

It is known science that tells us that too little phosphorous is causing a collapse in our fisheries in the Bow River, mainly in the upper Bow River, and where is flows past the town of Cochrane, but the lower Bow River has not been fully impacted yet. This is probably because so much of the effluent that is treated in the city of Calgary is done so with an older technology, which probably doesn’t remove as much phosphorous or possibility that the shear volume of treated waste water allows some phosphorous to keep the river productive, from a fisheries and aquatic life perspective.

The key thing here is the aquatic life in the Bow River, how is its health and how are the populations of invertebrates holding up. I may have to go down to the river and do some kick samples for invertebrates. This is something that old guys do anyway. Nothing better to do I guess! No; I think it would be interesting to investigate this a little more anyway. It gets put on the to do list!

I am not sure how the treatment plants in Banff and Canmore treat their phosphorous, but it could be with either biological methods or chemical additives. The use of ultra-violet radiation can also be used to reduce phosphorous. It is all pretty complicated for the average person to understand, but my question is: Does the treatment of phosphorous at waste water treatment plants reduce the natural occurring phosphorous in the Bow River. We need some more research in this area.

Phosphorous levels in the Bow River are damaging if they are too high and if they are too low. It is important to closely monitor the levels and make sure that enough is in the river to support life. This topic rarely gets much attention in the media that I have read, so more information is needed to help keep watch of what exactly is going on with our river water chemistry.

In the mean time, the best way to help prevent the spread of Didymo to other Alberta waters, is too keep your waders, boots and gear clean. For those who guide, make sure that your drift boats stay clean as well. The best way to clean equipment is with good old dish soap, which by the way does have phosphorous in it. Wouldn’t it be ironic that a little dish soap could possibly add a little fertilizer to the stream’s basic requirements to support life!

Caddis larva will use small pebbles to build their protective shelters. A silk, produced by the larva, is used to glue the small protective shell together.

The Case of the Disappearing Trout

I had a few good days of dry fly action on the local reach of the Bow River, in Cochrane. Now, the trout seem to have disappeared once again. I suspect we are dealing with a highly transient population of rainbow trout. The warm weather is August may have forced the small rainbows out of the Jumpingpound Creek, into the Bow River, not they may have either returned to the JP Creek or travelled to other habitats in the river or downstream into Bearspaw Dam. It just so happens that the good fishing that I had, also corresponded with a summer stonefly hatch. It may have been the hatch of the Acroneria sp. (Perlidae), which usually starts as early as mid-July and can go into the fall.

The trout may have moved into the Bow River, up from Bearspaw Dam, to feed on this hatch of large stoneflies, or it may just have kept the rainbow trout in the river for a while, just after they migrated downstream from the JP Creek, into the Bow. I suspect that trout are constantly on the move, trying to find good food and reasonable habitat. Late summer and into the fall is the time that rainbow trout are super busy fattening up for the winter months. This can be good for the fly fisher, with brown trout also available to catch.

The last few times that I fished the Bow River, here in Cochrane, the trout were hard to find and the few that I did get responses from, were not as aggressive as the first few times that I fished, weeks ago now. This is why I got interest again, in finding out more about didymo, which seems to be very abundant on our stretch of the Bow River these days.

This is a photo of river rocks covered with Didymo or Rock Snot, on our reach of the Bow River, near Cochrane, Alberta. This Benthic Diatom smoothers the rocks so that small invertebrate habitats are destroyed. Some stonefly populations struggle to exist in the river, along with a few other more resilient varieties of aquatic invertebrates.
The river water levels have dropped recently, exposing the thick mat of Didymo on the river rocks.
You can see a boot print on the covering of Didymo. This is how the moss gets transferred to other water bodies, by bits of it being attached to your foot wear.
This photo of a brown trout and the Didymo on the rocks, was taken just recently, on the Bow River in Cochrane.
The top is an olive shrimp and the bottom a palomino shrimp. The shrimp is a must have lake fly pattern in sizes 10 and under. Trout will feed heavily on this invertebrate, whenever it is available. The trout are usually on the cruise and will take the shrimp with a fast strike.