New Willow Plantings With Older Willow Plantings – More Habitat

This winter I inspected some of the planting sites from this past 2019 season. Among the sights, there were a few that had older plantings that we accomplished in 2015. The plants from the 2019 planting were still so small and hard to see, except in the snow. Those particular planting sites are looking really good and when spring comes, new greenery will enhance the stream banks on West Nose Creek.

You can see in this photo of West Nose Creek plantings, the ones that we did in 2015 are coming along very nicely.

Over the next few years, I will constantly monitor the sites and report back to you, on how things are growing and looking. The follow-up visits on planting sites is very enjoyable for me personally, and some photos are always welcome to help show how things are coming, besides just explaining it. If you are an occasional visitor to this site, you can also enjoy watching the change, over time.

Another reach on West Nose Creek, where the willows are doing great!

More Growth Showing For New Year Trout

My trips to watch the young of the year brook trout grow in their first weeks of free swimming, is an enjoyable experience. The small trout are slowing showing signs of growth, if you know what to look for. I always watch the fish’s tail development and parr marks. The small trout develop secondary parr marks that show as small patches of black, between the large main parr marks.

There are now more parr marks on the sides of the small trout in Millennium Creek. The tails on the fish are also in fast development. The eyes on the tiny trout don’t appear as large as they did a few weeks ago.
I suspect that most of the new hatchlings are pretty much dispersed by now. There didn’t appear to be the numbers of young trout, when compared to the last time I was out photographing these tiny brook trout. This dispersal is related to “Density dependency” .
This small trout blends in good with the large rock it is holding over.

Ice Opening Up On Bighill Creek

There has been exceptionally good flow throughout the winter months, which is good. Recently, the creek has opened up in areas of the lower end, near the Bow River. This creates good fishing conditions for mink that frequent the creek. The mink take their fair share of the trout that live in the Bighill Creek.

Bighill Creek is starting to open up in a few spots, on the lower reach.

Anxious About Spring

It is always the same, about this time of the winter, thoughts of spring are constantly on my mind. I thing that since I started planting in the spring, my anxiety for nicer weather in March, hasn’t improved any. This is alright though, the time until melt is not that far off, hopefully starting in early April this spring. Change can come fast some years, but with the colder March weather still a threat this spring, things could be totally different.

We have a good number of native willows and trees to plant this spring, so when the frost leaves the ground, I am looking forward to starting to plant. The frost along the streams is gone faster than on north facing ground that has shade preserving the frozen ground. This ground that is sheltered from the sun, can sometimes take until late May to thaw.

Compared to other spring planting programs, in recent years, this year’s planting will be smaller in size, but still pretty significant in the big picture. Our goal for planting this spring is now over 2,000 plants, probably 2,500 in the end. This is still a good size crop, if the planting goes as planned. Once again this year, there will be school students involved, so I look forward to that.

In really clear water, brook trout will often take cover in any available habitat, only to venture out in the darker hours to feed. They seem to be more colorful in clear water habitats, with dark color bottoms. I always look for the white fins that show up really well on these colorful trout.

In this year’s spring planting, the Nose Creek and Bighill Creek will be the main planting venues. However, I will still keep you up to date on how our large West Nose Creek plantings from the past are coming along. There are some areas that I expect will show substantial growth, thanks to some extensive planting by volunteers, over the years. Hopefully, we will have some really young planters from Glenbow Elementary School this year.

The Early Brook Trout Hatch

The brook trout hatch of the fall 2019 spawning season, on Millennium Creek, is quite unique. Due to the warm ground water spring water temperatures, in the winter, the incubating trout egg hatch is usually early, likely in December. In January, sometimes in the first week, the hatched trout will emerge from their gravel spawning beds. At first they appear as trout larva, with rounded tails. Then they slowly start to transform into what is commonly called the fry stage in their lives.

This tiny brook trout still has a slightly rounded tail, and very large eyes. The Millennium Creek trout fry habitats are very rich with microscopic life and larger invertebrate populations. The young trout have plenty of food to help them in their first weeks of life.

The young trout of Millennium Creek need to learn about their food source. I have watched them feed, sometimes taking a small piece of debris in their mouths, just to check and see if it tastes like food. Probably if the item is soft in their bite, the tiny trout will figure it is food. Anything that is small enough and moves, is in big trouble. The trout are especially attracted to motion and the scent in the water. This is all proven science.

This trout hatch is proven to be so consistent, most likely it is all due to the environment being a very reliable and safe habitat for any trout eggs to hatch in. The water in the ground spring has been tested and there is an abnormally high level of orthophosphate, which is commonly called just phosphate. The ingredient enhances the nutrient levels in the water and helps promote good populations of microbial life. Over the past ten years, there has been ten successful trout egg hatches on Millennium Creek. This makes the area especially important!

The water testing results were reviewed by Al Sosiak, who was a professional with AEP Water Resources, at the time of testing. It is always best to have some outside professional help on such things. Al Sosiak was always willing to help out when needed and we also managed to get in a little fly fishing over the years. From the steelhead waters of BC to the local trout streams, we fished for trout and had fun doing just that.

A more recent photo of Al Sosiak, fly fishing the Bow River.

The trout egg hatch starts later on the Bighill Creek itself. During a study in 2009, I live trapped trout larva in mid-May. Soon after the first trout larva was captured, photographed and safely released, I trapped many more. This would indicate that the emergence occurs mainly in the month of May every year. So it is really nice to have an early and late trout hatch on the Bighill Creek system. An early hatch in January on Millennium Creek and one later on in May. There is also a hatch on the upper spring in April, so this adds to the overall recruitment of juvenile brook trout into the BH Creek.

The early wet fly patterns are a good reminder of our fly fishing heritage.

Lots Of Snow For Spring Thaw

Locally, there is plenty of snow pack in the bushy valley bottoms, along the creeks that are home to wild trout. By April, the snow and ice will start to melt and flow into the streams. Thus starts the spring thaw. It feels like a time of rejuvenation and the warmer days are welcomed, after a long cold winter. It is also a good time to whatch the water in local streams.

I love to see the first flows of water, over an ice covered creek. The warmer water quickly cuts a new channel in the surface of the ice, and the melting ice cover is thawed thru in days.

The water table was good this past season and it will be good when the stream channels open up. Combined with a good melt, there looks to be plenty of good flow this next spring. I am hoping that the brown trout eggs in Bighill Creek, start to hatch in May, or emerge from the gravel. It takes some pretty clean water, though out the winter months, for the eggs to hatch.

We already know that there was a successful hatch of brook trout, on Millennium Creek, so we are off to a good start for the new year. There is one more important small spring creek trout hatch, which I expect will also be a successful one, with the safe and healthy incubation of trout eggs, in the spawning beds. I am happy to stay optimistic about the health and well being of our local trout populations.

The Green Highlander is one of my own personal favorites to both tie and admire. I recall Al Sosiak, fly fishing for steelhead on Vancouver Island, BC, using a Green Highlander to entice a steelhead. His pattern was a hair wing version of the old classic.

The Beloved Brook Trout

Don’t let anyone tell you how terrible the brook trout is! “Brookies”, as we call them, are a lovely trout to fly fish for, or just admire. They occupy the smaller trout streams in our area. Headwater tributaries that flow east from the Rockies, are their well known home waters. Where ever the spring water upwells from the ground, in volume, there will usually be brook trout. I agree with the eradication of brook trout in waters presently occupied by our native cutthroat trout, but where cutthroat trout cannot survive, brook trout can.

The lure of fly fishing beaver dams on small east slopes streams is fixated in my memory, and I am not the only one. Plenty of times I would fly fish with a friend for friends, on beaver dams that held plenty of brook trout. The nice thing about fly fishing beaver dams, is that there is enough room for two or three fly fishers, if there are enough beaver dams to provide the right conditions to allow lots of water to fish.

Brook trout are real survivors, their proximity to clean, cold ground water, makes them an ideal variety of trout for survival. All we, as humans, need to do, is protect our small streams. Headwater riparian zones are also unique wildlife habitats for other birds and animals. Beavers are usually left to eat themselves out of a place to live, over time. Then the stream recovers and the process starts over again. Bighill Creek is the same way, but the beavers are managed to keep the riparian habitat.

The two main tributaries where trout spawn are pretty consistent, but Ranch House Spring Creek is the exception. The storm drain has pretty much destroyed this spawning tributary to the Bighill Creek. There is an important lesson to be learned here. If the importance of Ranch House Spring Creek to the fishery was known at the time, the planning for the storm drain would have been different, and the trout would still live in the creek.

This is a normal discharge from the storm drain on Ranch House Spring Creek. It gets much worse.
This is what it does to the creek, each time it rains in the development that feeds the storm drain. Over time, the natural stream channel is eroding away, along with the wild trout population that once occupied the creek.

2020 Fishing Report For Ghost Lake Reservior’s Lake Trout

The Ghost Lake reservoir is well known for its once popular lake trout fishing. However, the large lake trout of the Ghost are very scares these days. I don’t bother fishing the lake anymore, due mainly to frustration. When I am on the lake, and the fishing sucks, you have plenty of time to think about bygone days. Even now, some anglers target the few remaining juvenile lake trout in the lake. Some catch and keep lake trout as small as 10 inches. The anglers are still aloud a harvest of 5 lake trout, daily.

A few years ago, the once 3 lake trout limit was increase to 5. Maybe it is the thought of some anglers that if the daily limit is 5, their chance may be improving on the lake. Excuse me while I chuckle! Those anglers will most likely spend the entire day and not get a bite. I still keep track of any fishing reports from those that have yet to give up on the lake. Sure, every now and then, they are rewarded for their dedication, but overall it really sucks out there.

In the last decade, we have seen the lake whitefish population on the lake, crash. The weekends were once busy with ice shacks, tents and those that just wanted to be out there on a nice day. It is really sad when you think about it. A once viable sport fishery left to meet its doom! The regulations for lake whitefish are still the same. You can catch and kill up to 10 daily. What happened to the word sustainability in our fishery?

The giant Ghost Lake Grey Trout were once a target for those anglers wanting to capture a really large trophy of their life time, and it could all happen just minutes from the town of Cochrane and the city of Calgary. Now the large trout are close to disappearing for good. What every happened to the word “Conservation”?

Bottom line is that we don’t need to let our wild trout fisheries disappear due to poor fisheries management. If we are going to save this world from the constant abuse to our natural environments, we need to start doing something worthwhile in our own back yard. If the biologists that are held responsible for protecting our local natural assets, can’t accomplish something as simple as designing regulations that favour the fish, not the meat anglers, it is time to restructure.

It is my opinion that the open houses that are held for public input, in fisheries regulation management, are really a joke. I am under the impression that the fisheries managers never listen to anyone, anyway! I haven’t been to one of these in years, due to past experiences. They still send me invitations however. It is like they already know that they have broken my spirit and won’t show anyway. They are right there!

My Argument For The Trout

If it was up to me for designing a regulation change that would help the Ghost Lake trout and lake Whitefish fishery to have a chance at recovery, I would make the following changes:

No Fish Harvest – Possession and daily harvest limit – 0.

When the fishery has recovered, then a new conservation minded regulation can be implemented. One that is in favour of the wild fish that need some help and attention.

The 2020 “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program” Update

We have a good crop of willow cuttings that will be ready to plant by the first weeks of May this spring. This year will mark the seventh year of the program and some dramatic, but very positive changes have been made since our planting program began. New plant growth is starting to transform the stream banks and improve water quality, by reducing the amount of loose soil that enters the streams every year.

Our planted willows are encroaching over the stream channel in many places, providing the needed shade and cover for stream occupants, like trout. This also helps keep the water temperatures cooler for wild trout and other native life, below the surface of the water.

If you are a fly fisher, it would be hard not to look at the photo above and think of where the trout would be holding in the stream channel, and where would be the best place for a cast of the fly line, leader and fly. The weeds in the stream channel would definitely be a factor in the whole notion of presenting a trout fly in this equation. Sometimes you would have to pass up any attempt. It may cost you a trout fly in the process.

It is really nice to see some of the areas in our planting program doing so well, in the riparian zone along the creeks. Also, I sometimes try to envision what the creeks may look like after a few decades of growth. In my home town of Cochrane, there is a beaver management program that helps keep the balance. If not, you would not see such dramatic results in some planted areas. However, over time, there will be so many willows and poplars for beavers to feed on, and this abundance of food for the beavers will complicate things a bit.

A young rainbow trout takes on a large brown drake when the hatch is at its peak. A big meal for a small trout.

Recently, I confirmed two school groups for a planting event this spring. Both CW Perry Middle School and George McDougall High School will once again be involved in our planting program. CW Perry, under Mike Dow’s organizing and overseeing, will be involved for the fourth year. Their first planting was in 2017. It was great to work with this group and they managed a few creek cleanups while they were at it.

My planting group was on the nearside and in the background is teacher Mike Dow and group. In the next group down was Crystal Bazar, from Airdrie Parks. I look forward to seeing the after photos of this site, a few more years from now.

March – For Lake Trout

March is just over a week away, and this thought often brings back memories of the time that I spent ice fishing on the Ghost, in the month of March. My main target species, back in the day, was Grey Trout or more commonly known as Lake Trout. Back in the 1940’s and in the 1950’s, Lake Trout eyed eggs from the Cold Lake Hatchery, were planted in the Ghost Lake Reservoir. The earlier stocking of lake trout, in the 1940’s may have been young trout, but I could not find any record of this. The eyed eggs were planted in 1952.

There is also a good chance that the lake trout came downstream of Minnewanka Lake, in the early days, before the dams were constructed on the Cascade River outflow or the Two Jack Lake outflow, for the power plant. This is also a strong possibility. The Lake trout are now in Bearspaw and the Ghost Reservoir. I have heard verifiable reports that lake trout are caught in the upper Bow River.

The Ghost Lake trout were once relatively abundant, now only a small percent of the once numerous giants are left in the lake. They do grow close to 30 lbs. in weight and over 30 inches in length. A twenty pound trout was aged and found to be 20 years of age. Another 14 lb. trout was aged at 14 years, this was done by a provincial fisheries biologist, in 1989.

This colored sketch should give you a general idea of what the larger giants would look like.

A few years ago, a decision to maintain lower lake levels, later into the summer, was made. This is part of the City of Calgary’s future flood plan mitigation. Hoping that a reservoir that is drawn down in the early spring and kept that way for a time window, lasting longer than the old spring water management plan, will prevent the flood damage that occurred in 2013. The new plan may have adverse impacts on the resident lake trout populations.

The lake trout is a late fall spawning char, so the eggs laid down in shallower water in the fall will be left high and dry during the early spring, when the eggs are still in the cobble and gravel bottom substrate. There was never a proper study completed to determine where the lake trout spawn in the Ghost Reservoir, but now it may be too late. I don’t believe that the province does lake trout plantings of eyed eggs or young trout anymore. They may tackle this challenge if necessary, but what constitutes necessary.

These streaming wet flies will catch trout in the Ghost Reservoir.

Another Great Day For Photographing Baby Trout

Every now and then you get a good day for photography, and I did myself, recently. The light was just right and there were plenty of young trout swimming out from their cover habitats. I took some video as well. I couldn’t pass up on some good and fortunate circumstances for photographing baby trout.

The baby trout were out and about. A good time to photograph these trout fry and also take some video sequences.
Seldom do you get a chance to photograph a fry with its mouth open. For some reason, the thought of a famous painting called “The Scream”, comes to mind. The tiny trout was inhaling something.

There seems to be a noticeably high number of newly hatched trout this year, in Millennium Creek. This surprises me, because the during the spawn, only 18 brook trout redds were documented on the creek. The appearance of numerous trout will be good for the Bighill Creek into the future. The reliability of this little stream to produce such high numbers of new trout for the system is really good news to report.

As the chart above shows, the 2019 spawning season was not really that great, when compared to previous years. The high number of hatched trout will make up for the low number of egg nests.
This beautiful blend of mottled bottom color and a small trout to be framed by it all, makes for a good photo. This small brook trout was in constant motion around that dead limb of a willow, or a poplar that had blended into the other bottom substrate, over time.
Here is the same trout, on the other side of the wood.

Good light for this photo.

Video of the young trout

The video sequences below, will show you some small brook trout fry, feeding on a sunny day. There was a hatch of small midge flies about, so the young trout were focusing their attention on the surface of the stream. These are all Millennium Creek brook trout from the winter hatch.

Big Thanks Go Out To All Of The Partners And Volunteers

All of the trout video and photos is carried out on areas of the Millennium Creek, where restoration and habitat enhancement work has occurred. Which basically means that the areas in the photos, are habitats that were created by the hand of women and man, during the MC program. This makes everything worthwhile.

The Millennium Creek Program was completed by Bow Valley Habitat Development, its partners and volunteers. Guy Woods, director of BVHD, was responsible for project design, and the successful implementation. All of the projects were carried out with all of the necessary provincial and federal agencies involved thru permits and authorizations. A “Big Thanks” goes out to Andy Degraw, from the Town of Cochrane, parks and facilities. Andy was key in getting the “ball rolling” on this endevour.

Trout fry will find food on the top of rocks, so a close inspection is in order for this young trout.

I feel lucky to have had such a great day of photographing something I love to see. It is a real privilege to preserve a glimpse into the secret world of baby trout. The interestingly diverse habitats in which the tiny trout thrive is also impressive.

Art work and photographs by: Guy Woods

Another Visit To The Creek

On my walk along the creek today, I met one of the team members for the Millennium Creek Restoration Project. We stopped to chat for a bit and then it was time to part ways. I had mentioned that I was on my way to the Millennium Creek that afternoon, to hopefully get a few photos of recently hatched brook trout. As it turned out, I did get some photos later on.

After a bit of a hunt, I did manage to spot this first trout, lying on the rock shown. Its motionless body didn’t help in the hunt at all.
The trout were not moving much that day, so a scan of the bottom was the only option.

Having been involved in the restoration of Millennium Creek, and conducting follow up reports, is something that I enjoy doing. There was the first spawning event occurring just weeks after the completion of the restoration program in 2008, so we have had reproduction occurring since that first year. The total number of spawning events per annum is now 13. With an average number of trout redds in the twenties range, that would mean that a lot of new trout are hatched every year, from Millennium Creek’s spawning beds..

The overhead cover was a good place to hang out.

It is nice to be able to inform all of the partners and volunteers in this Millennium Creek project that things are working out just fine on the creek. The added coverage also contributes to the publics interest in maintaining and protecting such a unique natural asset, here in the community of Cochrane, Alberta.

Out of all of the fish that I photographed this time out, this brook trout fry was the most advanced in age. I would estimate it was approximately 4 weeks since its emergence from the spawning bed.
These tiny trout can blend into the surrounding environment so well.

There is definitely interest in protecting the Millennium Creek by some locals and all of the volunteers and partners. A lot has been invested in this stream so far and it would be a shame to loose any part of it. The stream and its riparian habitat are all sensitive environments that need to be preserved. As long as the clean ground water flows, this creek can continue to thrive with life. It is an important part of our community now.

This one was swimming, so I caught its movement, but it doesn’t standout in the photo too well.

You may not have the opportunity to experience some of the things that I have, in observations of the stream’s life, but just knowing that things are alright, should give you some piece of mind. The natural environment of a flow stream can provide all types of life. We should feel responsible for such things.

This has been the tenth year that I have observed the results of the fall spawning of brook trout on Millennium Creek.

Spring Planting Is Not That Far Off

This year’s “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program” will be a good one. Not as large as some of the previous years, but big enough to make a real difference. The May start date is not that far off, so I am starting to get more excited about getting on the stream banks and planting more native willows and trees. We have made quite an investment so far, with over 70,000 plants in the ground, since the first year in 2014.

Some of our willows a few years after planting.

New Addition To Trout Flies (Check out menu above)

If you would like to find out the names of these streaming wet flies, check out the trout flies listing on the main menu. Scroll to the top of the page.

More Juvenile Trout for Our Bighill Creek and System

The first reveals of new generations of trout that have hatched in 2020 is a great time to boost ones optimism and look forward to the future of the fishery. Recently, I reviewed some of the video footage and photos of young trout that I have accumulated over the years. It is important to document and compile photo evidence of such things for future reference, like establishing a baseline. There is always a good chance that all of this natural aquatic life may disappear, but this is a fear that I hope will not come to pass.

It is like the old Joni Mitchell song lyrics; “You don’t know what you got, till it’s gone!”. That is one of the first environmental tunes that I recall from my youth.

These tiny trout seem to be in constant motion, even in the slightest current of flow. Their microscopic world is full of dangers and food for the young trout.

Only a small percentage of the eggs laid down to incubate, will eventually hatch. After a small number of trout fry emerge from their spawning beds, only a small number of those will survive to see their first year’s end. This is just the way nature works for wild trout. Trout are very environmentally sensitive and they are often considered “Canaries In A Cage”, as indicators of the condition of the water and their natural environment. Very vulnerable to pollution and loss of habitat.

The dark parr marks are typical on most salmonids. Some juvenile brook trout have smaller secondary spots that are located between the larger main parr marks on their sides.

The spring creek tributaries that allow for such an abundance of life, including the spawning, incubation and hatching of trout eggs, are very important to entire aquatic balance in the main-stem of the Bighill Creek. One of them has almost been total destroyed by a storm drain inflow, from a nearby development. I doubt if there is much hope for the future of Ranch House Spring Creek.

The tail of the small brook trout is quite different than what you see on mature trout. They rely on the broad power of the tail fin to propel them from danger.

When trout eggs hatch into trout larva, their tails and fins are under developed and it takes weeks for this transformation. During that period of time, the trout are relatively poor swimmers. The trout fry are just learning how to get about and over time the word quickly can be added to this statement. It takes time to develop muscles and sharpen their mobility. After a few weeks, when the trout become better at swimming, they will venture further away from their nursery habitats.

The large dark shadow often gives their position away, on the bottom substrate and rocks.

Something that you will notice in all of the photos of young trout that I show, the water is crystal clear, yet the environment is rich in nutrient and there is a constant food supply for young trout. Some years the trout egg hatch is high in number and there are lots of new young trout to photograph.

Most of the time, the small trout fry are revealed in low light conditions. Waiting for the sunlit photos can be spent observing trout that are hard to spot.

In all of the years that I have monitored the winter hatch of trout, I have never seen any sign of whirling disease. The pure spring creek ground water is most likely why the parasite has not yet made it up into the headwaters. Wild trout are especially vulnerable to whirling disease, in their first weeks of free swimming. The young trout have soft, undeveloped spinal cartilage. This makes them an easy victim of the parasite, often transmitted thru the water as spores.

Safety of cover habitat is usually close by to trout that are still only weeks in age. The crevices under rocks and woody debris make perfect hiding spots.

Juvenile Brook Trout on Ranch House Spring Creek

The Ranch House Spring Creek was once a spawning tributary to the Bighill Creek, but a new storm drain has destroyed what once was. The video below shows newly hatched trout in the creek, before it was changed forever.

The chart above shows the documented spawning survey results. There was no spawning in 2019, so the last year was 2018. The entire stream channel has been altered after only a few years time, since the storm drain was constructed on the creek.

The chart above shows a zero for the year 2014, in which there was no spawning on RH Spring Creek. The reason for this was that the creek was used as an outflow, while pumping down a nearby lake that season. The water quality was very poor and the trout sensed this and didn’t spawn that fall.