Riparian Program Update – April 2019

The 2019 “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program”  April Update

Melting ice reveals planted willows on an eroding stream bank on Bighill Creek. These native willows were planted in the spring of 2014, during the first year of the riparian planting program. The program title is the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program”.

It is April 10th. 2019, with the spring planting planned to start in only weeks from now, I am getting excited about our spring program.  It will be another great year of planting native willows and trees on some local streams that flow into the Bow River. More native riparian cover will be created, which means better water quality and more habitat for both fish and wildlife.

On my last update, I mentioned our plant total was at 9,700 plants. My good news for the day is that the total is now up to 10,400, with more plants to be added in the next month. Presently, our tally for the sixth year of the riparian planting program is now 71,114 native willows and trees. All of the native stock was planted on a total distance of stream bank exceeding 30 kilometres in length. The program first started in 2014 and it is now averaging approximately 12,000 native plants per season.

The partners for this year’s BVRRE Program so far are:

Inter Pipeline; Shell Canada; City of Calgary; City of Airdrie; Harmony Developments; Bow Valley Habitat Development and the Cochrane Foundation. These partners have all been involved over the past few years, with some of them since the beginning of the program.

Three different schools will be part of the planting program this year. Two schools in the City of Airdrie and one in the Town of Cochrane. The school planting program covers elementary, middle school and high school students. Glenbow Elementary and CW Perry Middle Schools have been involved in our riparian planting program in the past, so it is nice to have them back for this season.

Heavy Winter Kill on Nose Creek

On a recent meeting and tour of Nose Creek in Airdrie, we noticed a number of dead pike along the stream channel of Nose Creek, in the City. I suspect the prolonged heavy cover of ice into March was responsible for a large number of dead fish in the stream. Due in part to low flows of oxygen-starved water and lack of sunlight beneath the ice, the fish will fall victim to asphyxia.

One pike, which was in an advanced state of decay, was estimated to be over six pounds in weight. Too bad that there isn’t enough wintering habitat to support the pike population on the creek. The lack of good flow is also responsible for the loss of fish. Aeration of certain areas of the stream in the City may help sustain a fish population thru the winter months, but this is something that others will have to consider and implement in the future, if possible.

The Flow Begins

Ice Leaving Area Streams

Over the past week or so, the ice has melted on some areas of the Bighill Creek, exposing good flow from the first signs of a spring thaw. Other areas of the stream channel are still covered in a dirty layer of ice, from a winter’s worth of dust and dirt contaminating the surface ice. This is especially evident in the Town of Cochrane, where dust from development is quite common. This dirty surface on the ice will speed up the melt, absorbing the sun’s heat on bright days to come.

There is still plenty of ice yet to thaw this spring. Where stream flow thru east/west deep valleys, the snow and ice will take longer to thaw. This is good for the streams, having plenty of water late into the spring months.

The stream banks are still rock hard with ice and it will be another month or longer, before the frost leaves the creek’s banks. I will be anxiously waiting for this thaw. Once the ground along the streams is soft, we can get at the spring willow and tree planting program. There are lots of native plants for some area streams this year and I can’t wait to get them in the ground, as early as possible, later on in the spring.

Hopefully, there will be time in the evenings to cast a fly line this spring. It has been a long winter and I didn’t get out to winter fish the Bow this year. I am thinking of a few brown trout streams to the north, and it has been a while since I visited some of them. Maybe an early spring worm pattern, fished on the drift will entice a large lethargic brown trout to dine on my fly pattern. Early spring is a great time to catch a monster.

Worm patterns are easy to tie and very effective when fished as a drifting wet fly, like you fish a nymph pattern. I have know some fly fishers that use a worm on a regular basis, and they always report great catches. Streams like the Dogpound, Raven and so on, are good locations to fish a worm. These streams have soiled streambanks that are heavily populated with earth worms. I have catch trout that have a large ball of worms in their throats. This is noticeable when you are removing the fly hook, and sometimes the trout are stuffed with earth worms.

Spring Willow and Tree Planting Update

As previously mentioned, we have a total of 9,300 native plants to plant this spring. Now, it looks like there will be a few hundred extras to add into the program. I will update you this next month, with the grand total. The plants are already growing and with the planting start date this next month, we should have some well advanced stage one plants for planting. This will be another great season for the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program”.

Another school group is interested in joining in for this planting season. The Airdrie high school will be participating this May and we have already booked a date for a planting on Nose Creek, in the City of Airdrie. I will give you more details, later on this month.

Spring Thaw On The Way

It won’t be long now before the surface run-off begins on our local trout streams. There is significant ice build-up on Bighill Creek, but the surface flow from some warm weather will start to deplete the thick winter ice and cut through in places. When this happens, it is not a good idea to be on the ice for any reasons.

I have watched the flow on some areas of the Bighill Creek, where the channel stays ice free for most of the winter, and there has been good flow over the winter months. In these few areas, some birds and wildlife gain access to feed on the stream trout or the invertebrate populations in the Bighill Creek. In particular, Dippers, which feed on insect life below the surface and mink, which like to forage for a winter meal of fish.

This Dipper has a large caddis fly larva in its beak. The bird dives below the surface to forage under rocks and debris for aquatic invertebrates. They are a regular visitor to the Bighill Creek in the Town of Cochrane. Dippers are very entertaining to watch, when they are in their feeding mode.

The ground water spring creeks that feed Bighill Creek have been flowing good all winter, except for the Ranch House Spring Creek, which is lower than in previous years. The tiny trout from this year’s hatch on Millennium Creek are doing well, and this batch will help to maintain the brook trout population on the lower reach of the Bighill Creek. The clear flowing waters of Mill. Creek are a perfect winter habitat for newly hatched trout.

The hatch of brook trout started early this new year and the trout all looked to be in good condition. Later on, these new trout fry will slowly worked their way down to the BH Creek and help repopulate the lower reach of the stream. I took this photo of a newly hatched brook trout larva, this past January of 2019.

With this warmer weather over the last few days, I suspect that the trend may continue and we will have a normal start time for our riparian planting program this spring. If we can be on the area streams by the first week of May this year, it will be a good, early enough start for the 2019 season. We have a lot of native willows and trees to plant this year (9,300), so far.

I have been in touch with the “Friends of Nose Creek” group, and they informed me that they will be conducting a spring planting program on Nose Creek, in the City of Calgary, this spring. This was great news to hear. I don’t know how many plants they will plant, but I will let you know when I find out. The more people involved in riparian planting in our area, the faster the riparian recovery and the better for our local waters, and the fish and wildlife that depend on the habitat.

March Freeze

Anxiously Waiting For Spring and Planting Season

Here it is, almost mid March, and yesterday it was below minus 20 with a wind, in the morning. I was outside collecting willow and tree cuttings for this spring’s riparian planting program, so keeping on the move made the cold less noticeable. But I am ready for some warm weather and the soon to come spring thaw!

It is good to see some snow at this time of the year and we can probably expect some more yet. A good spring run off and ground soaking is always good for the trout and our riparian plants from recent years. Getting off to a good start with plenty of spring moisture in the ground is a bonus for us volunteer willow and tree planters.

So far, we have 9,300 native plants for the ground this spring, and the total could go higher yet. I am very pleased to say that we will definitely break the 70,000 plant marker in our “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program” this year. It will be a great tally for the sixth year of our riparian planting program. The majority of the 9,300 plants will be designated for West Nose Creek in Calgary, again this year. However, large numbers of native plants will end up on Nose Creek, in Airdrie, and Bighill Creek in the Town of Cochrane.

Above: These new willows that we planted are going to really start to show up along the stream banks this year! This will be their sixth year after planting.

The Brown Caddis Dry Fly

A great attractor dry fly for both lakes and streams is the brown caddis dry fly. The color brown excites the trout into taking this dry fly when there is no apparent hatch happening. So this makes the fly a good choice for  enticing a trout to take the pattern on reaction, when it hits the water, on a lake, or drifts overhead on a stream. Dyed brown deer hair or elk hair is the secret. When the sunlight hits the brown deer hair the pattern seems to light up on the surface.

The fly is ribbed with a shiny mylar ribbing to add some sparkle to the pattern. Heavy hackle addes to the floatability and allows the trude wing to float properly on the surface. A size 12 or 14 is the best range in hook choice. A curved dry fly hook is also better for the flies balance.

Soon, my winter fly tying will end and it will be time to move on to other pursuits, so it may be a while before you see another post on fly tying this year.

Cold February – Lots of Snow and Ice

Late Spring This Year

It has been a few years since I last recall such a freezing cold February, and possibly the same in early March. Plugging in the truck is a must if your off to work these days. The good news is that spring is not far off, and even the thought of this brings a bit of cheer to ones hopes for warmer days. Personally, with all of the ice on the creeks and more snow on the way, I look forward to a good run-off in the streams this year. This is always good for the trout populations.

Ice fishing is a good alternative to indoor activities, during cold snaps.

A good flush of high flows in the creeks, cleans them out and creates good fish habitat for the following seasons. Much of the silt that has accumulated can be cleared from the streambed and new gravels can enhance both food production and spawning habitat.

Still Tying Dry Flies

Since I showed you my flying ant pattern, I have been on a dry fly tying spree. Usually, I like to mix things up a bit, with streamers and wet fly nymphs in my tying program but the dry fly patterns seem to take a precedence over everything else these days. The restocking of some master fly boxes, with dry flies, is actually a good thing these days. Dry flies usually don’t get the attention that they deserve, on local creeks and lakes these days. Most anglers stick to either streamers or nymphs in their fly fishing program.

Besides the bullet head ant and hopper fly patterns, I like the Trude wing style that requires deer hair in the recipe. The buoyancy of deer hair, along with a good thick hackle, is a great choice for local trout waters. They are easy to see from a distance, and the trout love them. The deer hair tent wing can imitate a stone fly or hopper on the surface, which means larger hook sizes can be used.

A thick hackle dry fly is a great choice, when the fly is being fished on a fast flowing trout stream, with choppy riffles. This dry fly was tied on a curved size 10 dry fly hook.

The bullet head hopper dry fly is always a real special meal for a hungry trout. This pattern can be tied on a size 12 or 10 dry fly hook. It is a simple fly to tie and it is also very bouyant. I like to use an olive/yellow color for the dubbing.

Spawning Numbers are Up – On The Lower West Nose Creek

This past fall, Elliot Lindsay from TU Canada, sent me the results of his spawning survey on the lower reach of West Nose Creek. Fortunately, the brown trout spawning redd count was up substantially from previous years. This means that we should see an increase in the brown trout numbers in future years, on the West Nose Creek. The spawning survey was conducted with the help of the “Friends of Nose Creek” group that also help do some willow and tree planting with Bow Valley Habitat Development this past year, on West Nose Creek.

I am looking forward to seeing a migration of trout further up the system in the next few years. So far, the brown trout have managed to occupy the creek approximately 11 kilometers upstream of the mouth, on Nose Creek. This population of trout on the upper reach is small, but over time it will grow and new generations of juvenile brown trout will continue to move further up the system. I have been using a fly rod to monitor the brown trout populations in West Nose Creek over the past few years, and this will continue to happen, in the future. I will keep you informed of the results.

There are moderately good spawning habitats, further up the West Nose Creek, which have yet to be utilized. Once brown trout start to spawn in these habitats, over time, the trout populations will increase substantially. Water quality and quantity are major factors in this happening some day. Our native willow and tree planting program will be of major benefit to habitat for spawning and annual trout holding habitat.

Brown trout will be the dominant trout in West Nose Creek, when the fisheries recovery program is complete. The brown trout is a true survivor and it is best suited for a stream where the water quality is less than optimal and there is a good population of forage fish for the brown trout to feed on. The spawning habitat and water quality are very important for brown trout reproduction, and West Nose Creek has a long way to go, before it can be considered a healthy trout stream.

The ” 2019 BVRRE Program” – Growing In Size

This Spring’s 2019 Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program – Update.

Our local riparian planting program for Nose Creek; West Nose Creek and Bighill Creek is scaling up in size for this spring’s planting. So far, we have a commitment for 8,800 native willows and trees and there should be more by this March, if our major area partnership interest  continues to go as good as it has this winter.

The more native trees and willows that we plant this year, the better the outlook for the health of riparian zones along the three streams in our program. These tributaries to the Bow River are in need of a little help in their recovery. Benefits from a long term riparian planting program are already showing great results, since the program was first initiated.

Above: These native willows growing along the stream banks of Bighill Creek, were planted in 2014. In a few more years they will start to provide their full benefit to both fish and wildlife habitat, but also retain the stream banks stability and improve the stream’s water quality.

Since the BVRRE Program was first started, a total of 60,714 native willows and trees have been planted. This year, we may break the 70,000 mark, if things continue to go as well as they have.

Tying Caddis Fly Imitations

This week I have been busy tying more trout flies, during the cold days of the past few weeks. It is far easier to get motivated when the temperatures drop down below minus 30 degrees or close to it. My latest interest is focused on tying a good supply of caddis pupa and caddis larva patterns, for my fly boxes. Caddis and Mayfly imitations are the most fished trout flies, when the hatch season is underway on local trout waters. It is a good idea to have plenty of great imitations on hand for the area insect hatches. The Bow River has some great caddis fly hatches, in the spring.

Above: This is one of the caddis pupa patterns that I like to have in my fly boxes. I make use of the D Rib vinyl that makes a great abdomen tying material. When it is tied over a yarn underbody, you can see the fussy strands of the yarn showing thru the transparent amber  D Rib. This see thru, final product, gives the fly abdomen an interesting texture appearance. The slotted tungsten bead will get this fly pattern down deep in a few seconds of sink time. The bead is a 3.3 mm and the hook size is a size 10.

Next on my list of ties for this winter, is the grass hopper dry fly. Hopper patterns are the best seller in my sales of dry flies, so I need to have plenty of them available for those fly fishers that are interested in my patterns. I like to tie them in a variety of colors and sizes. Even imitations of the rock hoppers that you see on the steep clay and sandstone banks of the Bow River. These gray mottled hoppers make a loud clacking sound that we all related to the hot days of summer on the river.


The rock hopper, shown to the left, is very well suited for life on dry clay and sandstone banks. They blend in so well to their environment, making them visible only when they move. Trout love these large hoppers, when the wind blows them into the river on strong windy days. Their under body color is a drab gray/olive, even blueish in tone some times.

Deep Freeze Fly Tying

AboveThis morning it is 30 below Celsius and there is little chance of it getting too much warmer today. Perfect weather for fly tying, among other things. For the past few days it has been really cold outside and I like fly tying in the deep freeze of winter. I should be able to get a few more days in on the fly tying station, before the warmer weather finds me outdoors.

The Trude Wing

In the last week I have managed to restock my supply of Trude wing dry fly patterns for this summer’s sales up in the mountains. They have been selling great over the past few years and it was time to replenish my supply for the next season. Most of the flies that I tied in this design were done so on a size 12 dry fly hook.





















The Trude Dry Fly has been around for many years and it is often overlooked for its effectiveness as a perfect surface lure. The white wing is easy to see from a distance and the trout seem to love it on some days. The three favorites are the Black Trude, Rio Grande King and the Coachman (in both solid peacock and the royal coachman red band).

The Giant Wood Ant Dry Fly

Another pattern that is doing well on both mountain streams and lakes is the Bullet Head Dry Fly Ant pattern. I tied up a lot of these over the years, but in the last few years it seems to be catching on. The most popular size is a size 10 and 12 1X thin wire dry fly hook. The hackle that divides the head from the abdomen creates the perfect appearance of a segmented body of the large winged wood ant. Trout relish this tasty treat, when they are available on the surface.

The wing is tied in as a bullet head pattern, using deer hair folded back over the body. A brown hackle is used to segment the black dubbed body into the head and abdomen of a large wood ant.

A size 10 or 12 dry fly hook is what I commonly use on this pattern. I like the float ability of a heavily hackled dry fly, especially on the fast flowing riffles of mountain streams.



2019 Trout Hatch and More

New Batch of Brook Trout For BH Creek

I have visited some of our local spawning habitats recently, and it is good to see some new trout fry that have hatched this year. Spotting another year’s hatch of small brook trout is always a good boost to an old fly fisher’s spirits and hopes for the future of our local trout fishery. One of the most reliable sources for a successful brook trout hatch is Millennium Creek, here in the Town of Cochrane. Since the restoration of the small stream in 2008, there have been spawning brook trout utilizing the small spring fed feeder for spawning, over the past 11 seasons.

A spawning channel that was built in 2010 has provided the best results for newly hatched trout since that decade. Successful incubation and hatching of trout eggs on the spawning channel has been documented every year, for the past nine years. The hatch is now something that I personally look forward to, every winter.

Above: This small brook trout fry, is one of many that hatched from trout eggs this winter. The small trout and others like it, are in excellent condition, which is always a good sign these days.

Tying The Doc Spratley Trout Fly

As is normal for my winter pass times, I have been spending a considerable amount of time on the fly tying vise. Stocking up on fly patterns for summer sales and a few for my own personal use. One pattern that I really enjoy tying is the Doc Spratley trout fly. I have fished this pattern often, over the years, and it is also a great seller at one of the stores that I supply on a nearby trout lake. That store is the Boulton Lake Trading Post, on the Lower Kananaskis Lake. The Doc Spratley is a great lake fly pattern.

Spratleys come in a variety of colors, so it is a good idea to have a number of different body colors in the selection. Some of the most popular colors are black, red, olive, green and the royal spratley body type, with a royal coachman designed body. Having a few odd colors included, provides the fly fisher with some rare options for a personal fly box selection. The key to this fly pattern is too pick the right color for the right time on the water. But this is usually a case of trial and error, when you are not sure of which color to pick.

Above: This is a display of a number of color options that I provide for the fly fishing customer. There are other colors not shown, like purple and dark cobalt blue, etc..

Other Pheasant Tail Wing Patterns

For years now, I have been tying variations of Doc Spratleys and other pheasant tail winged patterns. The pheasant tail wing is a great wing material if tied properly and other effective trout streaming wet fly patterns can be tied and fished with surprizing results. I have fished for cutthroat trout, rainbow, brown and brook trout with pheasant tail wing wet flies and this gives me confidence in saying that this wing design should be used, especially on still water wet fly patterns.


















The pheasant tail wing patterns above are  – From Top Left:

The Purple Penash; Royal Spratley (Dark Grizzly); Ruff McDuff (Spratley variation); Gold King; Pearl King; Lady Claret; Royal Spratley (Brown Hackle); Silver King

This winter I did a pretty good job of stocking my fly boxes with both Doc Spratleys and other pheasant tail wing patterns. They are good sellers at Boulton Creek Trading Post and also Highwood House on the Highwood River Junction. Give them a try on the vise or if you happen to see some Doc Spratleys in your favorite fly shop.


2019 Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Planting Program

Presently, I am working on another planting program for the 2019 season. So far things look pretty good and there will be thousands of more native willows and trees to plant on some local trout streams. This will be the sixth year of the program and our goal is to break the 70,000 native plant planted, in the next year or so.

I look forward to reporting on how the existing plant crop is doing this year. Plants from 2014 and 2015 plantings are now starting to stand out on the stream banks of Bighill, Nose and West Nose Creeks this year. The stream bank stabilization sites are really impressive, so photos of these will show great before and after comparison this summer.

A New Addition for 2019 – The Journal

There is a new link on the cover page of this blog site, it is to access the Journal. The new website is closely related to Stream Tender Magazine and the Bow Valley Habitat Development website. All of these can be accessed on the cover page of the journal.

The new website is just a random collection of short articles, photos and some personal thoughts about the field of riparian and fish habitat enhancement. The publication will also have a few write ups on fly fishing and fly tying as well. Please enjoy the read.

The Journal

Open Water Flows Late Into Season

Bighill Creek Still Free of Ice in Spots

This year, the Bighill Creek is still open and flowing in some spots, this late into December. I suspect that the early snow which helped recharge the ground water table in September, may have something to do with this. Warmer spring water upwellings will help keep the ice free from the surface on some riffle areas during cold snaps. Usually, by this time in the late part of December, the creek would be iced over in its entirety. Other areas where there are no ground springs warming the main channel of Bighill Creek, the channel is iced over for the winter.

Above: This is what the Bighill Creek looks like on December 20th this year, in some spots. Note the good late season flows in the creek. The BH Creek has also been flowing clean this fall, which will be good for the trout eggs, now buried and incubating in the stream’s gravel spawning beds.

Other areas of lower gradient and deep water, such as beaver dams, are now frozen with a covering of thickening ice. These iced over areas will provide good wintering habitat for the stream’s trout population. Hopefully, the resident trout will winter over in good health and be ready for the 2019 open water season. The above average snowfall this September and October will insure good flows into the spring.

Above: This shows a deeper run, with good ice cover this December. You can see the newly planted willows from our riparian enhancement program, now growing well along the streambanks.

I am looking forward to getting some good photos of our planted willows and trees this upcoming season. The 2019 season will be the fifth year of annual growth for the willows planted during the first year of the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program” in 2014, and those plants should stand out tall enough on the stream banks to provide a few good photos.