Our plants from the 2018 planting are now entering their third year of growth. Some are doing great and growing fast, while others are slow to add new branches, but they will come along in a few more years. Many of the plants that are planted close to the water’s edge, are going to grow slowly, due to the more wet conditions in the capillary fringe. There will lots of plants that suffer rodent damage, but they too will come along over time. The main thing is that the root systems are getting well established and hopefully we will see suckering on some of the plants.
The Prince Nymph
The Prince Nymph was one of my best selling trout flies, when I was stocking the Boulton Creek Trading Post. Around here, I know of a few fly fishers that fished the pattern like it was one of their favorites. Recently, I had a few already tied for a guy I know. He want super size, but I didn’t have any on hand, and I don’t tie during the spring and summer, so this order of larger flies will have to wait until winter. I love tying the Prince Nymph and most tiers feel the same. Every tier has his or hers style, my own style is directed at a few different variations and the original.
The slow transformation of recovery is well underway, on the Bighill Creek, in Cochrane. Now, we can all watch the changes happen and more wildlife will start to frequent the area. Many people will walk or ride a bike by such gems, but never realize the full benefits of the natural world. Maybe when they start spotting more wildlife, including song birds, they will stop to take a hard look and possibly get it.
We have now planted over 75,000 native willows and trees along three local streams. The noticeable newly created trout habitat is becoming more apparent, and with the help of good water levels and volume of flow, we will see some positive results for the fishery. Other animals, such as diving birds, heron, mink, beavers and so on, will benefit from a healthy trout stream, with a healthy riparian zone. The fact that more trout habitat will be created by our plantings, is just a part of the overall results that fly fishers will especially be interested in enjoying. The more productive trout fishery is a long term goal for me personally, and this includes proper management regulations to protect these wild trout.
Now is the time to take another look at how we are helping to take care of the natural environment in and along streams. The alteration of any flowing stream within the town of Cochrane’s town limits is prohibited. Some people seem to thing that they can let their kids destroy a small trout stream, just for amusement. Building rock dams or wood blockages and vandalizing important habitats along the stream’s course. This is really contrary to what most people want their own local natural areas to be victims of. Our wild trout streams are victimized by people that don’t care about nature or their own personal urges to make their mark on nature.
We really need to respect the natural world, and re-examine what our course into the future will be. I personally won’t be around to witness the full impacts of the climate change, so why should I care? I care, because it is the right thing to do. My goals are usually followed by some action of course, such as riparian planting. At least this will be my direction, while I can. We can all play a small part in protecting our little piece of nature.
Golden Stone Time
As the Bow clears and the giant stones hatch, the best choice for a nymph or dry, is the stone fly. Big trout eat these with relish, not real relish however. They can even be attached as a dropper for your adult dry fly imitation. If the dry is well greased and floats like a cork. I use an unweighted version of my nymph. The nymph sinks just enough, in high flowing turbid water, to attract the attention of a large trout, holding near the surface. In clear water, large trout will move some distance to take this food item.
It is really nice to see that this much water can flow down the Bighill Creek and not be muddy in color. A true sign of a creek that is getting healthier. With the high water clearing, I suspect trout will be moving up the system, past beaver dams that have been blown out by the floods earlier in the spring. My hopes are high that some good reports of fishing in our area will be good this season. We need some good trout fishing to clear the cobb webs and discover new habitat created by all the water flushing the streams clean and scouring new deep runs and pools.
For me personally, just knowing the large amount of water in our stream systems is really good news to share, and hopefully boost some spirits in the fly fishing community. Now I am expecting good flows thru the summer months as well. Over the last few years, the Bighill Creek has been flowing lower than in the previous years, so having high water for a change is all good. For updates on how streams are fishing, it is always good to have a few contacts to keep you posted. We will see how this season unfolds and if reports are good, I may even grab the fly rod and hit the water with some exuberence!
I Wonder What The River Will Be Like
The fly fishing hasn’t been what it once was, on this stretch of the Bow River. I know that some can still find trout alright, but for those that are not really experienced in the sport, it may be an exercise in frustration. The reports of any rainbow trout moving up to spawn have not come around my way, so I just have to assume that the rainbow trout spawning run is close to collapsed. Fortunately, there are still some resident rainbows in the Jumpingpound Creek that can keep their spawning event active. What the future holds for our JP strain of rainbow is just not that promising at this point in time.
A few years back, I did find a small population of newly hatched rainbow trout in numbers, on the Bow in Cochrane. However, whether there were enough of them to survive into maturity is unknown at this time. Also, back a few years, there was a lot more research being conducted on our local trout fishery, but this has waned. Whether the river will ever be as productive as it once was, is something that I will never see in my remaining years. There is a small beacon of hope still present in the smaller streams like Bighill Creek and the JP Creek, so we can’t right off the local fishery just yet. Wild trout are still holding on in the smaller streams.
The secret behind the success of our planting system is numbers. You have to expect a high loss in some areas, but you will find pockets of plantings that fair well those first years. This is just the nature of riparian planting on streams that have lost most of their top soil, over the years. The only planting medium left is a thin cap of organics and a lot of clay. However, there are pockets of reasonable soil and if your timing for planting is good, and there are limited variables that will damage or kill plants, you may end up with photos like the one below.
If survival is low at a particular planting site, you never give up, just keep on planting and some plants will take. Year after year of persistence will pay off in the end. Just keep planting regardless of the initial losses. Sometimes it maybe only a single flood or sometimes it will be year after year of rodent damage, you just keep at it. Often, only one side of the stream bank will produce good plant survival, while the other is just a tough piece of ground to get things started. Eventually, the seed production from existing plantings will help boost the riparian growth in one particular reach of stream channel.
Some Help On The Creek
Over the years I have received some help on local projects from mostly other fly fishers or anglers that want to help maintain the wild trout population that we still have left, in this community and the surrounding area. Sometimes it will be someone that I have worked with on other projects, as a paid staffer, or just those kind souls that care about the beautiful trout streams we have in this area, and they want to help out.. Amazingly, these individuals have mainly been younger than I am, but today was going to take it to the next level.
It is my great fortune to have met a few young anglers from this community, that probably know more about the state of the fishery than most, and I know this because I ask one of them for information from time to time. Evan Martins has a keen interest in taking care of the fishery and just having the opportunity to fish these home waters, on a regular basis. Today, both Evan and Parker, both chipped in to help me do some work on a project. The project is too keep the Millennium Creek free of obstructions and make sure all is intact. I am grateful for the help provided by both of these guys.
The Town of Cochrane has invested heavily in the restoration of the Millennium Creek and as project manager, I continue to keep the creek as healthy as I can. I have been very lucky to have had lots of help over the years, and those helpful individuals all care for this important wild trout stream. It was very uplifting to have the help that I did today. There is hope for this stream to continue to produce new generations of trout, from the spawning activity that occurs on this wonderful little trout stream. Hopefully, the new generation of help will be the start of something special for our creeks. Some new stream stewards.
First off, would you not agree that having a wild trout stream flowing thru your community is a unique and wonder natural asset? I thought so. The Bighill Creek is not only a beautiful place to spend some time, but it also has a wild trout population living in it. In recent years, I had seen the first kids fishing the stream since my own childhood. This is good! This means that it is possible to restore a wild trout fishery, with a little help from mother nature, of course. Now comes the question: Is This Wild Trout Fishery Worth Protecting? I thought so.
This support to protect the creek includes all of the vital spawning tributaries along the creek’s entire length, within the community. For those keeners that would like to see the whole system protected, a greater commitment is required. However, for a local grass roots group, the local community is a great place to start. This type of movement requires conversation first, to make sure that all involved are on the same page about what to take care of. The first thing that comes to my mind is to protect the spawning tributaries. A wild trout population needs the opportunity to spawn to sustain its population.
Millennium Creek remains the only surviving spawning tributary, since Ranch House Spring Creek has been destroyed by a storm drain outflow. Fortunately, the area around Millennium Creek is already developed with no future threats looming, except those created by residents of the community, such as mountain bike youth that like to build new trails thru environmental reserve and over federally protected stream banks. The province can also levy large fines for damaging wild trout habitat. The first fine would probably be a working on stream banks without a permit and after that, things would get a little more complicated. This is where the community support can help in the public education and protective measures side of things.
Presently, the Millennium Creek has also been assaulted by other vandalism, at other sites along the creek. So taking measures to inform the public would also help out. The more eyes along the creek, the better. I always pack my camera, in case I need to use it. I would like to see the lower end of Millennium Creek get another small bridge over the stream. This would take care of all travelers needs for a crossing point at that location.
A small area of a small spawning tributary to the Bighill Creek, should not be a big deal, considering the amount of time and money that goes into maintaining a baseball diamond. Besides, it is an environmental matter and they often get left on the shelve to collect dust. However, and fortunately, times are a changing! To give you an idea of what needs to be done at this site and some of which will also be used at other spots on the stream, I have prepared the following:
Put a bridge over the stream.
Fence the area off to protect the stream and direct pedestrian and bike traffic.
Install a sign pointing out that the area is an “Environmentally Sensitive Area”.
Let the stream banks recovery, with only authorized access to conduct any maintenance that is required.
More Growth Along the Creeks
When we first started the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program”, volunteers would constantly ask how fast the plants would grow. I always said that it would take approximately 5 or 6 years of growth, for the plants to start standing out in the landscape, along the streams. Well, now it has been 7 years and over the next few years, the growth will be substantial. I plan on keeping you all informed on how the plants are coming, with plenty of photos.
In the photo above I wanted to crop out most of everything except the pool and the willows growing in from the stream banks around the pool. Having growth on both sides of the stream channel at a substantial pool habitat is exactly what I had in mind. With the exceptional flows this spring, and possibly into the summer, the amount of stream habitat will accommodate a lot more trout, which is also what I had in mind. There will be more food available for trout and more hiding places, which makes for a healthy trout fishery.
There is no doubt about it, willow or tree cover, surrounding a pool habitat, is the best type of trout habitat that you can add to a pool, by planting along the water’s edge. You are pushing in the plant cutting, so no disturbance to stream bank stability is done. The plant will take a few years to reach a relatively good level of stability, with its root systems, but the benefits will start to become quite apparent.
Knowing that we planted these willows as part of the BVRR&E Program, makes us probably the few that do know and can appreciate. It is the results that provide the real reward here. If it looks like it is natural, we can consider the riparian planting program a success.
The student plantings are always followed by additional planting to insure that there is some success on a particular planting site. On the left side of the stream bank, in the photo above, there is already good riparian growth, so it was a perfect site to show the difference between both stream banks, to the students and teachers involved in the first planting.
In recent years, on West Nose Creek in Calgary, there appears to be a growing interest in the stream, which runs thru the few communities along its course. I believe much of this has to do with social networking, focusing on the creek. So basically, the more the name “West Nose Creek” comes up in conversation or online, the more interest can build in the creek. This will result in more friends available to take care of the stream. A good example is the Facebook group “Friends of Nose Creek”, which helped out with a planting on the creek, the year before last. Besides helping to plant native willows and trees, the group also conducted some clean-ups on both Nose and West Nose Creeks.
Other community groups are also involved, by planning clean-ups along the West Nose Creek. My personal observations are that the creek appears a lot cleaner than it was a few years ago. One thing about doing a lot of planting along streams in cities and towns, is that you meet folks that are keen on what you are doing and often involved in some form or fashion, in taking care of the local stream. Thanks to Trout Unlimited Canada, other people that share an interest in the West Nose Creek, can join in on some survey work and educational events aimed at getting people more knowledgeable in the life surrounding riparian zones and below the surface of the stream.
I have always thought that communicating your point of view and showing folks that you can make a difference, helps stir up the pot and get more involved too. In the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program, it was also important to keep those volunteers that chipped in, informed of how progress is unfolding and also see a few photos of some results.
Erosion Site Rehab
Some of the most challenging erosion sites are the ones that have highly unstable slopes. There are critical times when one should not plant on such sites. The experience and knowledge of the potential hazards is a must for this type of project planting.
The eroding slope shown in the photo above is just one of many planted erosion sites that will go thru slope adjustments into the future, until the entire stream bank is stabilized, but it will happen. A bad time for unstable stream banks is when the frost comes out of the ground, the ground is saturated with water and any step exposed, unstable slopes will collapse. This is not a time to be near these steep slopes, when planting. My choice is to plant during rain,post flood or frost thawing periods. It seems to work alright, from the results I have documented.
There is no doubt that this type of riparian stream bank restoration work is effective, over time. It may require multiple plantings over a few years, but the results will come eventually and the costs are very minimal. I do all of the planting along the toe of an erosion slope, so there is plenty of experience to back up my claim. An erosion slope can be planted very quickly, and with caution. The stage one grown cuttings are simply pushed into the clay or soil mix, at the base or toe of the stream bank. Sometimes, a hand held hoe punch tool is used to pilot a hole for the plant.
The planted cuttings will also re-enforce the toe of an eroding stream bank, so this will help the plants to get started, with some root systems to help hold the soil or clay together. The results does take time, but over the years, the transformation is well underway.
At some point in time, in the future, I will summarize these project sites in a report for the many partners that were involved in funding for the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program. In the mean time, I will be happy to keep you all informed of how things develop.
In recent posts, I have shown you some examples of our plantings, some of which are excellent trout habitat. It may be hard for some to visualize what good trout habitat looks like, but you can take my word for it that what we are creating is excellent trout habitat. Any willows that are hanging above the surface of the water or plunging below the surface, is considered good trout habitat.
The willow shown above is showing new shoots and leaves already. The willow will grow thicker in this next stage of growth. The more branches, the better. I am also hoping that the plant will sucker further away from the stream bank. Some of our planted willows can really take a beating, if they are growing on the outside bend in stream bank. The force of a flood and floating log was probably what took out the limb on the left side of the plant. the dead limb was part of the original cutting and when it was broken at the base, the new limb started. So basically this photo tells a story of what the plant has been through.
The survival of the pre-grown cuttings that we plant is sometimes dependant on numerous variables that can happen over time. Rodents and natural events, like floods are on the list. This is just the way nature works to thin out the weaker plants and let some of the heartier plants make it to maturity. The rodent damage is just bad luck, or an over abundance of those that feed on willows and trees. In other words, the planting we do to restore riparian zone growth takes many years of planting. Lots of plants need to go into the ground every year, until the job is done. This is how you get results. Keep building the seed crop and natural recovery will also spring into action.
I have planted with Glenbow Elementary in the past and always enjoyed working with the kids. The high level of enthusiasm was very contagious and enjoyable to be around. The completion of the project of planting native willows and trees was of major interest to the planters as well.
The planting method for the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program uses plants that are grown from cuttings. They start out as a clean shaft with no branches and the buds or bud nodes are in the early stage of development. This is because they are collected in the late winter. From this point on, the growing process begins. In the spring, when the frost is finally out of the ground, the pre-grown cuttings are ready for planting. They will have developed roots and leaves and greening buds by the time they are ready to go into the ground, along the stream banks.
The cuttings come in two different options, a stage one and stage two plant. The stage one have early root and leaf development, and the stage two is more advanced. So this time around, we can talk about the stage two plants.
Presently, I am working on a paper introducing the collection, growth and planting of stage one and stage two plants. I have done some advanced research into the interest in my planting program and it seems there is plenty. The paper should be ready for publication by the winter, maybe the new year.
It amazes me how much flow we have in our local streams right now. Most of our plantings are near or under the water right now, with stream banks full of spring water. The abundance of water in our trout streams is always well accepted by local fly fishers and those that enjoy seeing nature thrive. Below the surface of flow lives a complex cycle of life, from invertebrates to fish, these living things will all benefit from this year’s run-off. Just watching everything grow in the spring is uplifting for folks that spend time outdoors. There are lots of people outdoors these days, with the present day reduction in travel abroad and the stay at home restrictions for many.
Right now there are a lot of our plants growing with just the tops above water. When the water levels drop in the creeks, the willows will have a chance to recover. The tops of the submerged willows are like a salad bar snack for traveling beavers and muskrats. The plants will grow larger and thicker over time, hopefully with some of them suckering further back from the water’s edge.
Some varieties of Salix willow produce seeds early in the spring and some in the later part. In the shaded, north facing valley bottoms, everything gets a start, later in the spring. Exposed areas thaw out faster and the growing season starts earlier. This is beneficial to those animals that depend on a harvest of sweet nectar from the flowing catkins. I do know that bees feed heavily on the catkins of willows in the early spring. It is a good thing too, when you know that the willows are in pollination.
Right now, the water is still a little discolored and I know that most of the extra flow in the streams is from unconfined aquifers, so this flow will continue for some time. I am still looking forward to when the clarity of the water improves enough to reveal the clean gravel and cobble from our spring run-off. We had a really early first flush on Bighill Creek, just as the ice was disappearing from the channel. Just after that is when the water cleared up enough to see the clean gravel underneath. Now that our stream bank stabilization sites are planted and stabilizing the slopes, there is less soil and clay entering the stream channel annually. These are the first big results of our riparian planting program.
Every year I am personally seeing the improvements on the creeks, both in habitat and stream bank stability. To have all of this work completed on a volunteer basis is very encouraging. Future planting programs have so much to offer, I hope that those interested in this type of approach to habitat creation, can make a good argument and continue with planting programs. I know that the parks people that I have dealt with over the years have seen the results too, and this should help.
3,300 More Plants This Spring
Despite a pandemic and tough times this spring, I did manage to get all 3,300 plants into the ground this May. This completed the seventh year of our riparian planting program. This year, BVHD stepped up and was responsible for another good crop of 900 plants to add to the total plants planted. There were excellent planting conditions this May, but the recent lack of rain has a little worried. An afternoon rain or good shower will take care of my concerns, but this has not happened yet. There are always worries when another crop is planted each year, just like the sod busters that took their chances on our prairie lands, as pioneers.