Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program 2017 – May 21st Update

2017 Program Underway

The 2017 BVRR&E Program is well underway, with good numbers of native willows and trees in the ground so far. The planting program started in the first week of May and conditions for planting have been really good, with moist ground along the stream banks making the soil ideal for planting the new plants.

As of today, May 21st, there are 5,800 plants planted along the stream banks of Nose Creek, West Nose Creek and Bighill Creek. Most of the planting over the past 3 years has occurred on Bighill Creek’s limited planting area of approximately 1.7 kilometres of stream bank, with a number of bank stabilization sites added on to this length of channel. Because of this intensive planting on the Bighill Creek, the multiple plantings are showing the best results.

DSCF1507 cropped and enhancedAbove: Willows from previous plantings are standing out along the stream banks of Bighill Creek these days. The multiple plantings on the BH Creek in recent years has resulted in the most obvious recovery in the riparian zone, especially along the water’s edge.

On Nose Creek and West Nose Creek, new lengths of stream channel are getting the first planting, so the recovery of the riparian zone will take longer to be recognized, but it will happen over time. The Bighill Creek planting program is getting close to being completed, so you can expect more photo evidence of this in future publications of this blog and the Stream Tender Magazine. I look forward to showing you some good before and after photos in the near future.

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Great News for Bighill Creek Trout Fishery

Upper Spring Creek Brook Trout Hatch a Success

One of the most important spawning tributaries to the Bighill Creek is located further up the system. Its location makes it a very important spawning habitat for recruiting new generations of trout into the Bighill Creek annually. It is better to have recruitment on the upper reaches of the Bighill Creek, because the newly hatched trout will easily work their way down the system, rather that have to fight their way upstream. Due to a number of beaver dams, the task of upstream migration is very difficult for trout of all sizes.

In the fall of 2016, there were record numbers of brook trout redds, mapped and documented on the Upper Spring Creek. It was very important that a successful incubation of those eggs and a hatch of new trout would occur this spring. I am happy to report that the eggs are hatching and new trout are emerging from the spawning beds this spring. With an emergence window of over two weeks, the signs of early hatching and the appearance of juvenile brook trout fry holds great promise for the tributary.

IMG_5801 cropped small fileAbove: This 2017 brook trout fry was holding in shallow lateral margin habitat, and I was able to take this close up of the tiny trout. It thought that it was safe, holding in a cover of detritus while I stocked in close for a photo or two. The large head and eyes are a dead giveaway for a newly hatched trout fry.

With successful hatches also occurring on Millennium Creek and Ranch House Spring Creek this spring, we can look forward to a huge increase in the trout populations on Bighill Creek. There was also substantial spawning that occurred in the main stem of the Bighill, but verification of that hatch is very difficult to determine, without a timely investigation. However, I suspect that with the clean flows of the creek during the fall and winter, there should be a relatively good hatch as well.

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2017 Riparian Planting Program – Ready To Go

Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program 2017

This past week, the frost has finally left the stream banks and we are ready to go with the 2017 riparian planting program. This year will see a planting of over 8,000 native willow and tree plants on the three streams in the program, plus some smaller plantings on a number of tributaries and other local streams. I am really looking forward to getting started in the next few days.

After the past three years of the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program”, it is nice to see plants from those years taking root along stream banks and especially on eroding stream banks, where the benefits will be the most apparent for improving water quality in the streams. Soil that was once being washed into the stream channel at these bank erosion sites in now being stabilized by the root systems of our native plantings.

IMG_5787 small fileAbove: In this 2017 early spring photo of an eroding stream bank on the Bighill Creek, you can see plants that have been planted between 2014 and 2016, in the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program. Although clumps of sod and some soil are still entering the stream channel, the bank site is stabilizing and in a few more years, when the slope is less severe, this annual silt loading will be stopped. The height of this slope is approximately 3 feet, which is hard to tell from this photo.

You can check out the June issue of Stream Tender Magazine, for more information on this and other local grassroots enhancement programs. There will also be some good news on this year’s brook trout hatch on three local tributaries to the Bighill Creek.

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West Nose Creek Inspection

Past Willow Plantings Showing Along Stream Banks

This past week, I visited a few planting sites along the West Nose Creek, in the City of Calgary. It was nice to see native willow plants from the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program” were starting to show along the water’s edge at previously planted reaches of the creek. The new plants were covered with catkins, ready for seeding later on in the spring. Despite a heavy cover of shoreline sedge, the plants are advanced in growth enough to stand out, hanging over the stream channel.

Some of the plants had been grazed upon by the resident beaver and muskrat populations in the stream, but these plants are established enough to survive the foraging, with new buds from the remaining stocks already to break into leaf, later on in the spring. At some point in time in the future, additional plants will take place along the same reach of the West Nose Creek, but for now, previous plantings will continue to be monitored.

IMG_5762 small fileAbove: You can see the new willows growing out from under a cover of shoreline grasses and sedge, along the creek. The willows are mature enough now to be foraged upon by beavers and still survive. I look forward to taking pictures of the same reach a few years down the road.

So far, on West Nose Creek, there are a total of 96 stream bank stabilization sites that have already been planted in the program. A number of the sites are erosion sites that were already showing exposed soil that would enter the stream annually. The new native willows and trees that were planted over past years, are now helping to stabilize the stream banks and reduce silt loading into the stream channel. These sites are especially important, because they have a direct impact on the amount of suspended fines that were being washed into the creek, causing huge amounts of muck to settle on the stream-bed, smothering the existing cobble and gravel on much of the bottom.

After a few years from when plantings occurred, a number of the stabilization sites are showing good native willow growth. The network of root systems establishing in the loose soil on eroding banks is helping to hold the banks together. Future secondary plantings will take place on these sites in the future as well.

IMG_5763 small fileAbove: You can see the native willows that had been planted in previous years on this unstable stream bank. There is still loose soil showing on the eroding bank, but over time this site will stabilize. More planting is planned for the future.

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Great Trout Hatch on Ranch House Spring Creek 2017

This Year’s Trout Fry Emergence on RHS Creek Has Started

After a lot of volunteer time spent prior to the 2016 fall spawn on Ranch House Spring Creek, the reward of witnessing a successful emergence of new brook trout for the system is very gratifying. It all began in the last week of March of 2017 when the first few trout were spotted along the stream. By the first week of April, many more young brook trout were appearing in lateral margins, both in and downstream of spawning beds.

Last fall a record number of egg nests or redds were mapped during the fall spawning season. A total of 32 redds was the largest number documented since the 2010 RHS Creek Project was completed. In 2010, a small waterfall was removed and a section of steep gradient was stepped down, using opposing rock deflectors. The successful completion of this project made the middle portion of the stream accessible for spawning trout. The gravel spawning habitat was already there and ready to be utilized.

The first spawning survey conducted in 2013 showed a total of 16 brook trout redds, now we are at double the number. This means more trout for the Bighill Creek system. The benefits of having three spring fed tributaries on the Bighill Creek that provide successful hatches of new trout annually, is of major importance to the streams trout recovery program. The only spawning tributary that is vulnerable is RHS Creek, due to a storm drain inflow that can whip out a year’s spawned eggs, if we get a late fall run-off event from the development that feeds the storm drain.

IMG_5730 cropped small fileAbove: These two brook trout fry were observed in RHS Creek on April 3rd, of 2017.

Bow Valley Habitat Development will continue its annual maintenance program on Ranch House Spring Creek, to insure that the spawning brook trout have free passage up to the spawning grounds.

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Sweeping Bow River Regulation Changes Have Local Impacts

As of 2017, the entire Bow River sport fishery is open all year with a zero harvest limit. This should make a lot of fly fishers very happy, but there are certain consequences that will impact some tributaries to the Bow River in our area. Prior to the new regulations, streams such as Bighill Creek were regulated in the fishing guideline regulations, under the section of Bow River and tributaries between Ghost Dam and Bearspaw. This meant that the regulations permitted only one trout under 35 cm could be harvested on a daily catch limit, during a portion of the open water season. This discouraged most anglers that like to keep a few trout for the dinner table.

Now that the new regulations are in place, those tributary streams in our reach of the Bow River will fall under the general Zone regulations for all streams not mentioned in the specific listings. This general guideline for streams allows a 2 trout daily limit, with both rainbow and cutthroat trout requiring to be greater than 35 cm in length. Brown trout and brook trout have no size restriction. Unfortunately, Bighill Creek and some other local streams are now open for a two trout harvest, from June 16th until August 31st. This is bad news for our trout fishery recovery program for the Bighill Creek.

You would think that because we are working very hard on bringing this trout stream back to life, we would have some type of protection in the fishing regulations during this endeavor. In modern times, it is a real blow to conservation minded anglers that an increase in the harvest of wild trout would occur after many years of progress has been made in the direction of a total catch and release policy for our wild trout streams.

Another stream that is undergoing a trout recovery program is the West Nose Creek, in the City of Calgary. Right now, there is a very small population of resident brown trout that are showing signs of an increase in reproduction for populating the creek. Surprisingly, under the present fishing regulations, there is also a two trout harvest limit on this stream as well. I shutter at the thought of someone killing a mature brown trout or two on the West Nose Creek, just to provide a meal. The impact of loosing these mature trout at this point in time is very troubling to me and those that are working hard to help the trout fishing recover in the West Nose Creek.

You would think that two trout streams that are located in such a highly populated area of the Bow River watershed, would receive the special attention that they need to make a come back. This should include a special listing in the fishing regulations that states a zero catch limit.

Further More – We loose 2.5 months of open season Fly Fishing

Up until 2016, the opening day for fly fishing on the Bighill Creek was April 1st, which made perfect sense, because brown trout and brook trout spawn in the fall. However, in the new regulations, the opening day has been moved forward to June 16th. The June 16th opening day was designed to protect spring spawning rainbow and cutthroat trout, so because neither of these trout spawn on Bighill Creek, there is no point in having such a late opening day. Catch and release fly fishers are now faced with finding another destination to fish, because of this new regulation.  There is no benefit to the fishery in this, nor does it protect the fishery in any way. Totally unnecessary.

Yet, angling is still allowed during the fall spawning period for brown trout and brook trout. Although there is a zero catch limit in the fall spawning period, the harassment of spawning trout is unsportsmanlike and a shame in my mind. Pretty much all of the fly fishers that I know that fish the creek, avoid fishing during the spawning season on the creek, including myself.

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March Update – Trout Hatch-lings Doing Well

On March 1st. I visited the Millennium Creek spawning channel to see how the new batch of brook trout hatch-lings were doing. The trout started to emerge from the spawning beds in the last week of January this year and it was looking like a pretty good hatch for this season. While inspecting the site, I saw some of the early hatched trout, which were looking pretty good in condition and I also spotted a few new arrivals, from a later emergence. A few photos were taken of some of the first to hatch to compare their growth with a month earlier.

IMG_5663 small file

Above: This month old brook trout fry was almost motionless over a small flat rock on a still water area adjacent to the spawning channel. I watch it eat a small midge emerging on the surface, just after I took this photo.

As expected, this year’s hatch on Millennium Creek is turning out to be a great one, with plenty of new trout for the Bighill Creek. The spawning channel was constructed in 2010 and since its first fall spawning that occurred that year, it has been responsible for hatching thousands of new brook trout, year after year, without missing one season. It was a partnership project between BVHD and Inter Pipeline, which turned out to be a fantastic investment in our local trout fishery.

New March Issue of Stream Tender Magazine Now Available

The new March issue of Stream Tender Magazine is now available for review. In this issue, three local writers contributed articles for the publication, along with photo submissions from a few other fly fishers. There is more fly fishing stuff in this latest publication, which should be of interest to area anglers. A special fly tying content was also included in the March issue.

Along with the fly fishing, readers can get an update on the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program, and some other fish habitat enhancement information. There is also news on new regulation changes that will benefit the area trout fishery in a big way.

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2017 Brook Trout Hatch on Millennium Creek

New Generation of Trout for Millennium Creek

It was nice to see the first batch of brook trout fry on Millennium Creek this January. The small trout had just recently emerged from the spawning gravel and they were already taking refuge in some of the woody debris that volunteers had placed in a quite still water area just downstream of the spawning channel.

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The tiny brook trout shown above was holding motionless over a hand sized rock on the bottom of a still water area, next to the spawning channel. This trout still had its round tail, yet to develop into the typical square tail of the brook trout. In its temporary habitat, there is an abundant supply of midge larva and other small invertebrates to get the young trout off to a good start in life.

Watching this new generation of trout hatch on Millennium Creek always lifts my spirits and makes me look forward to another year of working on some area trout streams. This year’s hatch on the spawning channel is the 7th annual hatch since the spawning channel was constructed in 2010. The spawning channel project was and still is one of the most rewarding projects that I have had the pleasure of working on in recent years. The results from the project were instantaneous, with trout spawning on the channel a few months after it was constructed in 2010.

Presently, Bow Valley Habitat Development and its partners are working on riparian restoration work on some area streams. The long term benefits will come over time, when new fish habitat is created by the planting of native willows and trees right along the water’s edge. However, it will take years to see the real benefits. Some projects make a huge difference right after they are completed, while other projects take time to realize the full results. This is just fine with me, knowing that we are on the right course. In a few years, after being patient, the riparian planting work will make the efforts of volunteers and partners worthwhile.

New Issue of Stream Tender Magazine Available in a Few Days

On the first of March 2017, I will upload the next issue of Stream Tender Magazine. There are articles by three contributors in this next issue, which is great to see. More fly fishing and fly tying stuff will be featured in the new issue, to make it more interesting for the fly fishing crowd, which will hopefully expand the readership. Fly fishers are major stake holders in our trout stream resource, so I expect that they will enjoy the read.

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Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program Update – Feb. 2017

The 2017 program is starting to take shape, with good partnership support so far. This could be another banner year for the riparian planting program. By the end of March, I should have a pretty good idea of the scope of this year’s program. So far, there is enough support to plant approximately 5,000 native willow and tree plants, with more to come.

Earlier on in January, I visited some of the planting sites from the last three years. The stream bank stabilization sites look particularly great, because the density of plants and the white snow shows off the native willow and tree plants. The photo below gives you an idea of what I am talking about. This is one of 58 stream bank stabilization sites on the Bighill Creek, in the Town of Cochrane.

IMG_5592 cropped small file

The winter ice on the creek has been elevated by a few feet, so you can only see the tops of the native plants that were planted over the past few years. This was an especially bank eroding stream bank on the creek, so stabilization will help prevent many tonnes of silt from entering the stream in the future.

Whirling Disease in our Reach of the Bow River

Late in 2016, a total of 5 positive sample results were documented on our reach of the Bow River, between the Ghost Dam and Bearspaw Dam. One of the samples was found in the Jumpingpound Creek, just upstream of the confluence. This could be a disaster for the rainbow trout that reproduce in the JP Creek. Only time will tell how the impacts of this invasive disease will damage our trout fishery. In 2016, a total of 41 positive samples were found on the entire Bow River, from its upper reach, downstream to near Bassano, Alberta.

Some river systems in the USA that have the disease present in their trout waters have not be impacted as severely as other river systems. No doubt environmental conditions may play a role in this. For the time being, the only thing that we can do as anglers, is too help prevent the spread of the disease. The most obvious measure to take, is too make sure that you wash all of your wading equipment and nets off after any outing. Pontoon boats, float tubes and other boating equipment should also be thoroughly cleaned between trips to the water.

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Happy Holidays

Another Season Wraps Up and a New Year is Close at Hand

With the recent release of the December Issue of Stream Tender Magazine, Bow Valley Habitat Development is now focused on preparing a riparian planting program for 2017. The next big event comes in January, when Millennium Creek will be closely watched for emergence of brook trout from the 2016 spawning season. I look forward to updating you all in the March issue of the magazine, or possibly another post on this blog site.

I am really excited about this year’s trout hatch on the Bighill and West Nose Creek systems. Clear water flowing in both streams this late fall will hopefully result in a good trout hatch in the New Year. On the Bighill Creek system, having three primary spring feeder tributaries, will result in a good predicable egg hatch, where the main-stem is less predictable. On West Nose Creek, in the early spring, I will closely monitor the key spawning areas on the creek to see if I can verify a successful egg hatch. It is more difficult to accomplish this on West Nose and the main-stem of BH Creek, due to the turbid water in both creeks, but I may get lucky.

Keep checking out this website for future developments and in the meantime, have a great holiday season.

Best regards,

Guy Woods, Director/BVHD

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