Stream Tender Magazine

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December  2019

Stream Bank Stabilization   -  A Few Years After

Before: This photo shows an eroding stream bank along the Bighill Creek. The exposed clay soil is a tough medium for any plant growth, but weeds do grow on such slopes. Over the next few years, the site received multiple plantings of willows right along the toe area on the slope.

After: Five years later, the slope has a good crop of native willows growing along the water’s edge. There are also some grasses mixed in, now that the stream bank is stabilized. Some of the willows are even providing habitat for the resident trout populations. Both brown trout and brook trout are the dominant species of trout, but some rainbows and cutthroat trout make the creek their home.

The Big Benefits Of A Small Meal

    The midge pupa may be small, but it is so abundant that it is one of the primary food sources on some lakes and rivers. I have fly fished with small size 22 midge pupa imitations and done very well on large trout. When trout feed on these small aquatic invertebrates, they can swim fast and furious, sucking up the little bugs.

    During thick hatches of midge adults on the Bow River, the tiny insects can get in your eyes, nose, ears and mouth, the air can be filled with them. They fly like miniature mosquitoes. They don’t bite, but their shear density is annoying for humans but great for feeding trout.

    You don’t have to play around with the super small fly hooks to catch trout on midge fly patterns, a size 16 or larger will work too. The midge pupa is larger than the adult, so have good selection in the fly box.

    Black is the most common color, but brown, green, olive, tan and red will cover some other hatches. They are really easy to tie after you have tied a few of them, so having a good stock is just a matter of sitting down at the fly tying station and going to work.

    Some of the earlier versions were tied with a floss body, so this is an easy option to start with. You have to learn to wrap a gradual taper for the abdomen and then reverse wrap the body with wire or a find strong tinsel.

    Tungsten beads are wonderful for adding enough weight to make the fly sink rapidly. Strike indicators are commonly used to help signal a take. While fly fishing BC lakes, I learn early on that a long monofilament leader is a must. Sometime you will fish this pattern at significant depths, with a dry fly line. Or you can go really deep with a sinking line.

Right: This slender length of gold was caught and photographed by Evan Martens this summer. I wonder why this trout was called the brown trout, when it always seems to be more on the yellow/gold side of the color span.

    Some browns develop bold, bright colors when they are living in small streams, where blending into the dark is a real advantage. It also makes them stand out as a territorial predator.

    Fortunately, this large trout was released back into the water, where it can continue with its life of seclusion, hiding under an undercut, willow branches, or in a deep pool.

The midge pupa imitation is a really simple tie. You can use a straight hook shank or a curved one for this fly pattern.

 

The bead is a tungsten, black. The body is floss and the thorax is peacock herl. A white gill on top.

“The planting of native willows on eroding stream banks on Bighill Creek, has significantly improved the water quality on the lower reach of the creek.”

West Nose Creek  Brown Trout Spawning  -  2019

    This fall I was showing City of Calgary ecologist, Andrew Phelps, one of the key spawning habitats on West Nose Creek. We did count a total of nine, rather large brown trout redds or egg nests at the first site. However, we didn’t see any large spawning brown trout at that site, so I took him downstream to another one of West Nose Creek’s hot spawning habitats.

    Fortunately, there were two large brown trout holding over a single trout redd at the second site. The large browns stayed over the redd as we both observed them from a distance. I was really pleased that Andrew had an opportunity to witness a pair of large West Nose Creek trout, spawning on the creek. It beats seeing only redds, with no trout over them.

    I passed on my map of the redds to my city contacts and also sent a copy to Elliot Lindsay of TU’s national office, in Calgary. Elliot also plans on doing a redd count later on in November, so I look forward to his findings. Bottom-line; it looks like a great spawning season on West Nose Creek this fall.

    If the incubation of eggs and the hatch is only partially successful over the winter months, we could see a substantial increase in the brown trout population going into the future. As the brown trout numbers increase on West Nose Creek, there should be an increase in the interest by city fly fishers as well. Our riparian habitat restoration program will enhance trout habitat over time, but it will take years.

Large Trout Are Disappearing From Bighill Creek

    The best way to determine the number of mature brown or brook trout that occupy a small stream, where the resident trout spawn every fall, is to count the number of trout redds during the spawning season. It is simple to do and very effective when it comes to gauging reproduction and the state of a fishery.

    This last year and this fall, I have noticed a sharp decline in the number of mature trout redds in the Bighill Creek’s lower reach, which is alarming to see. This fall there are only a few brown trout or brook trout redds on areas where there were plenty in the past.

    Since the regulation change for Bighill Creek happened in 2017, an angler is now entitled to kill two trout of any size on a days fishing. When I say entitled, this is what a trout killer’s argument will be, in defence or his greed. This is where the problem first started.

    Before the 2017 change, an angler could only keep one trout under 35 cm, which would protect the mature trout of spawning size. This insured an ongoing recruitment of new trout for the system. Which in my mind makes perfect sense. Don’t kill the trout that are reproducing! If you do, the fishery will collapse.

    When I say plenty, it means in the high 20’s for past redd counts. This area of the Bighill Creek is one of the key spawning habitats for the Bighill Creek, and very important for the brown trout populations. The larger trout are being harvested by anglers that have no interest in conservation or the health of the trout stream that they are fishing in.

    A good example of this was when the entire provincial pike and walleye fisheries were in a state of collapse in the early 90’s. Also, when whirling disease was suddenly detected in Banff National Park. Our area fisheries biologists could not state how long the disease has been prevalent all over the province. No pats on the back from this angler!

    The complacency by F&W is what makes the whole situation on BH Creek very aggravating. I have  learned that you are wasting your time when you try and argue the whole point about harvesting mature trout, with the area’s provincial fisheries biologist. They just don’t seem to get it! Maybe when the entire brown trout fishery collapses on Bighill Creek, they will come a running. Our provincial agencies have always been better at reactive management tasks.

In the fall of 2019, there were only a few brown trout redds on the lower reach of Bighill Creek. This is very alarming to see!

Above: The photo shows Ranch House Spring Creek spawning brook trout, on one of the stream’s better, earlier years. The crystal clear spring fed waters and clean gravel make a perfect spawning habitat for these trout. Now the creek has been totally destroyed by a storm drain.

Look Below

Left: I zoomed in to get this shot of a large male brook trout and the head of a female, bottom left. The light created some incredible dark red and olive green effects on these trout. These trout wouldn’t go out into the sunlit areas on the small stream.

Below—left: This female Evening Grosbeak was on Bighill Creek, in a flock, while traveling south for the winter. The two photographs were taken in October.

 

 

Below—right: This male Evening Grosbeak was one of many in the flock. My guess was that it was from the spring hatch this year.

Song Birds Need Deciduous Trees

    The natural riparian willows and trees that grow along our area streams are deciduous plants, they all loose their leaves in the fall. However, this does not negate their importance to the wildlife that depend on such willows and trees for nesting and feeding.

    There has been an active campaign by other volunteer groups, to plant conifers in existing stands of deciduous growth along Bighill Creek. Primarily because spruce and other conifers are cheap to buy and very hearty trees to plant, with volunteers. The problem arises when these newly planted conifer trees start to grow and crowd out the existing deciduous growth. This upsets the existing natural balance and biodiversity of a riparian zone.

    Why plant trees and willows where they already exist in sufficient numbers. This practice does more harm than good. Eventually, the deciduous poplar trees and smaller shrubs and willows will be crowded out and this will dramatically change the eco-system from a natural one to one that was man-made.

    Like other people that visit the natural habitats along flowing trout streams, we enjoy the vistas of plants and wildlife that are present along these creeks. You can see for some distance deep into the poplar stands, where wild birds and fur bearing animals thrive. The conifers will eventually grow thick and dense and limit the view to only a few metres. We will also loose the natural varieties of wildlife that we normally see in stands of poplars and willow plants.

   

    Bow Valley Habitat Development is really pleased with the City of Calgary’s interest in taking care of its flowing streams, within the city limits. The attention that both Nose Creek and West Nose Creek are getting these days will benefit fish habitat, water quality and protection for the trout that use these streams as home water’s.

    Newly developed areas along both streams are taking place, with a wide buffer on both sides of the creeks, which will allow plenty of healthy riparian growth to occur over time. The fact that both branches of Nose Creek are now recognized as trout streams, will help immensely as the impacts of development are reduced by good planning and watchful eyes. As the trout fishery improves, the amount of interest the stream’s receive will grow. Like I have mentioned in previous articles,  trout stream’s need friends!

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