Stream Tender Magazine

November 2018 Issue

Bighill Creek-Where Have The Big Trout Gone?

††† In the fall of 2018, I notice an absence of larger brook trout and brown trout spawning on the lower reach of Bighill Creek. Having walked the creek during the spawning season for the last 10 or so years, I have a pretty good grasp on what type of spawning activity there has been in recent years.

††† In the fall of 2008 and 2009, I conducted accurate spawning surveys on Bighill Creek for a fisheries habitat study that I was working on. At that time I was surprised by the number of trout that were present in the lower reach of the Bighill Creek.

††† During the last decade, I have compiled a substantial library of both video and photos of spawning trout on BH Creek. I found a few of my favourite photos to accompany this article. It was common for me to observe larger brook trout and brown trout during the spawning season in past years. This was a good indicator of the health of the trout fishery and also confirmed that there were some nice big trout to fly fish for during the open water season, from opening day thru to the closure in the fall.

††† Also over that 10 year period, the trout fishery in BH Creek was protected by a very limiting harvest of trout. One trout under 35 cm per day was the rule, but even this minimal harvest made me uncomfortable. If you allow any type of harvest on a small trout stream, you are opening the door for trout poachers. It is sad, but true.

††† In my opinion, having any type of harvest on a wild trout stream, which is located so close to major populations of people, is very poor fisheries management. The days of living off of the land are long gone, around these parts. Maybe if you are living in northern Alberta or in the Yukon, you can harvest fish from waters that rarely see another human being. Around here, the stream banks are worn with heavy foot traffic, so killing trout is unsustainable.

††† To me, there is real beauty in having a healthy trout stream in your neighbourhood, and other wild animals can live and thrive with a good population of trout to sustain them. Having a two trout harvest is ridiculous and the fishery will teeter on the brink of collapse.

Above: This old photo shows two large brook trout spawning on BH Creek in 2011.

Far Left: This photo shows three large brown trout spawning over a habitat on BH Creek in 2012. At the time there was a good population of mature brown trout on the creek, but nowadays there are only a few left.

Planting On Eroding Stream Banks-Before And After

††† It is important that a good selection of photos be taken on stream bank erosion sites, before or just after planting, and then again a few years later. This is the best method of demonstration, to showcase stream bank stabilization projects. Bow Valley Habitat Development has a good library of both video and photos filed for future use.

††† Over the next few years, you will have the opportunity to view a lot more before and after photo comparisons. Now that the first crops of native willows and trees that we planted since 2014, are now getting mature enough to show some very positive results.

††† I like using the stream bank stabilization sites for before and after comparison. They are the most dramatic of all. Planting on exposed eroding stream banks makes it easier to show the new plants just after planting or one year later. There are no other plants to hide the newly planted willows and trees on the exposed soil.

††† Once native willows and trees are planted, the soil on eroding stream banks is stable enough for other grasses and riparian plants to establish themselves along the waterís edge. This just adds more root systems that help keep the bank from sliding and this cover also catches soil that is still sliding above the stabilized buffer.

††† The other plants that start growing may include some weeds, but over time, these will be crowded out by native plants. Willows can eventually dominate the planting zone, over time. The willows will also spread upslope of the planting zone over future years of growth. This will likely occur once the slope has completely stabilized, with a less extreme gradient.

††† Bighill Creek, in the Town of Cochrane, Alberta, has received the longest planting program that Bow Valley Habitat Development has been involved with, so the bank stabilization sites are more advanced along the creekís lower reach. The BH Creek is also close to where I live, soinspection photos are always available.

Left photo: This photo shows an eroding stream bank on BH Creek, just after planting. This was a major soil and clay loading site, on the creek channel.

 

Top photo: This is the same stream bank, four years after planting. You can see that grasses have also grown in with the newly planted willows on the site. This created a great buffer zone at the base of the slope. Over time the growth will spread upslope.

The Beautiful Fall German Brown Trout

††† Last fall, while stopping on a pathway bridge over the BH Creek, resting my arms on the bridge railing, I looked down into the clear fall flows of the creek. To my surprise I was suddenly attention by a rather large resident stream trout that was directly below me, half hidden in a swaying clump of aquatic weeds.

††† The trout was not too concerned about my presence, directly above it, and I figured I knew why. It was spawning season for the German brown trout, and because of this the large trout was focused on other more important things. On that particular morning, for some reason, I didnít have my camera with me, so there went another missed opportunity.

††† Fall is a good time for the trout photographer that is interested in getting photos of brook trout and brown trout. In most fall conditions, the water will be flowing relatively clean, so getting photos in shallower water is easier. But you donít usually have very much cover to hide your approach, by the time the leaves are gone from the trees and willows.

††† I am often out walking along the local streams, doing redd counts, as part of an annual spawning survey. This provides me with many opportunities to find trout and photograph them. On some occasions, I will also collect some video footage. It is kind of like a hunt for me, similar to fly fishing, in a way.

††† The brown trout has a natural resistance to whirling disease, so we can expect that there will always be some of these beautiful trout populating our local trout streams. Most of the projects that I have worked on, in recent years, are focused on brook trout. However, the brown trout will also benefit over time, due to the habitat that has been created along area creeks.I am talking about our riparian planting program of course.

††† The more thick willow and tree cover that is present along the waterís edge on Bighill Creek and West Nose Creek, the better the habitat for the resident brown trout. This motivates me to continue with our riparian enhancement work. I look forward to fishing some of the planting sites eventually, some day. I hope that the brown trout will still be around then, to feed on my trout fly.

Above: This extra fat German brown trout is hold over a spawning redd (nest). The water was only a few inches above the troutís back, when I took this photo.

Beaver Dams Make A Good Wintering Habitat For Trout

††† Before the ice starts to cover our local trout streams, the resident trout migrate into deep water pools to spend the winter months under the hard surface. If flows are low on a small trout stream, beaver dams become especially important for wintering trout.

††† Beaver dams that flood the stream banks for some distance upstream, are great wintering habitats. The greater the length of flooded, deep channel, the more food and holding habitat there is for resident trout.

††† When the ice breaks in the spring, trout will disperse up and downstream of beaver dams. Some trout will stay put in the dams as well. There are many other benefits that beaver dams are good for, when it comes to trout stream ecology as well. For example; all of the woody debris that beaver dams provide into a stream channel, contribute to fish habitat in the future. Even after the dams are long gone.

ď Beaver dams are great for small trout streams. They provide wintering habitats and contribute to other types of fish habitat. However, their numbers still need to be managed if stands of mature trees are too be protected. Especially in Towns and Cities, where beaver numbers can grow.Ē

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Woody Debris In Streams Is Beneficial As Trout Habitat

††† Wood Branches, tree trunks and root wads can be washed into a stream channel. This may occur during floods, or as high water moves remnants of old beaver dams downstream. Sometimes, just beaver activity will result in larger trees falling into or over the stream channel. Bottom line; this floating woody debris creates fish habitat.

††† In the right photo; you can see how floating woody debris has enhanced a small pool habitat along the creek. For a trout fly fisher, this is always a welcome sight along a section of creek. The submerged branches also enhance invertebrate habitat, which is a troutís food supply.

The Inverted Dragon

††† If you are planning a trip to fly fish a trout lake in the later part of July and into the month of August, you had better be sure to have a selection of dragonfly nymphs in your fly box. When this nymph is active, prior to emergence and during the transformation, trout will focus on the large meal with a greedy frenzy of predatory feeding.

††† Dark brown, olive and tan colors are the primary selection for hatches of darner dragons, so make sure you have some. I like to tie some of my patterns inverted so they can be dragged along the weedy bottom without snagging, or skipped across the weed tops in short bursts. The trout will even take a dragon on a strike indicator.