Stream Tender Magazine

March 2018 Issue

Thick Growth of Native Plants is Stabilizing Steep Stream Banks

    It is very gratifying to see how the native willow and tree plants that have been planted in the past are now doing. They are now growing thick along reaches of Bighill Creek and other area streams, where they weren’t in the past. This transformation is slow but it is becoming more apparent as the plants become larger in size.

    Mixed in with the newly planted native plants is a carpet of native grasses. The native grasses are taking root in the stable soil on steeper gradients of the stream bank. This stability is a result of the willow and tree roots.

    At one of the many planting sites along Bighill Creek there is now a beaver dam. The dam has flooded the stream banks right up to where our plants are from past plantings. This is good, because the plants are hanging over the surface of the water and providing good cover for resident trout.

    I didn’t get a photo of the particular site this year, but next year I will take a few photos to show you this. The willows at the site have been growing very slowly every year, but now that the water is right up to the base of the plants, they are growing rapidly.

    I expect the same will happen at many of the other planting sites over time, so this is all good from a fish habitat perspective. If beaver dams are constructed and flood large areas of the stream channel, we will be doing some plantings further away from the old existing stream channel.

    Riparian recovery plantings require a lot of native plants and considerable time in the investment. For some areas along the creeks where natural recruitment has not occurred over decades, it could be due to the quality of the soil along the stream. I have found that you can establish native willows and trees on these stretches of stream bank, but the growth will be slow.

    After a native crop of plants is established, the new plants will enrich the soil over time. Dead leaves and branches create an organic richness and a stable root system will also add nutrient to the soil over time. The fine root mass that willows and trees grow every season adds organics to the soil when some of this mass dies off at the end of the growing season.

    Willows and trees also collect organics that blow in the wind and are collected at the base of the plants. Things like dead grass, fall leaves and plant seeds are all caught in a dense willow and tree buffer, growing along the streams. This organic material bio-degrades and adds nutrient to the soil. The organics also creates a microbial rich environment.


The Importance of Beaver Dams to A Resident Trout Population

    When it comes to beavers and healthy trout streams, it is all about balance. You need to have beavers and dams on a stream system to help maintain a healthy trout population. Beaver dams create an environment that enriches the nutrient and the food supply on a creek. The dams also form a wintering habitat for trout to retreat to during the cold winter months.

    On area trout streams, which are small in size and fed by spring water throughout the year, there needs to be a healthy riparian zone or buffer along the stream, with plenty of willow and deciduous trees to enrich the ecosystem, including the resident trout population. The willows and trees provide habitat for trout and enrich the food supply.

    If there is a healthy riparian zone along the trout stream, there will also be a resident beaver population. The beavers play an important role in maintaining the health of the eco-system, which is an ongoing process.

    The word balance comes into play when you consider that if there are too many beaver dams, the creek will be totally flooded along its length and the willows and trees will eventually disappear.   If humans live in the area, their will be land owners responsible for maintaining the land. Land managers need to maintain the valley bottoms so that flooding does not get out of hand.

    This interaction between humans and beavers happens on trout streams that occur in human populated areas. When beaver management comes into play, the populations of beavers are kept under control. This does not mean that they are totally extirpated from a stream, but rather their numbers are kept in balance.

    On the Bighill Creek, in the Town of Cochrane, there are beavers migrating into the BH Creek system annually, from the Bow River. This is just the way it is with beavers. They are constantly migrating to find new habitats. Some of the migrating beavers have eaten their food supply at other sites and now need to move to new territory.

    For the last thirty years, the Town of Cochrane has had some type of beaver management program on the BH Creek. The landowners upstream of the town have been managing beavers for over 100 years. Despite this management approach, there are beavers on the Bighill Creek every year.

    There are a number of different types of aquatic invertebrates that are attracted to still water, such as that which is found on beaver dams. Different types of water beetles, mayflies and caddis flies can only thrive where there is minimal current or flow velocity. This is where beaver dams are important to trout. The beaver dam is especially important during the winter months, when stream trout need a deep, slow water refuge to conserve their energy throughout the winter months.

    When beavers construct a dam, they have food caches that they build up for the winter months. This woody debris and that of the main dam and their lodge, ads nutrient to a trout stream, enhancing the food supply. Beaver dams are also great nursery habitats for minnows and juvenile trout. The large surface area of a beaver dam is usually skirted by a perimeter of shallow water, where small fish can live in safety.

Above: Water boatman, like these mating water beetles shown here, are a common resident of the beaver dams. They crawl out of the water or fly to new locations to mate and lay their eggs along the shoreline grasses of the stream.

    If there is one trout that seems to be the best at hiding from view in shallow water, I would have to say that trout would be the brook trout. The combination of their olive color, worm-like vermiculations and multi-color spotted sides, makes them blend into even the most unusual streambed environments.

    Trout are great at resting motionless in shallow water habitats. They will rest right on the bottom, using their tail, pectoral and caudal fins to keep upright. I usually look for a shadow on the bottom to find the trout. The eyes are the revealing characteristic that will confirm that they are trout, when you think that you have spotted one.

    Fly fishers develop trout spotting skills from their many years of hunting trout. On some fisheries, the total game is sight fishing. Waiting until you spot a trout before you make your cast. In most situations, the trout are on the move and you have to cast way out in front of the trout,  with light presentations, so you do not spook them. If you have read the trout’s travel route correctly, you may get lucky and end up casting the fly in exactly the right spot.

    Many years of this type of fishing will help to develop your trout spotting abilities. If you like to photograph trout, like I do, you will find this experience very rewarding.

Above: A small brook trout lays stationary in just inches of water, using the debris on the bottom as a backdrop for the trout’s perfect camouflage. Reflections on the surface help to distract any predators sight of the fish. The shallow leaf cover on the bottom of this backwater, is a perfect habitat for a hungry trout to ambush small insects that use the leaves as cover.

First Trout Emerges From Spawning Beds On Millennium Creek

    There were a few things that happened in the fall of 2017 that led me to believe that there may be an early emergence of hatching brook trout on Millennium Creek. After the first taste of winter in the early part of November, the weather changed and we experienced some warm wind Chinooks. Up until November the weather had been pretty warm, so the trout eggs were probably incubating  normally.

    Also, there hadn’t been any sign of early anchor ice, which I believe is always hard on trout eggs in the late fall. I think that anchor ice may cut off the circulation of well oxygenated water over the trout eggs and lead to possible loss. With good water flow in the fall of 2017, and with warmer water, this was probably why we had an early trout egg hatch in the winter months.

    I had been inspecting the spawning beds on Millennium on a few occasions before I noticed the first newly hatched trout. It was laying motionless on the bottom and I had to wait for a long time before it felt safe enough to come to the surface and feed. There were are few very small midges floating on the water, so the tiny trout knew that food was available on the top of the water.

    After a while, I watch the brook trout that was only a few centimetres in length, take  a few very small bits of something that I could not identify, off of the surface. These new trout have big eyes and they can see microscopic food items that we can not.  It could be that they do take some items that are not edible, so they are probably in the early stages of learning what they can and cannot eat.

    Millennium Creek is always the first spawning habitat on the Bighill Creek system, that hatches early trout every year. The other spawning habitats on other streams  that feed the Bighill Creek and in the main channel itself, the trout come out of the spawning gravel, later on in the spring.

    Mill. Creek is close to where I live, so it is easy to drop down to the stream and check things out, from time to time. I like the sunny days to find trout. They tend to be more active when there is sun light and emerging midge pupa in the water.

    This winter, there were more stickleback minnows present in the spawning beds, so the tiny trout were a little more spooky about showing themselves. I suspect that larger stickleback minnows will eat newly emerged trout, just after they come out of the gravel. Some of the stickleback minnows that I spotted, had very big bellies, which could indicate that they had been either feeding on a good supply of trout or midges. Maybe both.

    The best place to find the new hatch of brook trout is in the spawning channel that both Inter Pipeline and Bow Valley Habitat Development built, in 2010. This spawning habitat has been providing new generations of trout since the first fall after it was built. This year will be the 8th year of a successful brook trout hatch on the channel. I like to hunt the quite water habitats downstream of the channel for newly hatched trout. The brook trout tend to find quite water lateral margin habitat, a safe place to stay relatively safe.

    It takes a trained eye to find newly hatched trout. Fortunately, over the years, I have developed a pretty good eye for spotting these small residents of a trout stream. Sometimes I will take a few photos, but getting the right light and clear enough water is a tricky challenge for a photographer. The best approach is to sit tight for a long time and watch for any sudden movement on the bottom of the streambed. Sometimes only the shadow will reveal a small trout larvae. Fortunately, I have some good camera equipment for taking both video and photos of small trout.



The Werner Shrimp

    In my early years of fly fishing, the Werner Shrimp was a hot pattern for the local Bow River. I would fish the pattern in a stripping motion, just below the surface and this produced great results. It took me years to find out what the name of this fly pattern was. Early on, I would pick thru the fly shop display boxes and when I spotted something that looked like it might catch fish, I would buy it. Over time, I started to read the name of the fly patterns, if it was marked on the boxes that held the flies.

    Years past, I began tying my own flies and the full back pattern that I had used years before was not shown in any of the books that I had in my library. Then I bought the book the “Gilly”, compiled and edited by Alfred G. Davy. The BC publication had contributions from a number of top BC fly fishers and one of the fly patterns in the book was the Werner Shrimp. It had its origins as a very popular BC trout lake fly pattern.

    The Werner Shrimp is a full back fly pattern, with deer hair for the tail and back, covering a black dubbed body and brown hackle wrapped palmer over the length. When I tie this pattern for those interested, I usually tie it in a size 10—1X dry fly or nymph hook. The deer hair may get mangled after a few trout have chewed on it, but it still works great, regardless.

    With all of the deer hair, the fly is rather buoyant, but once it is wet and you are stripping it in on a cast, the fly will swim just beneath the surface. The trout will take this pattern aggressively, so be prepared. I have thought that the fly might represent a beetle of some kind. Due to the color being black, I find it difficult to relate it to a shrimp pattern, but that is what it is named.

    There is something very attractive to trout in this fly pattern and I suspect it is the combination of the brown hackle and black body of the fly. This color combo is also great for woolly bugger patterns. I also tie a bullet dry fly pattern with the brown and black, which works great on some trout streams that I have fished. Give this fly a try.

Trout In Plain Sight  -  How Well Do Brook Trout Blend Into The Bottom?

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Stream Maintenance Program  -  Ongoing Grassroots Effort

    Your local trout stream needs your help! It may not appear so, but lots of small and some large impacts caused by human development will slowly kill a trout stream over time. In order for the trout and the environment that they live in to survive, we must chip in with some volunteer time and effort, to insure the we can make a difference in protecting and enhancing our local waters.

    It may be something as simple as garbage clean-up or a more complex fish and riparian habitat program that will help create a natural eco-system over time. All of this will also help draw attention to important things like water quality and the volume of flow in the stream channel. The later is defined as in-stream flow needs to support aquatic life.

    This stewardship of a local trout stream or two is what is required to make sure that we don’t completely destroy our local natural assets. It has to be done on a volunteer basis, because government agencies are not large enough to handle micro-management issues. Both provincial and federal agencies just don’t have the time or resources to take care of or invest the time in a local trout stream.

    Fortunately, there are watershed groups popping up all over the place in the province of Alberta. This shows that people do care about what is happening to small and large flowing streams and the complex and important eco-system that the streams support along their banks.

The “Bill Griffiths Special” Nymph

“ The Bill Griffiths Nymph is a simple but effective fly pattern to use. It can be stripped in on the retrieve, to entice a hungry trout. Or; you can dead drift the pattern for faster water applications. Try it out.”

    It took me a while to figure all of this out; how to present my fly and where to fish it on that first winter outing. Including the best choice of trout fly pattern to use. Somehow, a size 8 nymph that had been tied by me, using both mink and squirrel fur, ended up on the end of my leader that day. The pattern soon proved to be the best fly for moving a trout’s feeding interest and also its bite, in the deeper water in that sunny day on the Bow.

    Since its first test on winter Bow River trout, I have used the Bill Griffiths Special on a number of other streams and still water lakes with great success. I decided some time after its first dip in the Bow that I would name the pattern after a good fishing buddy and the man that really got me interested in fly fishing the lower Bow River. He was a great fly fisher and an excellent fisheries biologist. Bill past away a few years after that first winter fly fishing trip we did.

    The fly pattern incorporates some of the most attractive components used for my own personal fly tying hobby. There is mink, squirrel, partridge soft hackle, copper wire and the old and very effective peacock herl. I tie the mink in at the abdomen and the squirrel is used for the thorax. I originally used hare’s ear fir for the thorax, but later changed to squirrel for most of the flies that I have tied in this pattern.

    It is a very easy trout fly to tie and it will catch trout under numerous different conditions. The best option is for still water trout, when it is slowly stripped in.

    When it comes to tying nymphs that consistently catch trout, a simple design is sometimes the best approach. The first trout flies that I tied, trying to imitate mayfly nymphs and caddis pupa, were just that. Those simple fuzzy trout flies, tied using mostly animal fur, caught trout and remain today some of my first picks from the fly box.

    My early fly tying involved a lot of experimenting, just like most fly tiers do. So the fly boxes back then were cluttered with different looking nymph and streamer fly patterns, waiting for their first dip in the river or stream. The “Bill Griffiths Special” was once one of those untested trout flies and I remember very clearly the first time I tried it out on the Bow River.

    The late Bill Griffiths had talked me into trying some winter fly fishing on the lower Bow River. Bill had introduced me to some of the best fly fishing opportunities on the lower Bow River back in the day, so when he suggested we do a winter trip, I was easy to convince. The location was Policeman’s Flats and the month was February.

    The trout at that time of the winter were pretty lethargic and mostly laying on the bottom of still water pools or deep, slow velocity runs. Sinking fly lines was the best way to get your flies down to the trout on that day. My choice was a very fast sinking 7wieght with a short, heavy leader. Short leaders are the best when you are fishing nymphs in really deep runs with some current. At least this is my opinion.