Stream Tender Magazine

March 2018 Issue

Rainbow Trout Recovery May Take Years

    Whatever has caused the near collapse of the rainbow trout population on the reach of the Bow River between the Ghost Dam and Bearspaw Dam has yet to be fully understood. Being an optimist, I believe that there is a good chance that the Jumpingpound Creek strain of rainbow trout will recover over time.

    For a recovery to happen, the JP Creek needs some attention and protection to preserve what is left of the once thriving trout population. The protection of the volume of water that flows down the system is the most important thing to address in the immediate future. No more licenses for withdrawal should be granted by the province. This would be a great start.

    Also, existing water withdrawal licenses should be reviewed. I know that some licenses for livestock withdrawal have been sold or misused for other wasteful practises along the creek. There is not enough water flowing down the JP Creek to allow excessive withdrawal and still expect the trout population to survive.

    I have fished a number of trout streams in Montana and Wyoming, south of the border, and I have seen what excessive withdrawal of water can do to a trout stream. On some trout streams you need to go upstream to find places where there is enough water to support a resident trout population.

    When everyone along a trout stream wants to get their fair share, the stream will usually ends up paying the ultimate price. During extremely warm summer, conditions on some trout streams are so poor that trout will die of heat exhaustion.  The lack of cold enough water and the volume of flow can have a major impact on a healthy trout stream.

    A number of other issues need to be addressed to protect our wild JP trout in the future. If whirling disease is the prime culprit for the collapse of the fishery, measures should be taken to engineer the JP strain so that it is more resistant to the disease. This is already being done on some trout streams in the USA, so I know that it can be successfully done. These are just a few things that need to be looked after.

Above: Rainbow trout like this Jumpingpound strain that was caught and released on the Bow River near Cochrane, were once common on the river. Nowadays you would be lucky to find one of this size, during the summer months on the river. The rainbow trout that once thrived on this stretch of the Bow River were very pretty trout, with almost all of them that you were lucky enough to catch, being in perfect condition.

An Ice Covered Trout Stream’s Winter Beauty

    Trout streams in the winter months are quiet, peaceful landscapes that hold special beauty to those that enjoy the season. Watching how the winter’s ice slowly builds up along the stream banks is part of this beauty. If there is enough water movement, you will see flowing water from time to time throughout the winter months.

    As the early winter’s cold frigid weather causes the stream’s water temperature to drop below freezing or go sub-critical, anchor ice will start to form on shallow riffles in the stream. This causes ice dams to form along the creek at different locations. The result is a number of ice encrusted waterfalls.

    During the winter months along Bighill Creek, you will find all types of wildlife, busy in their winter survival mode. This winter I have had the opportunity to witness mink, squirrels, ducks, woodpeckers and deer along the creek. These encounters add interest to a hikers trek and help make the riparian zone along the stream feel alive with its wild residents.

    Like most area streams, the Bighill Creek has deciduous willows and trees along it’s course. This makes the habitat unique and very attractive to specific types of wildlife that depend on this type of growth. So far this winter, on two occasions I have seen a pileated woodpecker along the path system. This was a real treat for my morning walks.

Above: This ice dam on the Bighill Creek was formed after anchor ice started to form on the streambed of the creek. Ice dams can also be formed when chunks of ice break free and are washed below the ice downstream. The chunks will jam up at the next constriction in the stream channel. Anchor ice will also break free from the rocks in riffle areas and create a damming effect.

Deciduous Riparian Woodlot  -  Typical to Area Streams

    Area trout streams are bordered by a mix of deciduous trees and willows. This provides a unique habitat that all types of wildlife depend upon for food and nesting habitat. Owls nest in holes bored in old poplar trees, especially cottonwoods. Woodpeckers peck at the bark of poplars looking for insects and song birds nest in thickly growing willow stands.

    All types of waterfowl utilized the cover of willow plants for nesting along the streams and even small spring feeders that enter the main-stems of creeks. The old poplar stands eventually fall to high winds or just die of old age and fall to the ground. The dead trees are an important habitat to wildlife even when they are laying on the ground. The dead trees also provide a habitat for insects that birds feed upon.

    I love to walk along the streams and have a clear view off into the deciduous habitats when the leaves are gone in the fall, winter and early spring. You can find deer browsing on willow and poplar buds or see mink scurry along the frozen ice covered stream banks. If you are lucky, you may see a rare bird in this habitat.

    The resident beaver population depends exclusively on deciduous trees and willow plants for survival. Beavers do not eat spruce or pine trees, but the juvenile beavers will chew on small conifers just to put their growing teeth to work.

    These are unique eco-systems that need to be protected. Planting native deciduous trees and willows does help in the cause. This can be done on areas of the creek that have no existing riparian trees or willows.

Just click on the volume. There are previous issue links on the cover page.

The Famous “Tom Thumb” Dry Fly Pattern

    It is a simple dry fly pattern in some ways, but in others, it is not. The original “Tom Thumb” consisted of three ingredients; hook, deer hair and thread. However, putting this pattern together is not as easy as it may seem. You need to tie the fly with the right proportions for it to work effectively.

    On the ones that I tie, I add a dubbing to the body to finish off the fly and make it look more attractive to fly fishers that buy the pattern. This is important when you tie trout flies commercially. The original looks a little rough, with just the deer hair and thread on the underside of the full back of finished deer hair.

    I was first introduced to the Tom Thumb when I lived in Kelowna in the early 1970’s. It was a very popular fly pattern for imitating the giant emerging caddis fly hatches on BC lakes and it still is today. I believe that the pattern emulates a caddis fly with its wings in an upright position, drying off the wings before the insect takes flight. The tail is supposedly imitating the shuck.

    Another nice feature of this fly pattern is that it floats well and can take the abuse of many trout teeth as it catches trout after trout. The upright deer hair wing is easy to see on those long casts in choppy water. I haven’t fished this pattern much on rivers and streams, but there may come a time and place for this in the future.

    This winter I tied a lot of dry flies and on my list was a good supply of the Tom Thumb. You can use elk hair to tie this fly pattern as well, but my preference is to use deer hair. The elk hair does not float as high in the water, but it is much more durable. You could substitute the shell back with a piece of foam, but I haven’t got around to trying this yet. The foam would stand up to the trout teeth that usually shred the deer hair over time.

Above: This is one of the Tom Thumb dry flies that I tied up this winter. I dub the body with a dirty olive live dub.

Another Year of Trout in The Urban Hatchery

    This year marks another year of new brook trout and brown trout hatching in the Bighill Creek system. There are two feeder tributaries to the BH Creek in the Town of Cochrane that trout spawn in.

   Both brook and brown’s also spawn in the main stem of the stream, in Cochrane. This micro fishery is heavily maintained to serve this purpose and hopefully, this will continue on into the future. It doesn’t cost much.

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2018 Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program

    The 2018 riparian planting program has already shaped up to be another great year, with plenty of native willows and trees destine to enhance our area streams. This will be the fifth year of the program and we have many thousands of native plants growing on local stream banks as a result. It has all happened thanks to some good sponsorship from a number of partners and the hard work of our volunteer planting force.

    Over the past four years, we have planted a total of 92,758 native willows and tree plants on over 30 kilometres of stream bank. Once this year’s planting program is completed, the total will exceed 100,000, which is really a good thought for those that participated in the program thus far. The long term benefits of this riparian restoration work are incredible.

    Something that I think about is the amount of natural recruitment of native willows and trees that will occur, from the plants that we have already planted. This will happen thru natural seed distribution and growth. I expect to see this result in the next few years along the streams that we planted.

    Once you get a good crop of native willows and trees established along the water’s edge of a small stream, the plants will spread over time. The soil quality will also improve over the years, with plenty of organic material enriching the earth and microbial life. This is all important to the health of the riparian eco-system along our trout streams. Riparian plantings enhance the plant life and food chain, creating a bio-diverse environment. This will become very apparent over the future years to come on the streams in the program.

    The water quality and the improved streambed substrate on the lower reach of Bighill Creek, in the Town of Cochrane, has already shown improvement. I have been observing this improvement over recent years and this is very encouraging. This improvement can be attributed to the plantings on eroding stream bank sites.

    The stabilizing of the eroding stream banks has reduced the amount of silt loading into the creek channel. There is now gravel and cobble showing on areas of the streambed that I have not seen in years past. The creek’s lower end is cleaning up.