Stream Tender Magazine

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December 2017 Issue

Fall Colors

Storm Drain Pollution Still an Issue on Bighill Creek

    A few years ago, the topic of storm drain pollution on Bighill Creek was brought up. At the time, an article was published in the Cochrane Eagle and Stream Tender Magazine. I personally received assurance from the Town of Cochrane that the pollution incident was being investigated.

    This fall, while walking the path system at the same time as large volumes of something foamy was being flushed into Bighill Creek, I stopped to take a few photos. The storm drain in question, does not come from a residential area, but rather from a commercial zone, so what is going on?

    The residents of the Town of Cochrane face steep fines if they are caught dumping any chemicals down the storm drain, the same should be the case for any commercial activity that pollutes our nearby creek. Because the foam looked to me like soap suds, I suspect that may be what it is. But the volume of the pollutant was significant and it was present on the surface of the creek for some distance downstream of the inflow.

    The fact that this was happening at the same time as the fall spawning period for trout on the Bighill Creek was especially disturbing. Newly deposited trout eggs are very vulnerable to any type of pollutant. The contamination of the outer wall of the egg will prevent the eggs intake of oxygen from the water. The residual effects are yet unknown as well.

    I personally, don’t have the time to conduct investigations into such matters, so I am hoping that someone else is. This needs to stop. From what information that I have gathered so far, the pollution seems to be more evident after a long period of dry weather. This leads me to believe that the chemical accumulates over time in the storm drain, and then is flushed into the creek during a rain event, when there is enough volume of flow in the drain to clean it out.

    Storm drains are designed for surface ground water run-off, not a convenient dumping drain for polluting chemicals. I think that ongoing education of this matter is necessary to make everyone aware. The environment often takes a “back seat” when it comes to important community issues. This is too bad for the trout in Bighill Creek.

    This fall, during some of my spawning survey work, I noticed a definite decline in the number of trout spawning in the Bighill Creek system. I am not saying that this has anything to do with pollution events on the creek. However, what I am saying is that these trout have a tough enough life, trying to survive, with a lot of negative impacts, both natural and man-made.

    Any additional impacts, such as pollution of the Bighill Creek, will have long term consequences on our trout populations. So we should do something about it, before the creek becomes uninhabitable for wild trout.

Above: The foam from pollution was evident on the surface of the Bighill Creek, for some distance downstream.

Above: This fall I took this photo of the foam contaminated inflow on Bighill Creek. This has happened in years past and will continue to happen until the problem is resolved. The flow of Bighill Creek is too low to dilute any pollution like this. It is difficult to access the impact on the trout fishery when chemicals like this enter the stream.

Creating Wild Trout Habitat and Conserving Water

    Bighill Creek is only a short walk from my front door, so keeping an eye on how the creek is doing over time is easily done. One of the most rewarding things to watch is the slow but steady growth of the new native willow and tree plants that we have planted on the creek.

    Willows and trees that were planted along the water’s edge in 2014, are now growing out over the creek channel in some locations on the Bighill. Besides the newly created shade over the surface of the stream, I know that trout are finding cover below the canopy of new growth.

     The streambed is also cleaning up on the lower end of the creek, before it enters the Bow River on its way to the City of Calgary. The cleaner bed material is a result of the reduction of silt loading from unstable stream banks that are now planted with native willows and trees.

    The willows growing over the surface on both sides of the creek channel is constricting the flow in the stream. With reduced surface area in the creek there is less evaporation and a higher velocity of flow. This is good for the water and the trout that live below the surface.

2017 Fall Spawning Season — “Down—But Not Out”

    Just like everything else in the natural world, there are highs and lows in wildlife numbers. Much of this is related to environmental conditions and also human influences. The same holds for trout numbers. We had a dry, hot summer this year, so I was expecting a possible drop in the fall spawning results for this year.

    Low flow conditions in our area streams means that the trout are under stress from the loss in habitat created by the lack of water in the creek channels. Suffering a stressful open water season can reduce the reproductive development of the trout that reside in those waters. The fall spawning will be carried out by fewer ripe female trout, so the numbers of spawning trout will be down.

    It is well known among fisheries managers that sometimes trout will skip a spawning season, because they don’t have the ability to develop eggs in a single season or year. For some trout, like bull trout, this can be a common occurrence. Bull trout live in rather sterile mountain streams, so slow growing seasons for this variety of native trout occur. The result is  that they will spawn every other year.

    This year’s spawning on the Bighill Creek system was down, when compared with other years. There was a substantial decline on the Upper Spring Creek tributary and Ranch House Spring Creek, especially on the later. Ranch House Spring Creek went from over 40 trout redds (egg nests) last year, down to 7 brook trout redds this year.

    In the main channel of Bighill Creek, I noticed a dramatic decline in the number of spawning trout this fall. Both brook trout and brown trout numbers were down from previous years. The reduced number of brown trout redds was alarming to me. I didn’t see that many mature, large brown trout spawning  on the creek this season.

    I am still very disappointed in the fishing regulation change that came to pass in the 2017 fishing regulations. In my opinion, there should be zero trout harvest in the Bighill Creek. After all, we are working very hard to bring this sport fishery back to life and having a harvest on the larger trout in the stream will do nothing but damage the fishery.

    Regardless of obstacles like this, we will continue our work in a conservation based direction, on the Bighill Creek system.

Below: This chart shows the annual brook trout redd count on Millennium Creek for the past 10 years. You can see a slight drop in the spawning numbers for this fall, but over all the creek produces a consistently high amount of spawning activity for the Bighill Creek system.

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The Caddis Dry Fly Pattern

    The caddis dry fly pattern is a must for any fly fisher’s fly box. It is the most common dry fly hatch of the season and even surpasses the May fly hatches on some streams. In the early spring, large caddis fly hatches will keep the trout coming to the surface in the early morning and late in the day. Every novice fly fisher should have a few size 14 caddis dry flies in their collections. For the novice fly tier, they are really easy to tie.

March Brown Wet Fly

Fly Fishing The Spring Micro Caddis Hatches

    It was the late Bill Griffiths that tipped me off about the fabulous spring caddis hatches on the lower Bow River. Both of us fished these a few times and for me it was a learning experience. I found out that you could fish really small dry fly imitations of the caddis fly and catch really big trout. The big problem was keeping these big guys on your light leaders and tippet when they sipped in the fly patterns.

    Bill only used a few wraps of hackle on his super small dry flies. Due to the fact I didn’t have any really small hackle for tying such micro patterns, I opted to go no hackle on some of my small caddis dries, and this seem to work just fine. However, once I acquired some top quality capes, I did follow Bill’s lead on tying micro caddis.

    Back in the early to mid 1980’s, there seem to be better spring caddis hatches, or at least the trout seem to be more cooperative. Maybe the trout are a little better educated nowadays. Rarely, do I see the pods of feeding trout that I use to, in the City of Calgary. It must be from more intense fly fishing pressure on the resident trout population. It is also true that I don’t fly fish the lower Bow as much any more. Reports of great hatches downstream of Calgary are still common.

    To make some of my micro caddis dry fly patterns more durable, I will add a bit of really fine copper wire, which I reverse wrap over the hackle. This has been very helpful. When the trout are on this hatch, you need durable dry flies to stand up to the abuse of sharp teeth on very large Bow River trout. Also, the no-hackle patterns are much more durable still, but you can reverse wrap the copper wire over the dubbing to help keep the fly pattern together.

    Household salt is great for drying off wet dry flies, so I always have a small canister of salt to use, before I re– grease my dry flies with floatant. Because the dry flies are so small, you will have to follow the leader visually, to watch for subtle takes on a drift, on riffle areas.

A size 20 caddis dry fly