Stream Tender Magazine

December 2016 Issue

“A Great Spawning Season on Ranch House Spring Creek”

    In 2012, a storm drain outflow was constructed on the mid-point of Ranch House Spring Creek. This created major problems for the small spring creek, which is a vital spawning and nursery habitat for juvenile brook trout. The problem was magnified in 2015 when a new housing development was tied into the existing discharge in to Ranch House Spring Creek.

    Every time we get a significant rain or hail event, large volumes of water are flushed down the creek channel, causing debris blockages and eroding the existing natural channel width. With this happening annually, BVHD has struggled to keep the channel navigable for spawning trout and juvenile trout that either hatch in the creek or migrate up from the Bighill Creek.

     This year’s maintenance program involved a lot of work to keep the channel passage open for migration. Well, it has all paid off, with good numbers of trout spawning in the creek this fall. However, most of this happened with the help of a few rain and snow melt events that brought the water levels up enough for trout to migrate upstream.

    Due to the erosion, with the channel and streambed wider now, it results in more shallow riffle areas, which are too void of depth for mature brook trout to pass up thru. The shallow riffles also are prone to collecting dead leaves in the fall and willow and tree branches that are flushed down the system every time the storm drains are discharging.

    However, with all of this said, I observed and documented a really good spawning event this fall. There was much more spawning on the lower reach of Ranch House Spring Creek, when compared to previous years. This can be attributed to the difficulty that some trout had, while trying to swim up the system, during low flow periods in the creek.

    This year’s total redd or egg nest count came to 32, which is a record number of brook trout redds for Ranch House Spring Creek. Thanks to a lot of time spent by volunteers insuring that some trout did have the opportunity to migrate upstream, past a number of blockages that blocked their way during low flow periods on the creek. This made a big difference in this year’s spawning on the creek.

This Year’s BVRR &E Program Sign in Place

Above: This year’s “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program” sign was installed along the West Nose Creek, in the City of Calgary, in October. The sign gives a concise description of what the program is all about and shows the partner’s involved in the 2016 program. This is the third year of the program and three signs are now in place in three different communities along the  3 streams that are being restored. There are signs in the Town of Cochrane, The City of Airdrie and the City of Calgary now. You can zoom in on this photo to read the wording, logos and view the art work.

Bighill Creek Spawning 2016

    The 2016 spawning season on Bighill Creek got off to a rather slow start this year. As a matter of fact, I was a little concerned earlier in the fall, that we wouldn’t have many trout spawning this year. However, things worked out ok later on in the fall, with enough spawning in the creek to cheer me up a bit.

    Presently, the only place that the brown trout spawn is on the main-stem of the Bighill Creek. Water conditions on the Bighill Creek are very poor for a successful incubation, but some brown trout eggs do hatch.

    It is my hope that eventually, the brown trout will make it upstream to the upper spring feeder creek, where brook trout are now spawning. Once they make it up the system that far and start to spawn in the clear waters of the upper spring, the survival numbers of eggs hatching will be substantial and we can look forward to increased numbers of brown trout in the entire system.

    This may take a few years to happen, but I am confident that it will.

Above: This photo shows a Bighill Creek male brown trout laying over a freshly excavated redd or egg nest, in the gravel. The larger stones under its head is where the female will lay her eggs and the male brown will fertilize them at the same time. When I approach with my camera ready, the female went darting for cover, while the male stayed around for it’s photo to be taken.

The female brown trout will lay

her eggs over the large stones

After the eggs are laid down, the female will fan smaller gravel over the nest

Above: A number of mature brook trout spawning on the upper key habitats on Ranch House Spring Creek. This much spawning this year will result in a major boost to brook trout numbers on Bighill Creek over the following few years. The incubation success is much higher than any eggs laid down in the main channel of Bighill Creek, during the spawn.

A Record Number of Volunteer Hours This Season

    This year’s volunteer contribution is up, as a matter of fact it is record setting for overall contribution in person hours. The chart below , shows how the time was spent on the various programs that Bow Valley  Habitat Development was involved in. A great year for the cause.

Volunteer Contribution Break Down

    The volunteer contribution of 674 VPH’s for this year’s programs is as follows:

 

Riparian Plantings— 409 hours

Administration—101 hours

Stream Maintenance—56 hours

Advocacy—6 hours

Spawning Survey—102 hours

 

    The “Advocacy” contribution was made to deal with two main issues; The proposed parking lot over Ranch House Spring Creek, for the Town of Cochrane main office building. BVHD provided spawning data to show the importance of the small spring creek as a trout spawning habitat. The second matter that BVHD was involved in, was the lack of rock rip-rap along the stream banks of West Nose Creek, on the Stoney Trail crossing, in the City of Calgary.

    The “Stream Maintenance” contribution was directed primarily at removing blockages on streams that would prevent spawning trout from reaching their spawning habitats, on four streams in the program. Those streams were Ranch House Spring Creek, Millennium Creek, Bighill Creek and West Nose Creek. The maintenance program proved to be very successful this year, with record numbers of trout spawning on Ranch House and West Nose Creeks.

    The “Administration” contribution was for organizing partnerships, meetings, report writing and project supervision. The publishing of Stream Tender Magazine was not included in the contribution list.

Park Spring Creek Spawning is Up This Year

    It was only a few years ago that brook trout were observed spawning in the Park Spring. In 2013, to be exact. This was the first time since the early 1980’s that trout had been observed spawning in this crystal clear spring creek. This was big news for the fisheries restoration program on the Bighill Creek.

    Having recruitment of new generations of trout happening on the upper reach of Bighill Creek was a big deal. By far, reproduction on the top end of a stream system is the best way to re-populate the creek’s trout numbers.

    It took a bit of work to get those brook trout on the upper reach. Besides natural migration over time, volunteers have been opening up old beaver dams on the Bighill Creek since the early 2000’s. The Town of Cochrane Parks Department played a major role in this program.

    Now, we have a record number of brook trout spawning in the Park Spring and it may be only a matter of time before brown trout are spotted spawning on the spring creek. This may take a little longer to happen, because brown trout are not as ambitious as brook trout, when it comes to migration up a stream system.

    The 2016 total redd count came to 46 egg nests. I expect a substantial increase in brook trout numbers migrating down from the Park Spring over the next few years. This should greatly improve the fly fishing opportunities on the lower reach of the Bighill Creek. I look forward to experiencing this myself.

Above: These brook trout were capture by camera and video, spawning in the crystal clear water’s of the Park Spring Creek this fall of 2016.

Heavy Spawning on Park Spring  -  Enriches the Creek

    The Park Spring Creek is  very short in length, from where it comes out of the ground to where it enters the Bighill Creek. The stream also is high in calcium and carbonate, which forms “Tufa” deposits on the rocks. This deposit limits invertebrate development, so there is less food for newly hatched trout. This can be problematic for sustaining a large number of hatched trout during emergence.

    With such a nutrient poor stream being used for reproduction, any new nutrient injected into the stream can be beneficial. When trout spawn, only a small percentage of the eggs will hatch, the other eggs that die off are utilized by invertebrate populations. The same holds true for many streams where salmon spawn. The dead salmon and eggs provide needed nutrient to sustain newly hatched salmon fry.

    The higher the spawning activity on a trout stream, the more nutrient there is for trout fry, when they hatch. Another important factor in the Park Spring Creek is its length. When many of the juvenile brook trout emerge from the gravel, it is only a short drift downstream to the main-stem of the Bighill Creek, where there is plenty of invertebrates to feed on.

    With a record setting spawning event on the Park Spring Creek this fall, I am confident that there will be a significant survival rate on newly hatched trout. Maybe not as high as if the stream had more nutrient and food for the new generations, but good enough to dramatically increase the brook trout populations on the upper reach of the BH Creek.

    For the past few years, I have been monitoring the hatch on the Park Spring Creek. So far, I haven’t had any difficulty in finding newly hatched trout. This fall, while conducting my spawning survey on the stream, I noticed a lot of juvenile brook trout present, from the previous year’s hatch. So this bit of evidence has convinced me that survival is not too bad for a spring creek that is less than ideal for spawning and incubation.

    Over the past few years, it has been noted that a new crop of willow growth is starting to take root along the middle to lower end of Park Spring Creek. Probably due to the high levels of precipitation in recent years. This growth should also factor in to the enrich on the stream, by providing more organic bio-mass into the channel, which means more invertebrates.

A Newly Hatched Brook Trout on Park Spring Creek

2016

“A trout hatchery was built on Park Spring Creek in the early 1900’s, but it most likely failed to be a productive hatchery due to the high concentrations of calcium in the spring water.”