Stream Tender Magazine

December 2016 Issue

Publisher’s Note: I thought that it was important to get some local fly fisher’s to share some of their thoughts on the Bighill Creek trout fishery. Joe Thompson is an English teacher and an avid fly fisher that fishes the creek. On occassion, we have also fished some other area streams.

Bighill Creek   -  By Joe Thompson

 

     Before moving to Cochrane in 2012, I would usually pass right on through town and head north to the streams around Bottrel and Cremona. I had never even really noticed the tiny meandering spring creek that flowed through the Ranch. In fact, if you fish the water in the heart of the town of Cochrane, you will certainly run into people who can’t help but ask: “Are there any fish in there?” It is partly due to the fact that others do not consider it “fishable” that I myself find enjoyment in fishing it. That being said, it is certainly no secret, and this quickly becomes obvious as you walk along its banks and notice the trampled grass in close proximity to the prime lies.

    For me, one the biggest attractions of Bighill Creek are the good-sized brown trout residing in the lower reaches. Like all spring creeks, the vegetation grows right up to edge of the water with canary grass, willows, and other obstacles to frustrate the fisherman. Although it is not easy to fish, bow and arrow casts and strategic downstream presentations are good ways to avoid hanging up.

     It is pretty cool to witness a nice brown slip out from under a cut-bank to inhale your dry fly, then explode at the surface in a

fit of rage as it tries to figure out where to go. It brings to mind the saying “fighting a fish in a phone booth.”

     I prefer to fish fiberglass rods on small creeks, and on Bighill Creek I usually carry my 7’6” 4 weight. Fiberglass’ full flex action allows the rod to load with only a few feet of line, as well as deliver a fly with deadly accuracy. Short leaders of heavy tippet (these fish aren’t very line shy) are ideal when you hook an 18” brown with nowhere to go but back into their cover. I often fish streamers, but my favorite method has been to fish small hoppers and beetles on windy days.

     As you move up the valley from town, the brown population wanes and you are more likely to catch brook trout. Not surprisingly, the number of rainbow trout increases as you move down towards the confluence with the Bow River, although I was lucky one day to catch a decent rainbow while fishing in the valley above Cochrane Ranch with Guy Woods.

     I have had the pleasure of helping out Guy Woods from Bow Valley Habitat Development on a few projects in town, both on Bighill Creek and on a couple feeder spring creeks. These projects involved removing an obstruction to trout

 

migration, some maintenance on a Millennium Creek spawning channel, as well as some willow planting to increase cover for the fish.

     It is encouraging to see the town and local landowners support the efforts of various organizations to improve riparian habitat, stabilize stream banks, and monitor the water quality of Bighill. The past few years have seen good water levels, and aside from some concerns over high water temperatures last summer, the creek seems to be a healthy environment for trout. It should be a great fall for spawning brookies and browns.

     I am optimistic that the future will bring continued support Bighill Creek watershed, especially if we educate our young people on its importance to the community, and wildlife. My long-term wish is to see Cochrane Ranch expanded and access to the upper reaches made more accessible. Besides fishing, I enjoy running and mountain biking along the strip of green space that goes right through town and past the Ranch. It is my hope that this beautiful and historic valley continues to offer great recreational opportunities in an ecologically healthy environment.

   

 

Above: Joe Thompson battling a nice brook trout on the Bighill Creek, using his short Orvis fibreglass rod. He landed the fish.

Above: A nice healthy rainbow trout brought a smile to Joe’s face, while we were fishing a great section of the Bighill Creek one day.

“Bighill Creek Spawning Tributaries Yield High Numbers of Spawning Brook Trout This Year”

    It has been a banner year for brook trout spawning on the three key spawning tributaries to the Bighill Creek this fall. Millennium, Ranch House and Park Spring Creek had lots of spawning activity.

    Numbers were up substantially over pass years, and this holds promise of a major boost to the trout populations in the BH Creek in the future years. This is great news.

    The biggest surprise was the numbers of brook trout spawning on Ranch House Spring Creek and the Park Spring. Both redd or egg nest counts were record setting. Especially significant was the high numbers of spawning trout on the Park Spring this fall.

    A total of 46 brook trout redds were mapped on the PS Creek, which will produce huge numbers of brook trout

at the upper reach of the Bighill Creek. This substantial spawning activity on the top end of the BH Creek will result in major recruitment of the trout population on the entire system.

    Along with Millennium and Ranch House Spring Creeks numbers, we will see lots of brook trout for fly fisher’s in the next few years. Spawning surveys are a great way of monitoring the health of  a trout fishery.

Above: This chart shows the results of spawning on Millennium Creek since the stream’s restoration was completed in 2008. There was no documented spawning activity prior to rebuilding the spring creek. The last three years have seen solid numbers of brook trout spawning on Millennium Creek. A reliable spawning destination.

Above: Brook trout were first observed spawning in 2013, on the upper Park Spring Creek. This was the first time since the mid– 1980’s that trout had spawned in the tributary. Since 2013, there has been remarkable growth in the numbers of spawning brook trout on this spring Creek. The Park Spring is destine to become the most important spawning tributary to the Bighill Creek system.

Below: As you can see, 2016 was a great year for spawning on RHS Creek. The 2014 year was a loss, due to the Cochrane Lake Dewatering Program that pumped water into the creek that was too dirty and contaminated to support a spawning event that fall.

    Western Coachman

          Black Trude

   Rio Grande Grizzly King

Rio Grande King

Coachman

The Trude Wing dry fly has been a popular choice among fly fisher’s since it was first tied on the A.E. Trude Ranch in 1903, by Carter H. Harrison. I tied up the fly patterns on the right to show you some of the more famous designs which use a wing material of white calf tail. The white makes your fly easy to see.

Bighill Creek  -  Getting Close To The Goal

    The Bighill Creek Project, which started in 2004, is getting close to achieving the primary objectives in the program. Those objectives were as follows:

 

·          Complete a comprehensive fisheries study on the lower reach of the Bighill Creek.

·          Identify specific goals to restore the trout fishery.

·          Restore and enhance spawning habitats on the system’s tributaries and main stem of the creek.

·          Restore native riparian habitat and enhance fish habitat on areas of the lower reach of the stream.

·          Complete an annual stream maintenance program.

·          Monitor annual spawning activity on the system.

·          Advocate for protection of the sport fishery thru regulation change and the protection of sensitive spawning habitats.

·          Educate the public about the importance of the stream’s trout fishery.

 

    After 13 years of volunteer work and community support, I am pleased to report that we are close to achieving our goals. There are only a few years more of riparian planting projects left to tackle and the major part of the overall program will be completed.

    However, there will still be annual programs to protect and maintain the stream’s habitat and fishery, so the job will really never be done. Monitoring things like annual  spawning on the system is still important for the stream’s future. Also, I am confident that public awareness of the importance of the stream’s entire ecosystem will grow over time.

    I personally, hope that the creek’s sport fishery will help to maintain this interest in the creek. After all, trout fisher’s are the best friends that trout stream’s could have. Especially those  that are conservation minded fly fisher’s.

“Late Season Visit Shows Encouraging Results”

    Late in the fall, I usually have more time to tour some of the willow and tree planting sites from year’s past. Because Bighill Creek is only a short walk from my home, it always gets a little more attention. While I am touring the stream banks in the late fall, I will sometimes find a few new brown trout redds or egg nests, from late spawning trout on the creek. So this always adds a little more excitement to my walks.

    In early November, I visited a few of the stream bank stabilization sites only minutes upstream of my house. It was great to see how willow and tree plants that had been planted on the banks, years earlier, were now showing substantial growth. These plants had almost completely stabilized the eroding stream banks with their network of root systems.

    From the top of the stream bank, which in some cases was over 7 feet in height, the willows and trees were thick along the water’s edge. These were major erosion sites at one time. The branches, which were now void of any leaves, stood out over the stream channel, so I managed to take a few photos to share with you.

    Although the growth has been slow on many of the planting sites, the new thick cover on the once exposed clay banks, was supported by dense root mass that was holding the clay together and preventing future slippage into the stream channel. Much of the clay that had once covered the streambed, below the sliding banks, was now gone. Replaced by gravel and weed growth.

    On some sites, there were deep pools below the planted willows and trees. I thought that these particular sites would hold trout in future years, because of the expected overhead cover provided by the willow and tree plants. This would be great new habitat for trout in the next few years.

    Since the first plantings, back in 2012, the recovery program has come a long way in restoring riparian habitat along the banks of Bighill Creek. Now, there is a noticeable difference in the appearance of the creek and the streambed. The creek is actually cleaning itself out over that past few years. This is the first positive result of our work on the stream. There will be plenty more evidence of the Bighill Creek’s riparian recovery program in the next few years.