With the New Year close at hand, there are big plans for the 2017 enhancement season on area streams. Already, Bow Valley Habitat Development is working on putting together a riparian planting program for the 2017 season. The plan will still be titled the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program 2017”, continuing the work that has been carried out over the past few years.

    This time of year, a lot of effort is put into organizing a partnership program to insure that there will be enough native willows and trees available for the next season’s planting program. So far, things are looking pretty good. Some of the past partners have already indicated to me that they are keen on supporting another year of sponsorship for the program.

    With over 40,000 plants in the ground along Nose Creek, West Nose Creek and Bighill Creek over the past few years, another good season in 2017 may see us break the 55,000 plant marker. This would be a substantial achievement for the ongoing program.

Stream Tender Magazine

December 2016 Issue

Publisher’s Note: I first met Jake Gotta while I was working on Millennium creek back in 2006. Jake had been trying to coax a trout into taking his fly on  the mouth of Bighill Creek that day. Since then, Jake and I have fly fished together on a number of occasions. I ask Jake to write this article.

Fly Fishing the Bighill Creek  - by Jake Gotta  -  Photos by Guy Woods

    I started relatively late in life as a fly fisherman. I was given an old scratched-up Fenwick fiberglass fly rod from my Uncle Joe, when I was 35. I started out on small streams in and around my hometown of Cochrane. Bighill Creek, which is smack dab in the middle of town, is one that often comes to mind.  

    It is one of those streams I didn’t think too much of until I became a fisherman. I grew up here and this stream has been here the whole time. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times I drove over that little bridge that crosses it, and didn’t think once about it.

    It’s a creek that is so narrow in places I could almost jump over it. The water is a tea color, and the banks are overgrown with tall grass and brush. The idea of getting a good cast into it seemed ridiculous. To any angler, it has this feel that it probably just isn’t worth fishing. However, I found out that it is.

    I fished the Bighill at first, where it spills into the Bow River. Confluences were always a good place to fish. Usually, there is a good pool or flow right there to toss a dry fly or pull a

 streamer through.

  It was also a plus because you could get a cast into there without getting hung up. I soon made my way up the creek to challenge myself.

    Maybe that’s what it was, a challenge. The fly casting was going to be tough. Who knew if the fish were going to be there? They were holding in the water at the confluence. Why not here too? No one else is fishing it. Maybe there are some big fish in here after all.

    The possibility of catching a big brown trout right in town felt good. Town locals walking the creek pathways looked at me strange. The look on their faces says it all. “Is that guy actually trying to fish that little creek? The Bow is right there, fish that.”

    I did get hung up - a lot. I hooked trees behind me, trees on the other side, brush, the odd log and even myself. I read about the bow and arrow cast, and that helped me immensely.

    Sometimes I would just lazily flip my fly into the water and feed out line until it sunk into a deep corner pool. I

would make small strips on my small streamer and hungry brown trout ate it. It felt good.

    I was catching nice trout between 8 and 14 inches. The brown trout in there were clean and healthy.

   I figured more browns were going to come from the Bow into Bighill Creek to spawn. I heard from other anglers that they were catching large browns and brook trout in the fall too. I have seen rainbow trout in Bighill too, but I couldn’t trick them into taking a fly.

    This really is a vibrant trout stream that I believe needs protecting and enhancement. Not just now, but well into the future. These fish need a place to survive and reproduce. I think anglers in general get a certain attachment to their home waters. I think they feel that there is something special going on here, and they want to keep it that way.

    You don’t have to be an angler to feel this way either. It would be comforting to know that I can come back to Bighill Creek years from now, and hook up a nice trout.

Above: Jake Gotta nets a Bighill Creek trout from a likely looking deep haunt.

Above: Jake employs a “Bow and Arrow” cast to the underside of willow cover on the far side of the stream channel. This cast is often used to place your fly pattern into tight locations on small streams. Especially, if there is lots of heavy cover behind you and you can’t get a decent back cast.

Above: Heavy brush fly fishing is not an easy game for fly fisher’s. You have to approach the stream channel with caution, so that you don’t spook the trout. Keeping low and moving slow is the “catch phase” for small stream trout.

Left:

A beautiful September brown trout on the Bighill Creek is hard to beat for its color and condition. This brown wasn’t that long, but it was a real eye catcher and it deserved a quick photo.

“Trout Unlimited Joins in on West Nose Creek”

    Last year, Elliot Lindsay of the Trout Unlimited national office in Calgary, help out on the spawning survey that was completed for 2015, on West Nose Creek. This year, another cooperative spawning survey program was again organized for the West Nose Creek.

    Bow Valley Habitat Development would focus on the middle and upper reach of West Nose Creek and TU Canada would cover the lower portion of the stream. The objective was to complete a more comprehensive study than had been done in 2015.

    BVHD complete its survey by the end of October and later on in November, TU submitted its findings. Both Elliot Lindsay and Teague Urquhart of the Bow River Chapter were instrumental in completing the survey of the lower reach on West Nose Creek. They both cover a lot of water to complete their spawning survey.

    For the BVHD report, 31 brown trout redds were documented and mapped. Later on in November, I was very pleased to see that Trout Unlimited had mapped another 17 redds on the lower end of West Nose Creek. This brought the total to 48 brown trout redds for the fall 2016 spawning season on West Nose Creek.

    By working together, we managed to document a very substantial number of mature trout spawning on West Nose. This information will be of great value in establishing the creek as an important fishery and spawning tributary to the Bow River fishery and the West Nose Creek itself.

    Furthermore, the study will help in future regulation changes that should help protect the trout fishery. I look forward to future cooperative programs with TU Canada and I will support any stand alone projects that they pursue on the creek.

“New Year Close - Plans for Area Streams for 2017”

    At this point in time, I can guarantee that spawning survey work and stream maintenance programs will continue for sure in 2017. This part of the annual work program is very important in maintaining reproduction on a number of key spawning tributaries every year. The riparian planting will insure that any new generations of trout hatched into the system will have suitable habitat to live out their lives.

    For me personally, the past few years I have observed some of the benefits of the riparian planting work and as the plants grow, so does my excitement about future developments in both stream water quality and fish habitat. Willows and trees planted in the first year of the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program in 2014 are now starting to really take off in growth.

    There are plenty of photos on file that show all of the planting sites, so in the next few years, I will be able to show you some good before and after comparison photos of how our efforts are changing the landscape along all three streams in the program. I really look forward to this.

“Clear Water on Bighill Creek This Fall”

    The first signs of stream recovery on the Bighill Creek is the water quality on the lower reach. There are 58 stream banks stabilization sites that have been planted over recent years and the results are now showing with the cleaner water and streambed on the creek.

    This fall, there is also less cattle activity on the upper reaches, which helps out in a big way to keep the water flowing clean. The trout eggs that are now in the gravel should be off to a great start for their incubation period over the winter months. If this keeps up, there may be a substantial egg hatch in the new year, but this is a very optimistic forecast to be making this late in the fall.

    I have noticed a big change in water quality in the BH Creek over the past few years. One of the best indicators for an improvement, other than the visual aspect, is the increase in invertebrate populations in the streambed on the Bighill. This past year, I conducted some sampling and was surprised at the results.

    The primary surprise was that May fly baetis nymphs were showing up on the creek. The presence of May flies on a creek is the first good indicator of improving water quality. This member of aquatic insect family is very vulnerable to pollution, so finding them on the BH

Creek is very positive in deed. I managed to take a few photos of the baetis nymphs that I captured, along with a caddis fly larva.

    The caddis fly larva was chopping down on a midge larva, when I took the photo to the right. You can also see the crushed red brick that the Town of Cochrane uses on its path systems along the Bighill Creek. This is the red color pebble that the caddis has used in building its protective case. The pebbles help make the caddis larva blend into the streambed, which is another protective measure for this fascinating aquatic insect.

     The may fly nymphs have very sensitive gills along their abdomens, which I believe makes them so vulnerable to polluted water conditions. The Baetidae family of invertebrates are swimming nymphs, so they can swim like a small minnow to evade predators. You find them in slow to moderate flow velocities in a creek and they are an important food item for resident trout.

    This discovery of may flies on the Bighill Creek is exciting news for dry fly fisher’s that like to imitate the adult of the May fly life stage. It would be terrific if we were to see more insect hatches on the Bighill Creek in the future. This may well happen, with this recent find of the May fly nymphs on the Bighill Creek. Only time will tell if this is the case.

Below: This photo of the stream channel on Bighill Creek was taken on the lower reach on November 13th, 2016. The clear flowing water is a positive sign for the incubating brown trout and brook trout eggs that are now deposited in the gravel at key spawning habitats.

Midge larva

Baetis nymph

The large insect with the pebble case is a caddis larva, with a couple of baetis May Fly nymphs that are hitch-hikers along for the ride.

Adult May fly