Journal

Wild Trout-The Survivors

††† The provincial government fisheries managers stopped stocking Alberta trout streams back in the 1960ís. With the exception of re-introduction of native cutthroat trout, no annual stocking program is carried out just for sport fishing.

††† It was decided that wild trout could or would have to maintain populations thru natural reproduction. In other words, wild trout would need to take care of themselves, provided a good management strategy for harvest was put in place.

††† The biggest threat these days is the loss of water and habitat for our local trout populations. The trout located in forestry lands, which is under provincial fisheries management, gets a lot more attention than those streams that flow thru private land.

††† The private land is mainly owned by farmers and ranchers, so livestock impacts have left many of our area trout streams under constant threat. Over grazing and stream bank erosion have caused tremendous damage to small trout creeks. The result has been poor water quality and fish and riparian habitat loss.

††† Despite all of the negative impacts of agriculture, some of these small streams still support a small group of surviving wild trout. Now is definitely the time to step in and help these fish recover. The most important thing to do is to protect spawning habitats, water quality, in-stream and riparian habitat.

††† Many small feeder spring creeks are a great place to start. They provide the clean, cold water that trout need to survive.

Above: Small feeder springs also provide some great spawning habitat for species like brook trout and brown trout, provided that there is suitable spawning gravel available and adequate depth and velocity.

New Generations Of Wild Trout

††† If the places where wild trout spawn, have good water quality and clean gravel spawning beds, the new generations of wild trout will incubate and hatch. Small feeder spring creeks are the most reliable habitats for the fall spawning trout.

††† In a small spring fed stream, the water is cold and runs clean throughout the incubation of the trout eggs. These small feeders also usually have a good population of invertebrates to provide food for the newly hatched trout fry. The small insect life is available to the new trout when they break free of the gravel beds and emerge as free swimmers.

††† There is plenty of good hiding and feeding habitat on small feeder springs to insure a safe environment for young of the year trout to start their lives in. On larger flowing creeks, the lateral margin habitats and backwaters are where you will find young trout hatchlings. As long as there is plenty of habitat to take cover in.

††† Newly hatched trout fry need plenty of bank cover and little pockets of hiding habitat in large gravel and cobble, to stay safe from predators. The trout fry will often pick a small micro habitat that they can become familiar with, for life in the first weeks after they become free swimmers.

†† They will stay in these habitats until they are confident enough to venture out to explore other areas of the stream. Eventually, on small spring fed streams, they will end up migrating downstream into larger creeks or rivers to live their lives.

††† When the trout are mature, they will return to theirsmall streams where they start their lives, to spawn. The cycle then starts again, with another generation to begin as trout eggs.

††† This is why it is important to protect all flowing streams, no matter how small they may be, they may have trout in them.

Above: This juvenile trout is holding close to hiding spots among some larger gravel on the bottom of the spring creek. Sometimes only the shadow of a small trout will give away its presence.

Below: This small trout found a small backwater along the larger stream channel, to start life in. The shallow water of the lateral margin habitat had plenty of food for the young trout to feed on. Cover was only a quick dart away.

Small Spring Creek Spawning Habitats

Above: A pair of brook trout spawning on one of our areas small feeder spring creeks. The spawning gravel was deposited in this cold spring creek in the final year of the restoration program in 2008. The brook trout have been spawning in this habitat every year since then. The contribution to the streams fishery downstream has been substantial, with thousands of new trout recruiting into the system.

††† With some area spring feeder streams being surrounded by development, these small feeders need some protection and in some cases a little restoration or enhancement. Once this is done, the tiny creeks will need annual maintenance if there is a lot of human traffic in the area.

††† Kids will play in small creeks and wind blown garbage will end up in the water, so constant care of our small wild trout streams is a must. In return, we get a healthy stream eco-system, with resident trout populations and the wildlife that depend on fish for their survival.

††† For the last 10 years, since the restoration of Millennium Creek, an annual maintenance program has been carried out to insure the stream stays a productive spawning tributary and a nursery stream for juvenile trout. The result is an average estimated trout hatch of800 to 1000 surviving brook trout.

††† The estimate is based on the number of brook trout thatsurvive for the first weeks after they hatch in the spawning habitats. This is actually pretty significant for such a small feeder tributary as Millennium.

††† The Millennium Creek flows into the Bighill Creek, close to the confluence of the Bow River. There are two other important spawning tributaries to the Bighill Creek, plus the in channel spawning that occurs every fall on the BH Creek. This has all been the result of many hours of hard work by volunteers and paid staff members.

††† Now that recruitment issues have been taken care of, and annual maintenance programs are underway, we can focus on stream channel habitat enhancement. This will come as a result of riparian planting programs that are now being completed annually.

††† Included in the riparian planting programs, there are stream bank stabilization sites which will and have dramatically improved the water quality in the Bighill Creek and tributaries. Silt loading on the lower reaches of the stream have been greatly reduced over the years.

††† It is an ongoing effort, but when the results start to show on the stream, the rewards are received, in knowing we have made a real difference. I also expect that more trout will follow as well. I have already notice more trout eating wildlife.

Above: A healthy mature brook trout, caught and landed by a catch and release fly fisher. Large brook trout such as this fine specimen are a real trophy catch. All the brook trout needs is a good habitat to grow up in, and also to reproduce in clean spawning gravel habitats. With all of this, the brook trout will flourish and the sport fishers that fly fish for such beautiful trout will be rewarded for their efforts.

††† A healthy riparian habitat is vital for a wild trout population. With threats from herbicide applications, municipal development and unfriendly agricultural practises, small spring creeks can be impacted and the trout populations disappear. But with good fisheries management, environmental protection, restoration activities by volunteers, governments and NGOís, we can preserve these eco-systems for the future.

††† All of this need to happen on a grass-roots level. Partnerships and watershed groups are the key to accomplishing some important goals to protect and enhance our trout streams.

Know Whatís Happening And Do Something

††† There is a moral obligation to be a conservation minded fly fisher. If fly fisherís donít take care of the resource, there is little hope for the future. After all we are stakeholders in our local trout streams.

††† Some anglers expect the government to take care of their favourite trout streams. Nice thought but this is not likely to happen, based on what I have observed over the many years that I have spent on this areas trout streams. It takes a community to take care of our home trout waters.

††† It is relatively easy to identify some of the problems with the slow degradation to a small spring fed creek. Storm drain issues, riparian habitat loss and too much human and animal traffic are usually the problem.

††† From what I have learned over the many years of stream restoration work, is that once a stream is near its end as a healthy eco-system, it is much harder to bring back from the brink. It is far easier to protect a trout stream, before it becomes too far gone.

††† Younger generations are now being taught the importance of the environment, including those that involve flow streams. This is encouraging for the future of our local trout streams, but right now is the time to act.

††† For those trout streams that flow thru cities and towns, there is a better chance for full recovery. Municipal governments are more aware of the need to protect watersheds and natural parkland. Flowing trout streams are perfect areas for naturalization programs, so it is easier to get things moving with riparian planting programs and other worthwhile projects.

††† Prior to any projects being undertaken, it is imperative that some careful study of the stream system be undertaken. You need to know certain things before the plan for your project is finalized. Things like identifying any trout species in the stream or documenting the historic riparian plants along the stream banks.

†† The identification of native willows and trees can often be accomplished by examining the riparian grow in an area upstream, which is still supporting natural native plants. If there is no documentation of the variety of trout present in the stream, you can conduct a volunteer angling survey.

††† Once all of the ground work has been completed and all the necessary permits and permissions are in place, you can get to work on your projects. Even if the project is as simple as riparian willow and tree planting, with native plant stock.

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