Text Box: Stream Tender Magazine

“ December 2013 Issue”


Ranch House Spring Creek -  Background and Results!

    In 2009, during a fisheries study completed by Bow Valley Habitat Development, juvenile brook trout were captured below a small waterfall on Ranch House Spring Creek. The small trout could not negotiate the waterfall and move upstream.

    The juvenile trout were captured in bottle traps, placed along the entire reach of the spring creek. No trout were captured above the waterfall. It was determined that if the waterfall was removed and a series of opposing rock deflectors were installed along the channel, this would create a step-down effect, that would allow trout to migrate upstream.

    Just upstream of the waterfall, there was a relatively step section of channel, so the modification work would need to cover a 20 metre reach of the stream channel.

    A plan was made by BVHD to remove the waterfall in 2010 and modify the stream channel to allow fish to pass upstream. There was plenty of good habitat for the brook trout, above the waterfall, including spawning habitat!

    However, the thought of trout utilizing the spawning habitat was pure speculation, at that time!


    In the summer of 2010, after all of the necessary permits and permissions were obtained, BVHD completed the Ranch House Spring Creek Channel Project. BVHD utilized flow by-pass and silt fence containment equipment, to insure that no silt loading from the work activities ended up downstream of the site.

    A total of 20 large, class 2 rock were used to create the opposing rock deflectors in the program. These large rocks were bedded into the streambed and banks, to withstand any future high flow events on the stream.

    All of the large rocks were installed under the stream banks, so we had to tunnel under the banks, before placement. Only a small portion of the large rocks would be visible after the project was completed.

    As is the case on all of BVHD

fish habitat enhancement projects, it is important that the project’s finished product is as natural in appearance, as possible. The use of area native rock is always the best choice for such projects, and they blend into the environment nicely!

    The project was funded by the Alberta Conservation Association!

Right Photo:

This is a photo of the waterfall, taken at stream level and looking upstream. The drop was approximately 50 cm down to a shallow pool.


This is a sketch of the project plan for the opposing rock deflectors.

Right Photo:

This is a photo of the large rocks used in the project.




Left Photo:

This is a photo of the stream channel at the waterfall’s prior location. You can see two opposing rock deflectors in this photo. The photo was taken in the following year.

See the Video of this project -  CLICK HERE!

Ranch House Spring Creek — Results

    The year following the project’s completion, I visited the creek a number of times to assess the results of the stream channel’s modifications. My primary goal was to see if I could spot any juvenile trout upstream of the 2010 project site.

    Fortunately, on all of my visits, I spotted juvenile trout upstream of the old waterfall site. One of these trout was captured to verify that it was definitely a brook trout. It was!

    In 2012, while walking the stream banks of the creek, I saw the first mature brook trout in the creek. It was very gratifying to see that larger trout were also utilizing the upper area of the stream, now that the waterfall had been removed.

    When I observed that first newly hatched brook trout in the spring of 2013, I got really excited about the possibility of brook trout using the stream as a spawning habitat. I would have to wait until the fall of this year to find out for sure.

    On October 7th, I headed up to the creek with my camera and video equipment to have a look. It didn’t take long to find spawning fish that day. As I first approached the stream channel, I immediately noticed a female brook trout fanning an egg nest (redd).

    I pulled out my video camera and took some footage, which is featured in the video link to the right. On the photo of the small brook trout.

    This fall I documented and mapped a total of 14 brook trout redds, on the creek!

Above: This is a photo of the size of juvenile brook trout that I discovered on Ranch House Spring Creek in the spring of 2013. At this stage in their lives, they are poor swimmers and have trouble swimming upstream against the current.

Left Photo:

If you look beyond the leaves in this photo, you will see mature brook trout, spawning in Ranch House Spring Creek. There is plenty of overhead cover and spawning gravel on a 30 metre reach of the creek, just above where the channel modification project was completed in 2010.

   Spawning on Upper BHC Spring Creek!

    The last time that I observed spawning activity on the Upper BHC Spring Creek, was in 1985! So seeing trout spawning in this primary tributary of the Bighill Creek was a major surprise this fall! And a very pleasant one at that!!

    What really excites me about this year’s discovery on this upper feeder to the BHC, is now we have recruitment happening on the upper reach of the stream! It is far easier to re-populate a trout stream, if you have spawning trout on the top end of the system.

    New generations of trout are easily flushed down the creek, rather than having trout negotiate some of the many beaver dams, while trying to migrate upstream. Simply put, we can expect a more rapid recovery of the trout fishery in the Bighill Creek, in the near future!

    So you can see why I am so pleased with this year’s findings!

    I have monitored this feeder spring creek for over 20 years, and I have never observed so much water flowing in the channel. This abundant water volume in the entire BHC system, is the primary influence in the stream’s trout fishery recovery.

    BVHD completed a spawning survey on the Upper Spring Creek this fall, and mapped a total of 15 brook trout redds. It is anticipated that this annual spawning event will only grow more productive in future years, as long as we have comparable flows of water in the stream.

    I will be monitoring this spawning activity into the future, and I am very excited about observing an increase in the number of trout that will utilized this upper spring creek.

    This new recruitment of brook trout will have a very positive influence on the recovery of the trout fishery, downstream!

Above: The crystal clear waters of the Upper Spring Creek, and the abundant spawning habitat, make this tributary to the Bighill Creek, a perfect re-productive stream.

Above: In this photo, you can see a light color patch of gravel in the streambed. This is actually an brook trout egg nest, or redd. Over time, the gravel will change color and blend in with the other streambed substrate.

Volunteer Beaver Dam Removal Program Helped to Re-populate the Upper Reaches of Bighill Creek!

    Starting in 2009, volunteers assisted BVHD in opening up beaver dams on the lower reach of Bighill Creek. The objective, was to allow populations of trout on the lower portion of BHC, to migrate further up the system.

    The program was carried out in the spring of the year, when trout species such as brook trout, are known to migrate up stream systems, to spend the summer months in productive stream habitats.

    During the spring, when high flow events occur in the watershed, trout instinctively are triggered into a migratory impulse.

    By opening up beaver dams at this time of the season, the trout will easily pass upstream of the dams and continue their migration. The secret to a successful program of beaver dam removal, is to make sure that the dams are opened up to allow easy passage for the smaller trout.

    This program was carried out over a four year period, leading up until this year. Now that there are trout spawning on the upper reach of BHC, it will be unnecessary to continue this program, as the objective has been successfully completed. Many thanks to the volunteers!!