Stream Tender     Magazine

February  2016 Issue

“February Brown Trout on West Nose Creek — Calgary”

    Part of this year’s plan for West Nose Creek, in the City of Calgary, was to further explore how far up the creek the brown trout were residing. Little did I expect that I would get such an early start on this goal for 2016.

    Last week, while I was inspecting some willow and tree planting sites on West Nose Creek, I was surprised to find open water in the stream channel. The creek looked very enticing, from a fly fisher’s perspective.

    On February 26th, with a forecast of 15 degrees promising a great day for fly fishing the lower Bow River, I suddenly changed my plans and decided on starting my fly fishing season on West Nose Creek a little early.

    The only draw back for fly fishing on this particular day was the forecast of wind gusts from 20 to 40 kilometres per hour. These conditions can make accurate casts difficult with a dry fly line, but using a sink line would alleviate part of this problem. Also, the use of a fly rod with a heavier line weight, such as a 6 weight would cut thru the wind more comfortably.

    At around 9:00 AM that morning, the morning sun was starting to break the chill of   the early hours, so I decided to head into the city for a relatively early start. My plan was to fish until midday and then get back to my normal day’s activities.

    It only takes me about 30 minutes of driving to get to the parking spot that I had in mind that day, so this was nice. While driving into Calgary, I had plenty of time to think about fly patterns and how I would fish the creek that morning. So by the time I had parked my truck and grabbed my fly fishing gear, I knew exactly where I was headed.

    The most effective method of fishing a streamer would be to hike upstream and then fish back down towards my truck. So after a short walk on one of the City of Calgary path systems, I found myself looking over a very fishable looking piece of water.

    There was still a shelf of shore ice bordering some areas of the stream, so I thought that I would need to be careful if I got lucky enough to catch a trout. My net handle was short and netting a trout beyond the shore ice can be a challenge.

    It took me approximately three quarters of an hour before I hooked into a brown trout. This was very surprising, because I didn’t have great expectations for my luck that day. Immediately, I knew that this trout was a monster. It’s powerful, lethargic strength was typical of a winter caught trout, the cold water had numbed the fish’s metabolism.

    This was a very exciting experience. Never before had any brown trout been caught this far up the system, at least to my own knowledge. Not only this, but the brown trout was huge. When it first came near the surface of the relatively clean, clear water, I could see that it was approximately 19 inches in length.

    The battle with the trout continued for a few minutes before I could finally start to lead the trout upstream to a safe netting spot along the shore ice. When I did get into a position to net the trout, I was having great difficulty in  steering it into the net hoop. I have a net with a 16 inch hoop, but this trout was just a little too big to make the job easy.

    Once the trout was wrestled into the net, I laid the fish out for a few photos and then safely released it back into the creek. This was the largest trout that I had caught in West Nose Creek, after only a few trips to fish the stream. It didn’t sink in until after the trout was back in the water, just how large that brown trout was. I was thankful that I had managed to take a few photos for my records.

    After I got home that day, I downloaded the photos and mapped the location where the trout was captured. This trout was caught approximately 9 Kilometres upstream from the confluence of West Nose Creek and Nose Creek. This is the furthest upstream on West Nose Creek that I have documented a brown trout so far.

    This is great news for our riparian restoration work on West Nose Creek, in the City of Calgary. If we can continue to plant trees and willows along this stream, in time the benefits to the fishery will be tremendous. More willows and trees means more shade and cover for trout. Knowing that there are trout now available in the stream, this adds a significant importance to our long term goals on West Nose Creek. I look forward to doing some more exploring on this stream this year.

Above: A winter’s February sun casts a long shadow over the stream channel of West Nose Creek, just before I safely released this giant brown trout back into the water.

Above: I laid out the brown trout for a few quick photos prior to its release. The brown trout was approximately 19 inches in length and it was in great form for this time in the winter months. I expect that there is plenty enough food to support such fish in the stream. Hopefully, the abundance of food will increase over time, as more willow and tree plants will boost the amount of both aquatic and terrestrial insects in the eco-system of West Nose Creek.

“A Long Way To Go Yet—On West Nose”

    Although catching a large brown trout on West Nose Creek that day was an experience, it turned out to be the only trout that I caught in 5 hours of fishing.

    It was the thought of catching another huge trout that keep my interest up that morning. So I ended up fishing a lot longer than I planned to. Don’t get me wrong, it was still an enjoyable experience to fish the creek for a few more hours, but normally, I would not have gone so long without another bite on my fly pattern.

    The sport fishery on West Nose Creek is still more of a potential goal than a reality at this point in time. However, getting a big reward for your efforts every now and then is very encouraging.

    The real gains in the sport fishery on West Nose, will come if there is a successful reproduction of new generations of trout, by an annual spawning event and a successful egg incubation. At this point in time, only the spawning event has been documented.

    Hopefully, in the next few months an even larger discovery will take place. If we can find that the eggs from this past fall’s spawning are hatching, this would be a monumental discovery. Even if there is only a partial egg hatch, with a low survival rate, the news would still be significant.

    I will continue to monitor the stream for a trout hatch. With a lot of luck, I will report on this in the next issue of Stream Tender Magazine.

How Did I Catch The Huge Brown Trout?

    As is typical of most Fly Fisher’s, you are probably asking yourself how I managed to catch the huge brown trout on West Nose Creek. I don’t mind sharing this information, seeing how you have been dedicated enough to read this far thru in the magazine, you deserve a little insider knowledge.

    In the December issue, I mentioned my first fly fishing experience on West Nose Creek, in the City of Calgary, last fall. On that trip to the stream, I managed to hook into 5 brown trout. I happen to be using streaming wet fly patterns. These fly patterns are featured in my third book titled “Streaming Wet Flies and a Fly Angler’s Full Season”.

    On this winter trip in February, I was also using a streaming wet fly pattern called a “Red Streak”, which is featured in the book. Like all of my winter trips to fish for lethargic trout, I like to fish deep and slow. I call this “Dredging for Winter Trout”.

    Winter trout stay deep and relatively inactive during the cold winter months. This energy saving trait is part of their natural survival mode in a time of year when conserving energy can mean making it thru until the insect hatches of spring start to happen.

    I mentioned in the article above that I was using a 6 weight fly rod, with a fast sinking number 3 fly line. The number 3 sink rate is just about right for the depth of West Nose Creek. It will allow a slow retrieve at a depth of approximately 3 or 4 feet below the surface.

    My streaming wet fly patterns are great hunting flies. When I plan on finding trout in small creeks, when there is not insect activity, I will tie on a streaming wet fly pattern and search for fish. Sometimes the color of pattern is critical, but I have found that most of the brown trout patterns are pretty effective in most cases.

    The most common hook size for tying this fly pattern is a size 8 streamer hook, with a 3X shank. I tip my fly line with an 8 lb. fluorocarbon leader that is approximately 3 feet in length. The fluorocarbon leaders are fantastic sinking leader material and it will be plenty strong for those real huge brown trout that have very sharp teeth.

    Because the take of a lethargic brown trout is relatively less aggressive as warmer water strikes, you will have to make sure that you set the hook good, on any take.

“ A Major Boost to My Enthusiasm for the Riparian Program”

    Every now and then, an experience that I have on a project stream will occur that helps build the well needed motivation to continue pursuing a long term objective. It may be the result of seeing the growing crop of native willow and tree plants that have been planted, or it may be making a surprising discovery about the potential of the fishery.

    Catching a large trout where you may have previously though it impossible is one of those experiences. Now that we know that there are wild trout to protect, the pursuit of a goal of doing comes that much more easier. This has often been the case on Bighill Creek, after many years of work and now I can include West Nose Creek as well.

    I know that in approximately 4 or 5 years, the plantings on West Nose Creek will start to become more noticeable and the benefits of more riparian willows and trees will

start to take effect. This is something that I look forward to witnessing on West Nose.

    In the 2016 Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program, I already have 5,892 native willow and tree plants committed to be planted along the stream banks of all three streams in the program. I am hoping that this number will grow significantly by the start of spring. This is a great start to this year’s efforts.

    A considerable number of plants will be planted on new stream bank on West Nose Creek, but the plan is also to do another planting on a portion of last year’s program. This is how the long term results will come, by putting a lot of plants in the ground along the water’s edge.

    As I covered approximately 1.5 kilometres of stream channel, fishing that day in February, I observed a lot of plants from both the 2014 and 2015 planting season. The 2014 plants are approximately 2 feet in

height and they are looking very good. Last year’s plants are still relatively small, but by the end of this upcoming growing season they will also be easy to spot along the stream banks.

    I can already envision the creek’s transformation over time. Once the stream banks are partially hidden by the cover of willows and trees in future years, there will be lots of song birds during the spring and summer months, with plenty of shade and cover over the water of the creek.

    In future years, branches and downed tree trunks will make their way into the stream channel and this is when the largest benefit to the fishery in the stream will occur. More fish habitat and improved stream channel flow dynamics will transform the creek into a more productive habitat for the resident brown trout and other potential trout species that find their way into the stream.