Whister 2020 on the ground 

We don’t take no bull (trout)

click to enlarge Big Bull If all goes well with the Fitzsimmons Creek bull trout monitoring and tracking program, we will know more about this rare, indigenous species in order to protect and enhance bull trout spawning habitat in Whistler. Photo courtesy of Whistler Flyfishing
  • Big Bull If all goes well with the Fitzsimmons Creek bull trout monitoring and tracking program, we will know more about this rare, indigenous species in order to protect and enhance bull trout spawning habitat in Whistler. Photo courtesy of Whistler Flyfishing

Fall is now arriving in the Whistler valley and while most of us are thinking about cooler temperatures and what to be for Halloween, Whistler’s bull trout are heading upstream looking for a place to spawn.

Autumn’s colder water temperatures trigger annual spawning behavior of the bull trout ( Salvelinus confluentus ) living in Green Lake. Bull trout spawn in cold and steep tributary streams. Whistler’s bull trout spawn mainly in Fitzsimmons and Blackcomb Creeks, but not much is known about the number of bull trout coming up each stream.

For the past three years, the Ministry of Environment Fish and Wildlife Section, in cooperation with the B.C. Conservation Foundation, Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group and Whistler Angling Club, has been operating a fish fence and trap in Blackcomb Creek to monitor bull trout spawning activity. The Ministry hopes to gain information on the number, timing, size and distribution of bull trout in Blackcomb Creek. In 2006, the fish fence was installed at the mouth of Blackcomb Creek from Sept. 11 to Oct. 10, where it captured a mere 17 fish — they truly are rare. In 2007, this number increased to 23 fish during the 30-day fish fence operation from Sept. 6 to Oct. 6. For 2009, the Ministry of Environment is hoping to enhance the existing program with bull trout radio tracking to learn more about spawning activity in the main waters of Fitzsimmons Creek. Partnerships will be formed and an application for funding will be made to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation this November.

This year, the bull trout fence was installed upstream of its former location, just below the confluence of Horstman Creek with Blackcomb Creek, on Aug. 22. The fence, which will be in place until we are sure we have monitored the spawning bull trout, is highly visible from the Blackcomb Creek bridge along Cedar Way Trail. Be sure to look down over the edge as you ride or walk by the bridge. If you’re lucky, you’ll see our technician, Brian, pulling a big spawner from the trap. Please refrain from getting close to the fence at anytime. Your presence could stress the trapped fish and high water flow can be very dangerous to people. All the information you need to understand and support our local bull trout is contained on a project-specific interpretative sign on the bridge. A permanent bull trout interpretive sign will be installed on the Fitzsimmons Creek covered bridge later this month.

This location, higher up the stream was chosen this year to help determine the utmost reaches of bull trout spawning. The fence was also installed two weeks earlier than in previous years, as many of the bull trout were captured moving downstream, indicating that they moved up the system prior to the trap being installed. We hope to capture the upstream spawning migration during this year’s fence operation, so we can get a better count and zero in on spawning migration timing of the fish.

“This year, since the fence went in, there has been no rain,” says Vesna Young, RMOW Fish and Wildlife Technician. “As soon as it rains we are expecting to see the first bull trout through the fence. This is really exciting.”

In B.C., bull trout is a blue-listed (threatened) species, meaning that they are a sensitive species vulnerable to human and natural disturbances. The small tributary streams these species use for spawning and rearing are extremely susceptible to human impacts such as sedimentation, loss of streamside vegetation, and increases in water temperature.

As a resort community committed to enhancing and protecting native biodiversity through action moving us toward our Whistler2020 vision, anglers and nature lovers alike get satisfaction from seeing healthy populations of fish in our lakes and streams. Whistler’s waterways support populations of kokanee, rainbow trout, bull trout, sculpins, threespine stickleback, and, more recently in Alta Lake, cutthroat trout. The increasingly rare bull trout is indigenous to the Whistler area, as are sculpin and, likely, stickleback. These fish are our true Whistler natives. Both rainbow trout and kokanee have been stocked in Whistler area lakes since the early 1920s as part of a nationwide (and continent-wide) effort to enhance angling opportunities throughout the country. Remnants of these populations have become naturalized in the area and reproduce in the wild, continuing on their existence in the Whistler Valley. The Ministry of Environment also stocks sterile rainbow and cutthroat trout in our lakes on an annual basis.

Whistler’s first resort development was created by Alex and Myrtle Philip in 1911 as an angling destination on the shores of Alta Lake. Through continued and diligent efforts to monitor, protect and enhance our native fishery, we should all be able to enjoy bull trout and their piscine friends for generations to come.

To learn more about Whistler’s on the ground actions to support Whistler2020 go to Whistler2020.ca. Look for updates on the number and size of bull trout from the fish trap project on the home page starting today.

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