Volunteers expect brown trout numbers to keep steady at annual Elbow River count

Volunteers waded in cold water Friday to count brown trout spawning areas in the Elbow River. (Terri Trembath/CBC - image credit)
Volunteers waded in cold water Friday to count brown trout spawning areas in the Elbow River. (Terri Trembath/CBC - image credit)

Wading into cold waters, a group of volunteers took to Calgary's Elbow River Friday morning to count brown trout spawning grounds.

The annual count has taken place for 25 years and is often used as an indicator for the health of the river. A local organization, Calgary River Valleys, organizes the count every year, keeps track of the data and shares it with Alberta Fish and Wildlife.

One of the volunteers at the river was 11-year-old Milly Moldenhauer, who said she'd much rather spend a day out in nature than "have to do math all day" at school.

"I'm excited to, like, find a bunch of cool treasures in the river and to see all the trout because I've never really been up close to the trout before," she said.

Terri Trembath/CBC
Terri Trembath/CBC

Moldenhauer said people must protect the brown trouts' habitat.

"I think it's important that a bunch of people like trout — and then they try to help the trout."

The volunteers are looking for spawning areas, called redds, that can be found in the river bed by looking for depression and mound patterns in the gravel.

Brown trout redds have been hovering anywhere from 275 in 2020 to 360 last year. It's a promising increase considering there were only 100 found a year after the 2013 flood.

Numbers expected to meet or exceed last year's count

Chris Bjornson is a fisheries biologist with Golder Associates, an environmental consulting company, who's been volunteering for the brown trout counts since they began 25 years ago.

Bjornson said he expects numbers from Friday's count to be about the same or exceed last year. He said the brown trout population has been slowly rising since 2013.

"The flood pushed a lot of those gravels out of the river or off to the side of the river, and now a lot of those gravels are being brought back into the river," he said.

"Fish and wildlife actually put some new gravels into the river as well, and we're seeing how that's rehabilitating the habitat and then the trout are coming back to spawn."

Terri Trembath/CBC
Terri Trembath/CBC

Bjornson said, overall, the brown trout population is doing well and its habitat is still rebuilding from the effects of the flood.