Bullish on Bear Creek

by Karen Christopherson, ETU Board Member At-Large

Even if you find it difficult to be overly optimistic about the economy these days, one thing you can be “bullish” about is Bear Creek.

The latest fish survey results from electroshocking show that the trout numbers and weights in Bear Creek are up from 2007. That’s good news for us local anglers and conservationists!

Sampling of Browns and Rainbows was performed at nine locations along Bear Creek early last fall. The sites ranged from two new ones way upstream on private land near the old Singin’ River Ranch to Morrison downstream. It’s the old sites that yield the most interesting numbers for now, since we can compare what has been going on there for several years.

All those are shown on the accompanying map, and six of the seven areas are located on public access. In fact, about half of Bear Creek between Evergreen and Morrison flows through public lands.

The 2008 survey results show that:

-The largest Browns were located in downtown Evergreen, with Lair O’ the Bear Open Space a close #2.
-The most Browns were found at Lair O’ the Bear and Dedisse parks.
-The largest Rainbows were found at Bear Creek Cabins. A caution, though: That’s private water. You had better ask Bruce and Jayne Hungate, the owners, for permission. Dedisse and Idledale tied for #2.
-The most Rainbows were at Morrison, then Idledale.
-The largest fish are found downtown, where both Rainbows and Browns average over 1/3 pound. This may not sound huge, but the adult trout (greater than 5”) in Bear Creek are generally small, averaging ¼ pound.
-The smallest adults are found at Morrison.

In general, numbers of late – from 2005 to 2008 -- are vastly improved from the years 2002 to 2004. On close inspection of the numbers, it also appears that the trout seem to “move” around, perhaps favoring one part of Bear Creek over another in certain years.

There are so many dynamics involved -- habitat, water depth, temperature, food sources -- that it is difficult to determine how or why these numbers change from station to station and from year to year.

As most ETU members probably know, our chapter has fought long and hard for years to aid the trout population in Bear Creek. The creek suffered massive losses in 2002 caused by low flows and high stream temperatures. Our efforts to try and secure better habitat for the trout, along with discussions and legal actions with the EPA and other entities, probably have helped with an apparent rebound of the trout population.

A good example is O’Fallon Park, where ETU undertook its most extensive project ever about five years ago, making major improvements to the stream and adding significant landscaping to stabilize the shoreline and provide shade during the summer. After the fish kills of 2002, there were almost no fish in the stream there; today the site is looking about as good as any other place along the stream.

Evergreen Metro District has also made real efforts the past few years to help with the stream as well, though ETU continues to push for more. Notably, EMD has channeled Bear Creek along the north side of Evergreen Lake to help get cooler water through the lake and downstream faster during the warm summer months and it has made improvements in its water treatment plant to help keep the water cleaner.

The District, during a dry spell a couple of years ago, was also quick to set up water use restrictions before things got really bad, unlike how things were handled back in 2002. The board just seems more sensitive to the stream and water conservation issues.

Among other things going on, the Rainbow population in Bear Creek has increased, in part, due to stocking by DOW for the past few years. This adds a somewhat artificial increase to the sustained trout population and is why Browns are the species observed for telling “health of the stream.”

Each year, as the Division of Wildlife performs the electrofishing, workers count any stocked fish and record the year they were introduced. Each stocked Rainbow has a distinctive fin clip pattern for its year of placement into Bear Creek.

Bear Creek is now one of the most-studied streams in the state. Besides the annual electrofishing survey by DOW at the nine locations, temperatures, flow, chemistry and macroinvertebrates are sampled at numerous locations by ETU, Evergreen Metro District and others.

So, bottom line: Where is the best place to fish on Bear Creek? Given the 2008 survey results, the JeffCo Open Space Parks -- O’ Fallon and Lair O’ the Bear -- provide a few miles of access and good chances of catching numerous trout.

Little known is a stretch of about 2 miles just downstream from Idledale. This is owned by JeffCo Open Space, but not marked yet. However, it is public property! The smaller stretches at Dedisse Park, downtown Evergreen, Idledale and Morrison should be productive if you are just fishing for an hour or so.

Regardless, forget your worries this spring and cast a line in Bear Creek! Just remember to fish barbless and release those trout gently. And pray for some snow or rain to keep the flows up and cool weather to keep temperatures down.

The following chart shows the pounds per acre of Browns and Rainbows sampled at seven sites along Bear Creek. On the chart, the Browns are designated by “B” and Rainbows by “R”. The seven sites range from Dedisse Park on the upstream end to Morrison at the downstream (see map in March 2009 newsletter).

This next chart shows the average Brown Trout biomass (weight) both for adult and “all” Browns as it has changed over the years. Since 1988 there has been a steady increase in the Brown trout population, owing in part to a decline in the Rainbows. Browns tend to overtake habitat from Rainbows and also are more resistant to Whirling Disease and increased stream temperatures. However, note the decline in biomass during 2002-2004, yet an increase from these lows to the current 2008 survey numbers. This is the good news.

Many charts can be created from the data that the Division of Wildlife provides. Bear Creek has been sampled (“electroshocked”) since 1988. Both trout weights (biomass) and numbers of fish are counted. The following graph helps illustrate how Brown and Rainbow numbers have changed at the sampling sites between 2007 and 2008 – further evidencing that fish may move around in the creek.