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Some Fish of the Red Deer River Watershed

2020-04-28

As the spring arrives and life returns to the riparian zone, I’ve been thinking about some of the aquatic neighbours we have in Mountain View County and the Red Deer River watershed.

Here’s an introduction to a few of the fish species which can be encountered.

Brook Stickelback are interesting for a few reasons. They are small (less than 10 cm at most), olive green, and easily recognized by the four to six small spikes which protrude from their backs.

They can be found commonly along calm shorelines, at the bases of aquatic plants. Male stickelbacks create small nests for eggs out of algae and leaves, which can be observed (carefully) from late May through June.

In Alberta, numerous small populations of these fish have been studied due to an unusual genetic condition which results in the partial absence of skeletal growth.

Mountain Whitefish are a stable and abundant native species which prefer slow-moving water and traveling in large groups. Man-made reservoirs have become a preferred habitat, and indeed these fish can be found in Gleniffer Lake in Mountain View County.

Whitefish are mostly bottom dwelling, but will surface to catch insects. They are streamlined and tubular in shape, with a forked tail, and silver scales with a yellow or green tint.

Two introduced species, Brook Trout and Brown Trout, have been the subject of much controversy in Alberta due to their competition with native cutthroat and bull trout. 

Native to Eastern Canada, “Brookies” are admired for their vibrant colours–wavy dark green backs and red bellies with colourful spots in between. Brook trout are able to spawn at an especially young age and small size, making overpopulation a common occurrence.

Brown trout are yellowish brown with black spots, and are genetically very closely related to Atlantic salmon. As the story goes, they were introduced to Alberta’s Bow River in the 1940s when a fish-transport truck broke down and needed somewhere to put its load … .

Compared to native trout, both of these introduced species are better suited for water that is warmer, dirtier, and lower in available oxygen–which is one of the reasons why native species now make up less than 10% of the trout in most Alberta rivers.

Rainbow trout, Northern Pike, Walleye, and Perch are some of the other native fish species that can be found in the Red Deer River watershed.

Article by Jordan Collin

Art Work Courtesy of Alberta Environment and Parks

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