by Don Thompson and Steve Hilliard
Trout in the Classroom is a educational program that gives K-12 students hands-on experience with trout, by having them raise the fish from eggs to parr-marked fingerlings ready to survive in the wild. ORCTU sponsored two classrooms this year: Tommy Hope’s class at Youth Middle School in Loganville, GA and Jeff Holland’s class at Burney-Harris-Lyons Middle School in Athens, GA. On Saturday, April 5 members of ORCTU met Mr. Hope, students and parents at Bowmans Island park below the Buford dam to release the several hundred healthy trout fingerlings raised by the two classes.
While the students enjoy every aspect of caring for their adopted fry, the two most exciting times are 1) when they watch the eggs hatch in the tanks as alevin with egg sacks still attached, and 2) when they release their healthy trout into a suitable trout stream and watch them swim away into the wild. Throughout the program the students learn about fish and insect biology, learn to monitor water quality, engage in stream habitat study, learn to appreciate water resources, develop a conservation ethic and grow to understand ecosystems.
Don Thompson, ORCTU education chair, brought Mr. Holland’s fish, and Mr. Hope brought the fish from his class, along with educational materials and supplies for the students to sample the river for macroinvertebrates. The first order of the day was to release the fish, and the students lined up excitedly to transport the fingerlings in large plastic cups to the river’s edge. After all the fish were released Steve Hilliard and Don waded into the chilly waters of the ‘Hooch, turning over rocks and dredging the gravel in search of macroinverts. The small animals (mostly larval aquatic insects) serve as food for the trout, and the presence and numbers of species present can be used to understand water quality and habitat health. The students were able to see caddisfly and black fly larvae, worms and clams in their natural habitat.
Lee Wulff in his book, Trout on a Fly said, “A trout, to be catchable, must be relaxed and predatory, not scared. . . The trout’s three primary needs: safety, food and comfort. His first concern is not to be killed. His second is to get enough food to stay alive and hopefully enough to be very happy. A trout also wants to be comfortable–for discomfort is troubling and extreme discomfort, such as water too warm for him to function in, will kill him. . . ”
“Now let us consider the trout. He is a mid-range predator. Half the time he is scaring minnows and insects to death and the other half he is scared to death by bigger fish and by fish hawks, fierce eels, otters, mink and the like. . .Trout will hide and when they have hidden you cannot catch them on a fly.”
To illustrate the sport value of trout populations ORCTU members brought along posters, trout sculptures carved by Ken Calkin, and fly rods and an assortment of flies. The students examined the anatomy and coloration of the three trout that live in north Georgia’s cool and clear waters: the rainbow which they had raised and just released, the brown trout, and the native southern Appalachian brook trout. Danny Jackson discussed some of the types of macroinvertebrates imitated by fly tiers, and amazed students and parents alike by quickly tying a few examples.
While the fish biology and fly tying occupied one half of the students, Ken Calkin was showing the other half how to cast a fly line. He rigged up 6 or 7 fly rods (provided by the chapter for educational and practice use) and explained how fly fishing differs from bait or spin casting, in that the lure (the fly) weighs almost nothing, and it is the line that the caster is manipulating to deliver the fly where he/she wants it. He demonstrated, and then had the students practice casting on the park lawn. After everyone had a chance to try their hand, they swapped places with those looking at the fish models and flies.
It was a beautiful day, and ORCTU members Don Thompson, Ken Calkins, Danny Jackson and Steve Hilliard enjoyed the activities as much as the children and parents did.