Watching trout hatch from an egg, grow into a minnow, and be set free in local ponds teaches young people more than just fish facts. It provides them with hands-on knowledge about the importance of a healthy habitat.
After investing months of caring for a tank full of rainbow trout, students around Helena are releasing the fish into area waters. Hawthorne students released their fish into Spring Meadow last week, which some say was bittersweet.
Students in Eric Lehman’s fourth-grade class wrote goodbye letters to the fish.
“I told them to be careful and to try to avoid fishhooks,” 9-year-old Jessica Maynard said.
Alana Tonidandel said she was a little sad as she watched them swim off into the water.
“I helped raise them,” she said she thought to herself.
The fish tank at Hawthorne is one of 10 around Helena and one in Whitehall that were donated by Trout Unlimited as part of their national trout-in-the-classroom program.
Chris Hunter, local coordinator for the TU project, said the goal is to teach young people about the life cycle, habitat and especially clean water that’s necessary for trout.
The fish are only released in isolated waters with no inlet or outlet.
“We don’t want these fish to get into other waters in case they would interbreed with cutthroat trout, a big reason for the decline of cutthroat,” Hunter said.
Students learned why they can’t transport fish from one body of water to another for such reasons, and they also monitored the water quality in the school weekly — sometimes the PH was too high or too low. The Hawthorne tank had a high mortality rate this year. They originally received more than 125 eggs, but at final count had about 30 fish to release.
That’s unsettling for some students, but it’s just part of life.
Lehman said when the students see the eggs hatch they are instantly hooked.
“They have a fascination with seeing life like that,” he said.
And it’s not a project just for future fisherman, Lehman notes.
“Not every kid in the class is going to be a fisherman, but each of them will vote and they can impact effects on clean water,” he said.
Student TJ Lewis does fish, but says next time he’ll fish in a different spot at Spring Meadow.
“I wouldn’t want to catch one (that we raised),” he said.
Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or firstname.lastname@example.org