Bringing home a trout from an outdoor stream can be a challenge, but a Benilde-St. Margaret’s classroom is swimming in fish – or more precisely, the fish are swimming in it.
Through a grant from Minnesota Trout Unlimited, eighth-grade students at the St. Louis Park Catholic school are raising rainbow trout from eggs until the fish are ready to be released in a river.
The students began with about 250 eggs that were delivered in December. Although some eggs didn’t hatch and a few trout that emerged didn’t survive, a 75-gallon aquarium in the classroom still contains about 200 tiny rainbow trout.
“They’re doing really well,” said eighth-grade science teacher Lauren Reuss. “The kids love them.”
Lest that be in doubt, students created a Valentine’s Day sign for the aquarium featuring a smiling, rainbow-colored fish that says, “You are o-fish-ally awesome.”
Reuss remarked, “I think it’s really cute.”
Eighth-grade student Parker Morgan, of St. Louis Park, does not find the small fish themselves cute; she declared the little creatures to be ugly because she said their eyes are too big for their bodies. However, she predicted she would like the way they look when they grow up a bit, and she already likes having them around.
“We named all the fish Carl,” Parker said.
She said her high school friends at the school seek to find her in the mornings so they can visit the fish with her.
When the time comes to release the Carls, she said, “I’m going to be sad because I won’t have anything to look at.”
Added classmate Lily Peterson, of St. Louis Park, “They’re our little fishes.”
The project has been a theme for the eighth-grade students since the beginning of the school year. Last fall, the students visited Minnehaha Creek to examine whether it could support trout.
“We put on these huge trouser things and went into the middle of the creek,” Lily said as she described the waders they donned.
Lily recalled that her boot stuck in the creek bottom while she waded out to identify water bugs.
Parker added, “I found out about the current.”
While she said one student fell in the creek, creating a splash and entertaining classmates, Lily and Parker said they appreciate the hands-on learning.
“ We can see them and not just learn about it,” Lily said about the trout. “We can actually do it.”
Parker added that she finds the approach easier to understand.
“I’m a visual learner,” Parker said. “I love reading, but I get distracted too much. It’s so much easier, in my opinion.”
Through the field trip, they determined the water in the creek is too warm for trout since the fish need cool water of about 50 degrees or lower. In the classroom, insulation around the aquarium helps keeps the water cool and the trout happy, Reuss said. Students test the water daily while learning about data collection and analysis as they study nitrogen cycling, ammonia levels and other aspects of biology and chemistry. The students change the water when needed and keep the fish fed.
“It’s really become their tank, and I just double-check on them now and then,” Reuss said.
During the fall field trip, the students also examined the water quality in Minnehaha Creek and used nets to catch water bugs. They learned that the creek is not clear enough and does not have the bugs trout need to survive.
“It’s kind of a case study,” said Reuss, who added that the students learned about issues like nitrates and phosphorus that can cause algae levels to build and create habitat problems.
However, other rivers nearby can support trout. Evan Griggs, an environmental education specialist with Minnesota Trout Unlimited, said students will release the fish in a trout-designated stream in the metro area like the Vermillion River near Farmington or Brown’s Creek near Stillwater.
Griggs visited the school Feb. 14 to teach students how to make fly fishing flies. Using hooks, wires, chenille fabric and other materials, students made San Juan worms and feathery marabou buggers.
“They’re able to make their own flies and see how that relates to the structure of all these macroinvertebrates,” Reuss explained. “It’s kind of like arts and crafts and science all wrapped up into one.”
Student Nels Rolf, of Edina, said, “I think it’s safe to say not a lot of us have done anything like this. It’s a fun and unique experience.”
Edina resident Bella Lockhart said, “It’s interactive and we can get closer with our classmates.”
Asked if she likes fish, Bella joked, “Yeah, I like how they taste.”
When the students release the trout in April or May, they’ll have the chance to go fly fishing.
“It’s kind of going to go full circle eventually,” Reuss said.
“We just want to get students engaged in learning about conservation and preservation of natural areas,” Griggs said. “I feel like it’s an easy way, fun way, to get people engaged in a sport that many people don’t have an opportunity to get involved with if they don’t have a family member or someone who already does it. And it’s an awesome opportunity to actually see the real-life trout cycle happening.”
Some students in the class expressed enthusiasm for the project thanks to family members who fish.
Edina resident Maria McCormick said she has been fishing with her grandparents and kidded that her brother likes fishing “like a little too much.”
She said, “It’s something really close to me, and I think it’s fun.”
She said she enjoys watching the fish interact in the aquarium, but she is worried about how they’ll adjust to life in the wild.
“They don’t know how to hunt,” she observed. “It’s kind of scary, too, about how they’re going to survive.”
Griggs said Minnesota Trout Unlimited works with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources when stocking the fish. Fisheries biologists will join students when the fish are released and some school groups will help work on habitat for the trout this spring. Schools from Bemidji to Rochester are raising trout in 32 tanks with grants from the organization that are funded by donors and a state environmental trust fund supported by the state lottery.
The DNR provided a license for housing trout at Benilde-St. Margaret’s. The state agency will test the fish to ensure the trout released are healthy and will determine where the fish are released, Reuss said.
After a period of helping students in the classroom, Minnesota Trout Unlimited volunteer Neal Linder, of Minneapolis, said, “It was really cool interacting with a new generation of anglers and to tie flies. I think it’s cool to get young people excited about the sport and also the science and conservation behind it.”
Minnesota Trout Unlimited is seeking more volunteers to assist with the Trout in the Classroom projects. To learn more, email Griggs at firstname.lastname@example.org.