Release Day #2: what constitutes the ideal release site? Kicking the babies out of the nest--gently and with love.
This Saturday it will be April. One week later, Vermont's trout season opens. The weather doesn't make me all that eager to dust off my fishing equipment, but we know that in another month we'll start to have many pleasant spring days. So it's time to get serious about Release Day planning. The March 20 blog offered some ideas about what you might do at your Release Day and who you might get to help you with those activities. I also said a little more about the who question in the most recent (March 26) blog. (I'll again address both of these topics in future blogs.)
This blog addresses when and where.
Most schools schedule their Release Days for the last two weeks of May or the first week of June. A few go earlier, but those three weeks tend to be a time when you can count on the weather: it won't always be sunny, but it probably won't be too cold.
Depending on what you plan to do at your Release Day, you might also want to schedule a back-up rain date. It's not that you and your students can't have a very successful Release Day in the rain, but a downpour could "dampen" most people's spirits, and raging torrents because of days of heavy rain would pose serious risks.
Most schools transport students to Release Day using school busses. If that's going to be the case for you, you may need to get your reservation in ASAP and perhaps even schedule your release around the availability of transportation.
A final consideration is the availability of volunteers. Most schools plan Release Days that include a variety of in-stream or stream-side fieldwork activities. In almost every case, it's helpful if not necessary to enlist the help of parents, co-workers, Trout Unlimited members, or other community volunteers. You wouldn't want to schedule your Release Day at a time when the volunteers you need can't attend.
Remember that Tom Jones of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department needs to approve your release site. Normally that is done in the fall as part of the process of requesting eggs. If for some reason you did not request his approval or if you've decided you'd like to change your release site, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Depending on where your school is located, you may have several fabulous release site options close by or you may have no good options without traveling a distance.
What's the perfect release site? I often describe it as "skinny water": a small tributary brook that's just big enough to support trout and the bugs that will sustain them but small enough so that nobody, not even your most over-eager young student, can get into trouble.
Here is my wish list of the ideal characteristics of a great release stream:
If you're having trouble finding the perfect release site:
Inspiration from 2016 Release days
I've put back online last year's blog so that you can scroll through pictures and accounts of some of our 2016 Release Days. Here's a link to the "retired" blog. And don't forget to watch some of the Release Day videos.
Schoolhouse Learning Center dumps baskets
Danielle Levine, of School House Learning Center, sent me these photos of the day she and her students kicked their "fry babies" out of the nest. By the way, Danielle's equipment was contributed by Trip Westcott, who until his retirement in 2015 used it for almost 25 years to raise salmon at Neshobe School.
Above is a picture Erin Paquette, of Waterville Elementary School, sent me on March 3.
Robin Gannon at U-32 sent this intriguing message:
Maybe you know about this already. If not, I thought I would pass it along. I just got a form in the mail. It is for free water testing kits! It is an amazing kit for doing water testing at the site where the trout are released. It includes tests for:
They are put out by Green Mountain Water Environment Association. Their email is: lisa.goodell@gmwca/org.Her address is GNWEA, 89 Main Street, Suite 4, Montpelier, VT 05602
Thanks, Robin! That could be a great resource. Below is an image and a little information about the test kit.
Here are a couple of images of other equipment available from GMWEA.
The organization also offers free school tours. Check out that portion of their Web site below.
Some of you undoubtedly know that Ludlow Elementary School was one of the schools that experienced serious problems this year. Indeed, they lost all their trout, probably because of persistently high nitrite levels. After I sent an e-mail to area schools, five quickly offered to donate some of their fish to "restock" the LES tank. Of those five, I accepted offers from three that could be visited in a not too circuitous route to Ludlow.
The first stop was Castleton Village School.
CVS teacher Guy Merolle was in Washington, chaperoning a school field trip, but had made arrangements for us to collect 15 fry in his absence.
While in Guy's classroom, we inspected the cool hydroponic tank system he's set up that allows students to raise watercress (collected from the nearby Castleton River) by fertilizing them with water, pumped from a warm water fish tank, that circulates through the roots of the plants. That's a nice way to remove nitrogen from the tank!
On my "mission of mercy," I was assisted by two TIC fans. Maria Reade (left below) is a writer who, after learning about TIC, decided to prepare an article for publication in the July/August issue of Vermont Magazine. Lorena Schwarz (on the right) is a Poultney Elementary School parent who also happens to be a professional aquaculturist.
Next stop was Brian Crane's classroom at Rutland Town School. Brian's room was full of excitement as his middle schoolers introduced a class of 3rd graders to the TIC program.
Then it was on to Shrewsbury Mountain School.
Where Sabrina McDonough greeted us and introduced her "big boys and girls."
It was interesting to see how different in size the three groups of fry were. Brian's fish were the smallest; Sabrina's were the biggest; and Guy's were in the middle. Fortunately, I had two aerated coolers and a special additional steel mesh basket (inside one of the coolers), so we were able to keep the three cohorts separate on the drive to Ludlow.
About half an hour after leaving Shrewsbury, we arrived at Lisa Marks's 3rd grade class at LES.
Needless to say, both Lisa and her students were very excited--and very grateful--to be receiving these donated fish.
Before we left to head back to Castleton, we answered the students' questions and taught them some new, fancy vocabulary words:
One curriculum idea, one collection
The aforementioned Brian Crane, of Rutland Town School, sent me two interesting details related to his use of TIC in his middle school curriculum.
We are now into our Trout in the Classroom Unit. So far so good. I just got some dressed trout from Price Chopper for the external anatomy lesson for 2 bucks each.
Check out the handy links document (button below) if you have chance. It is the gateway to the entire unit. The unit is learner-centered and no direct instruction required. Activities can all theoretically be done at home (minus the inquiry). Check out the student guides especially!
How much to feed?
Last Thursday, Danielle Levine, of Schoolhouse Learning Center, sent this e-mail and question.
The manual's feeding guide is a little confusing to me. We have been putting a very small pinch in 3 times per day. Our fish are swimming up and have been released into the tank for quite some time now.
Are other people feeding 1/4 teaspoon throughout the day? That seems like a lot more than what we have been feeding ours, but the manual kind of seems to suggest that.
Also, during April break, the manual says the trout can go that long without eating. I am very hesitant to do that! The para-educator in my room has offered to come in once per day (I will be out of town, so can't). Is one feeding per day sufficient? Could he feed them once very other day?
Great question, Danielle! I responded with:
You're right, Danielle. I believe the quarter teaspoon is way too much. Every other day over the break would be fine.
Brook trout pattern as camouflage
I subscribe to several magazines about trout and fly fishing. One such magazine that I was reading this past week had a photo that was a great illustration of how the patterns on the back of a brook trout help to camouflage the fish and allow it to blend into the background of the bottom of the stream.
Depending on the age of your students, you might ask them questions like the following:
Back to you, Jason!
Last Monday's blog led off with some helpful observations and hypotheses from Jason Gragen, of NewBrook School.
This week Jason followed up with the following interesting thought about breeder basket placement.
Another thought that crossed my mind regarding this matter is the net breeders. We had two in our tank, as suggested. One was at the "halfway" mark of the tank (closest to the end where the air-stone is located), and the other was at the far end of the tank. The basket closest to the air-stone was exposed to some minor water movement. These fish appeared more healthy, fed first, and had more size. The basket at the far end of the tank was not exposed to very much water movement at all. These fish were paler, fed about a week later than the other basket, and were smaller.
Thank you, Jason! I think in the future we should pay attention to the location of the breeder baskets and the consequence on the fry.
Schedule your Release Day!
Over the next two weeks, many schools will be scheduling their Release Days AND booking volunteers to help with those days. If you wait too long, you may find it difficult it recruit the folks you need to help with some of the more interesting field-based activities.
In last week's blog, I mentioned that potential volunteers/partners might be found at one of the "natural resources conservation districts" that are spread across the state. Here's a map of their distribution.
These groups typically have staff with considerable expertise in environmental science, especially related to rivers and streams. The NRCDs also often own equipment that can be used at Release Days.
Click the button below to get more information on each of the state's NRCDs.
Finally, let me know when and where your Release Day will be held. I will put together a date, time, and place list so that members of the press, Trout Unlimited supporters, and representatives of donor organizations can join us on Release Day occasions and better appreciate the wonderful work you are all doing.
NewBrook checks in. Great TIC videos. Stream bug identification app. Questions regarding Release Day.
On Wednesday, I got an informative e-mail from Jason Gragen, of NewBrook School in Newfane. Here's what he said.
A few days off here due to snow, I planned on returning to school expecting the worse. To my surprise, there were no fish stuck to the filter (covered with netting), and none floating.
The brookies have nice color with dark parr marks and backs (pictures below), with exception of a half-dozen that are very lightly colored. They are rising to feed ,and swimming strongly.
Although I waited longer than usual to drop the basket, I kept it as clean as possible using a turkey baster to suck out egg shucks, fecal matter, and uneaten food during the early feedings.
[More from Jason follows.]
I was reading the TIC blog and correspondence from the other Windham County schools raising trout, and have a few thoughts.
1. Perhaps they were non-feeding pinheads. One other school is our zone had noted several pinheads dieing and having to be removed from the tank. Also, you mentioned some thoughts on pinheads. I will say, the fish I removed from the tank were the smallest in there.
2. You brought up an interesting point about bacterial infection, and this thought definitely crossed my mind as well. That's why I usually like to drop the net breeders as soon as the trout are feeding strongly, and getting some size on them. I hesitated this year because the fish as a whole were not developing size at the same rate. I'd say that there was a noticeable amount of 3 different sizes.
3. I had observed some of the larger fish being aggressive with the smallest ones in the net breeders. Perhaps there could have been physical harm to the one that I removed from the tank. I'm ruling this one out!
4. As for hands, mine are the only ones that have touched the water and I'm meticulous about washing them. I go so far as to rinse them four to six with just plain water after the first soap lather. So, I don't think this was the issue.
We will see what happens of the course of the next few days, and I will be performing a water change on Friday. I've checked on the fish several times this morning and they seem to be "looking" good.
Great trout videos
Last blog I urged you to watch some of the Release Day videos on this Web site. If you haven't visited it lately, you'll also find that there are several fun and informative videos available at this Web site's "Other Trout Videos" button on the home page. The first video below, done by Robert Michaelson, is one of those. It's 3:38 minutes long and includes some wonderful underwater photography. Enjoy!
This next video is truly amazing! It's half an hour long but well worth the time. Created in 1969--if you can believe that--it tells the story of the life of a huge, gorgeous rainbow trout and, in so doing, demonstrates the many threats that might otherwise prevent such an animal from surviving, much less attaining its massive size.
After you and your students watch this (some have had wet eyes at its conclusion), ask yourself, are there other threats to trout that aren't addressed in the video?
Realizing what's left out of this story tells you a lot about what's changed in our society and our societal concerns between 1969 and the present.
Among others, on that same page you'll also find an interesting video about how state and federal workers are using the "chop and drop" method to improve brook trout habitat in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.
Macros on your smartphone?!
This week I got to "meet" (by e-mail) Professor Declan McCabe, Professor of Biology at Saint Michael's College. Dr. McCabe is active with a group called Research on Adaptation to Climate Change (RACC). Dr. McCabe's area of expertise is "community ecology." He was instrumental in the development of a macroinvertebrate mobile application developed under RACC. Here are some images of the iPhone version of the app.
Dr. McCabe's app lists scores of Vermont streams and rivers. When you click on each stream name, up pops a page containing images of each of the macroinvertebrates found in that stream. And then, when you click on the image of each particular "macro," you get a paragraph or more about the insect, including its scientific name and, often, the name of the imitation fly that fly fishers would use to deceive a trout into biting. It's free. Check it out.
Now if it were only warm enough to be tromping around in streams!!
Release Day questions
It's time to start both thinking about and planning your Release Day. If you've never done this before, here are some questions to consider:
What’s it going to take to get to appropriate water?
A handful of Vermont schools can walk to their release site; a few even sit on the banks of gorgeous trout water (visit Lincoln Community School someday). But most schools need to arrange transportation to the release stream. Some schools don't balk at teachers booking busses for field trips, but other schools have no money for such purposes. You know your school. Either put in your field trip/bus reservation paperwork early and/or ask your PTO for financial support. Now!
How ambitious do you want to be?
Release Day plans vary widely. Some teachers, especially those who embed fieldwork into their classes throughout the year, hold simple. relatively short Release Days. These are little more than celebrations with short speeches, cheers, and photos. Most, however, conduct their releases at the end of a sequence of activities that can include the following and more:
How many people can you get to help?
Many teachers recruit Release Day helpers both from within and without the school community. Here are some possibilities:
Regional Trout Unlimited chapter TIC liaisons
If you don't know where to find the volunteers you need, contact your local TU TIC liaison. They might be able to help. Here they are:
Finally, pick a date!
I've already been invited to help with four Release Days, and I'm sure that over the next weeks, many more invitations will roll in. (The best time for a Release Day is sometime between mid-May and the first week of June.)
What are we hearing from schools? Tips for managing the present. AMFF (what's that?). Release Day 1.0.
Everyday my e-mail holds new updates and questions. These range from reports of catastrophes, such as the near total losses that recently occurred in Fair Haven and Ludlow, to accounts of copacetic tank conditions and happy students and teachers.
Before we get started, let me share the image of a new painting done this week by TU volunteer Kathy Ehlers. Kathy did the cartoon that fills the left frame of this blog. The painting below, called The Day Before the Storm, was done by her and is based on a photo of a brook trout she caught on August 28, 2011, the day before Tropical Storm Irene hit Vermont. After she released this beautiful fish that day, Kathy often wondered whether it survived the deluge that followed.
Themes of the season
Here's what I'm hearing from Vermont's TIC schools.
Ludlow wasn't the only school to worry about persistently high nitrite levels for weeks on end. One of my last e-mails on Friday was to Keith Harrington, at Poultney Elementary School, where community volunteer Lorena Schwarz became concerned that nitrite levels had been at 5 ppm for three weeks. Keith reported that the fish had looked good--until Friday morning when he discovered six trout dead. Lorena and I advised a substantial quick water change (25%) and, if on Saturday neither the nitrite had dropped nor the nitrate had risen, then either a second water change or treatment with Amquel Plus. This morning Keith e-mailed me to say that, while nitrite was still in the 2 to 5 ppm range, nitrate was up to 10 or 20 ppm and most fish still looked healthy. I'm hoping this means that his tank is finally "cycling."
Beginning on February 27, Erin Paquette, at Waterville Elementary School, expressed concern about her water chemistry readings (ammonia of 1 ppm and nitrite at 5 ppm).On March 1, Erin went out looking for Amquel Plus. Finally, on March 10, Erin reported: Chemical readings are starting to look a little better, 3 days with the new chemicals and every other day water changes seem to be turning things around, but we've lost 28 fish.
I assured Erin that losing fish is normal.
On February 24, Sabrina McDonough, of Shrewsbury Mountain School, sent me this message.
We still have high nitrite levels in Shrewsbury as well, but the trout continue to appear healthy. I've been up each day and am trying to diligently remove any detritus from the sides of the breeder basket. I've been using the turkey baster, but do you have any other suggestions? Also after noticing that the mesh around the filter intake seemed to be accumulating debris, I removed it to clean. I decided to leave the mesh off the intake until I release the trout into the main tank.
This past Friday, Sabrina provided the happy news: Nitrite = 0!
To be (released from the breeder basket) or not to be (released)?
Several teachers have asked about when, once fish are feeding, to "dump the basket."
Many teachers are eager to release their trout into the tank once the fish are feeding regularly, But it's often not a good idea. In the typical 55-gallon tank we use in most TIC installations, it's 21 inches from the bottom gravel, where young fry usually hang out, to the top surface of the water, where the food tends to float. That's quite a distance for a fry that might not even be 3/4 inch long!
I urge teachers to keep their fry in the breeder basket for at least a couple of weeks after the fish have started feeding confidently.
If you've already dumped your basket and if your trout seem to be languishing (and not eating) near the bottom of the tank, you can either:
If, after a few weeks of feeding your fish while they're still in the basket, you think it might be time to release your trout, you have two options:
Many teachers have asked for advice about feeding. Here are some tips I've provided.
No excessive sunlight!
The photo above from Crossett Brook Middle School provides the occasion to remind us all that too much sunlight isn't good for our tanks. It can foster the growth of algae that could be a problem. So it's best to keep the insulation on the back and sides of your tank.
American Museum of Fly Fishing
Some of you may remember that Becki Trudell, director of education at the American Museum of Fly Fishing, attended our TIC workshop in November.
Well, most generously, Becki has invited Vermont TIC classes to visit the AMFF (in Manchester) for free. Normally entrance to the museum costs $5. If you want to arrange visit to the AMFF, please contact Becki at email@example.com.
If you're able to schedule that field trip, you will probably also want to visit the Orvis store, which is right across the parking lot from the AMFF. I'm sure the fishing department staff would be most welcoming, and of course, your students would be able to feed the massive trout in Orvis's pond!
Here are some photos of the museum.
It's not yet time to start planning your Release Day, but it's not too soon to start thinking about it. In the next few blogs, I'll begin to address several Release Day topics, including what makes a good Release Day site and the kind of activities you might engage in on that day.
For starters, however, I'd suggest that you watch some of the Release Day videos that you can find on this Web site. Most of them are here:
Modifying the family cooler
I also want to provide instructions for modifying a regular cooler--I used a 48-quart cooler--so that you can use it to transport your fish.
Even in Vermont, very few schools are located on the banks of the brook trout stream where students will be releasing their fish. Most classes have to drive to get to their chosen release site, and lots of teachers develop a plan for Release Day that includes a couple of hours of in-stream activities prior to releasing the fish. That means that you'll need a way to keep your fish in cool, well-aerated water while students are collecting macroinvertebrates, doing water testing, etc. Here are some pictures of the finished product.
The idea is that you can inexpensively make a few changes to your personal cooler that will allow you to still use it for picnics but also put it into service when you need to transport your trout. Here's a link to the instructions.
Of course, you can also do what Steve Flint, of Mary Hogan School, did. Knowing he'd have to keep his fish healthy for the two-plus hours that it would take for his students to rotate through the five activities he had planned for them, he installed netting inside a plastic milk crate and secured it--I think using rocks--in a shady section of the South Branch of the Middlebury River. Then, of course, he transferred his fish from the container he had used to transport them into the milk crate. You can see one of Steve's students netting and releasing a trout from the milk crate in one of the videos in the Release Day video collection on this Web site.
Another TIC tank tanks. Need more DI date. Photos from LCBP schools. Fatties?? A resource for learning what Irene--and we--did to Vermont streams.
FHGS fish die due to unplugged chiller
On Friday, Amy Wright, of Fair Haven Grade School, sent me the tragic report that someone unplugged their chiller and, as a result, all her fish died. (A couple of days later they discovered two hardy survivors, so it wasn't a complete loss.)
This is the second time a school lost almost all its fish because someone unplugged a chiller. It's also a good reminder to make sure you minimize the possibility that someone will make this awful mistake. Here are four suggestions:
We need more DI/Swim-up data!
As you know, I've been hoping to get lots of data about what the DI was at swim-up time in tanks around the state. A number of you have e-mailed me information. The most helpful report I got so far came from Sabrina McDonough, of Shrewsbury Mountain School. Sabrina provided the following five data points.
With Sabrina's input along with two data points each from Audrey Halpern, volunteer at the Albert Bridge School, and Zach Eastman, teacher at West Rutland School, I was able to assemble this graph of nine swim-up data elements. (Subsequently, Teri Hogan, of Clarendon Elementary School, and Pat Bowen, of Wallingford Elementary School, also each provided two data points, so I've now included those in the chart as well.)
As you can see, at least for these five schools, there was a lot of swimming up going on well before alevin reached a DI of 100%.
I would love to have more data to add to our little study. Getting additional input from you on when swim-up happened this year will help future TIC teachers know when to be particularly alert to evidence of beginning swim-up.
LCBP-supported TIC schools
This year nine schools were able to start TIC because of a $10,000 grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program. So far I've gotten pictures from five of the schools. I've put them into this slideshow.
Here's a list of the nine schools.
Why are some of my fry so FAT?!
I got this from Tiffany Tucker, of Hartland Cooperative Nursery School, on March 3rd:
We seem to have at least 1 or 2 of our little guys with giant swollen bellies? They seem to be semi ok, but a little slower and sometimes flipping upside down. Any suggestions to fix? Today is water change day, but all levels are in the ok range.
I put Tiffany's question out on the TIC/SIC listserve. Here's what I got back from Maryland/DC TIC coordinator Chuck Dinkel.
It could be the swollen belly is the result of those having ingested one of their smaller tank-mates. Time to count fish. I'd collect the ones with swollen bellies and place then in a breeder basket for observation. Predation of larger more aggressive fish on the "runts" is not uncommon.
And then Chuck Gregory, of Western New York TU, provided this along with some great photos.
Sounds about right to me. Our hatchery managers here in NY have told me it’s a problem in the hatcheries, also, not just the TIC tanks. I’ve attached pix of 3 instances where the teachers sent me pix. The first one isn’t sharp, but notice how distended the belly is. The teacher actually pulled the smaller trout out of the bigger one and it was not a lot smaller than the one that ate it.
Amazing documentation, wouldn't you say!!
The aftermath of tropical storm Irene
Five and a half years ago, much of Vermont was hit very hard by the remnants of tropical storm Irene. Living on slightly higher ground, my wife and I were not directly affected, but at Castleton University--a three-minute walk from my home--a once-tiny stream became a raging river and did over a $1,000,000 of damage to Glenbrook Gymnasium.
As many of you undoubtedly experienced firsthand, hundreds of homes and thousands of properties were severely damaged if not destroyed.
Last Fall, Trout Unlimited's quarterly magazine Trout, which I know some of you get, carried a terrific article about the flooding, the damage it inflicted, and the even greater damage done by well-intentioned but uninformed individuals who tried to help but didn't know how streams work.
These folks pulled logs and rocks and root balls--all critical for trout habitat--from the rivers, removed important gravel, channelized streams, and built berms alongside them so that the river couldn't use its natural floodplain to dissipate energy. Many of the problems were due to under-sized culverts. New construction standards are trying to address this.
Below is a picture taken in Wallingford, Vermont, that shows an example of channelization and berming.
The irony is that a great deal of this stream work will actually make the impact of the next big storm worse. (Ask your students to try to find out why.)
Thanks to the generosity of Trout Unlimited, I can give you access to the After the Flood article. The button below should link to it.
The reading level is such that it won't be for appropriate for all students, but for those who can manage it, the story may be a great example of the kind of "complex texts" that the Common Core emphasizes. Plus it can help students learn important lessons about trout habitat, stream dynamics, etc.
It will also introduce students to some of Vermont Fish and Wildlife personnel as well as topics like hydrology, public policy, and disaster preparedness. And there's lots of interesting vocabulary words in the article too!
Tell me what you think of it.
Joe Mark, Lead Facilitator, Vermont Trout in the Classroom
In June 2012, I retired after 40 years in higher education, having spent the last 32 years of my career as dean at Castleton. One of the first things I volunteered to do in retirement was to work with Jim Mirenda to help the Dorset School, where his kids and my Vermont grandkids attend, start a TIC program. Gradually that commitment grew into my current role, which is both demanding and highly rewarding.