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.
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.