Nice newspaper article. Photos of Lincoln trout. Pownal video. Fly tying at LES. The WHERE of Release Day. Stream tables!
Great article on Fairfax TIC students!
Melinda Carpenter, of Bellows Free Academy, sent me this regarding an article that appeared in the St. Albans Messenger about the TIC program at BFA-Fairfax and, especially, the excellent civic work their students did in response to Governor Scott's decision to close the Salisbury hatchery.
Today The Messenger came to our 6th grade classroom to talk to students about the Trout in the Classroom project and to learn more about how important it is to us.
Students did a wonderful job explaining all the things they do on a daily basis to maintain the fish and how they have advocated to keep the program going.
Thanks very much,
Here's a screenshot of the article, which is also a link to the newspaper's Web site.
Devin Schrock, of Lincoln Community School, perhaps Vermont's highest elevation school, sent me these photos of their good-looking fish. Enjoy!
Mike Carrano, at Pownal Elementary School, is one of our more experienced and successful TIC teachers. He also takes a unique approach by doubling up on filters and, this year, using three aerators. If you look at the video he sent me (below), you can't help but be impressed by the number of fish in his tank.
I asked Mike how many eggs he started with. He said 258, and that he now has between 220 and 230.
Last year, Mike's fish got very large, some exceeding three inches in length. I told Mike that, if his fish get as big as they did last year, his tank will be supporting quite a biomass total (the average weight of each fish multiplied by the number of fish). I'm sure that he couldn't get away with that if he didn't use two filters and three bubblers.
He also provided these details:
We are doing well here. We received our eggs on 1/16. On 1/31 all our eggs hatched out at a water temperature of 42. March 6 was our swim up, and the water temperature was 50. On March 18 we released our trout into the tank. Some of the bigger trout in our tank are around 1.5” long.
Congratulations, Mike and students!
Ludlow fly tyers
In previous blogs I've written about the wonderful contributions that Trout Unlimited volunteer Kathy Ehlers makes to several of our southwestern Vermont TIC schools, especially the program at Ludlow Elementary School.
Most recently, Kathy visited LES to demonstrate and teach students about fly tying. LES teacher Lisa Marks sent me these photos.
By the way, we have some equally cool things happening in Bennington (and, for all I know, in other areas of the state as well), where TU volunteers Christian Betit and Barry Mayer have been teaching students fly casting and fly tying in an after-school program. Unfortunately, I can't get either Barry or Christian to send me any pictures! (Hint, hint.)
The perfect release site
Experienced TIC teachers probably know where they want to release their fish: the place where they released them last year. But many new TIC teachers are probably looking for the right location, and even some experienced teachers may realize that there could be an even better site out there. For those still trying to decide where to release their fish, what should be considered?
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 not so big that anyone, not even your most over-eager young student, can get into trouble. The other advantage of a small upland brook is that your fry are far less likely to get gobbled up within the first hours by hungry trout.
Here is my wish list of the ideal characteristics of a great release stream:
Below I've inserted a few pictures of streams that I consider good release sites.
What you don't want is a broad, deep stream or river, where kids could get into trouble.
Have a back-up plan too
Another thought: you can't count on the weather, and sometimes on your scheduled Release Day, your first-choice release site might be in flood stage.
Here's a photo I took this afternoon of the Castleton River not far from my house. As you can see, it's way out of its banks and overflowing into a nearby field. Our area got a lot of rain Sunday night and Monday, and almost four days later, this local stream is still at flood stage. If you had planned to hold your Release Day activities in this location, you'd be in trouble.
If instead you had originally chosen a small brook at higher elevation, you probably wouldn't be facing these problems. Why's that? Water flows downhill, right?
Water moves through a drainage consistent with the FIFO principle: first in, first out. When a heavy rain hits a mountain stream, waters rise fairly quickly, but water levels in those streams also drop equally quickly, often within a few hours of the end of the rain. (Actually, rain doesn't initially affect a mountain stream that much because such streams are typically surrounded by porous ground that, unless it's frozen or already saturated, can absorb a good deal of the early rain.)
While valley rivers can take a little longer to fill up (because it takes a while for the water in the tributary streams to drain down into them), when they do fill up, they take much longer to return to normal levels, usually several days. They are after all draining the accumulated precipitation of a whole watershed.
At the same time this afternoon that the Castleton River was way out of its banks (photo above), its nearby tributary, Gully Brook, looked like this:
That site on Gully Brook, which would have been perfect for Release Day activities even today, was less than three miles from the flooded Castleton River location I photographed. By the way, the flooded Castleton River was 480 feet above sea level; the Gully Brook site was 700 feet higher, at 1180 feet in elevation.
So, if for whatever reasons, you prefer to use a lowland stream or river as your first-choice Release Day location, something we don't particularly recommend, try to also find a small-stream alternative higher up in the mountains.
Schedule a back-up date
It's always a good idea to schedule two Release Day dates, the second being your back-up date in case terrible weather or bad stream conditions prevail on your primary date. If you want the help of a sizable number of volunteers, you should let them know about both dates and ask them to "pencil them in" on their calendars.
In talking about water flowing downhill, we're getting into issues of hydrology and that, of course, is critically important to studying brook trout habitat.
A stream table is a great way to demonstrate hydrological phenomena to your students. This would show them, for example, how small, high-gradient streams (ones that drop steeply) lose the extra water dumped by a heavy rain long before lowland streams do.
Stream tables can be purchased; they can also be made. I'm even aware that some of Vermont's natural resource conservation districts own water tables and are probably willing to lend them to schools and maybe even send along an environmental scientist to demonstrate its use.
Here are a few YouTube videos that show how stream tables can be used as a teaching tool.
Poor bent baby!
Kelly Hill, of Essex High School, sent me this report on Monday:
For the most part our trout have been doing really well. We just had one die over the weekend, and the most noticeable issue was that it looked a bit bent. We are noticing another one today that seems bent as well and thought we would check in with you.
I've been told that a small number of deformities is completely normal in trout, just as it is in humans and other species.
Kelly sent this photo of her surviving bent fry.
Kelly also said,
Most of the trout are around two inches long.
That's not normal! Well, at least I suspect most TIC trout around the state are significantly smaller than two inches. How big are yours?
Art in the Classroom
Ludlow Elementary School enjoys the benefits of working with TIC Trout Unlimited volunteer Kathy Ehlers. Along with being a generous and dedicated supporter of LES and an excellent fisher-person, Kathy is also a talented artist whose favorite subjects are anything related to the outdoors. LES teacher Lisa Marks sent me these photos of one of the days Kathy visited her students.
Be careful with your temperature probe!
For the first time this year, two teachers at different TIC schools arrived at their classrooms (in the same week!) only to discover their tanks at 33 degrees and their chillers iced up! What?!
In both cases it quickly became clear that a student on tank duty had accidentally left the chiller's temperature probe out of the tank, so the chiller was reading the temperature of the room and--at the risk of anthropomorphizing--couldn't understand why, in spite of its best efforts, the temperature refused to go down.
I haven't gotten reports from the schools yet, but I'm hoping that most of their fish survived the stress of that sudden deep freeze. Certainly in nature in the dead of winter, streams will get close to freezing temperatures. That doesn't happen overnight though, and in January and February the smallest trout will be the "toddlers" who were born the previous spring, so presumably they might be hardier than our young fry.
Highgate Elementary School
Paul Legris, of Highgate Elementary School, sent me these photos of his tank and happy kids.
Getting help for your Release Day
Unless you intend a super "short and sweet" release day--and some teachers who engage their kids in fieldwork all year long do--you'll probably want to plan a number of fun and interesting activities on Release Day. I mentioned some of the options for RD activities in my April 2, 2018, blog, but the question of how ambitious your RD can be hinges on the number of people you can recruit to help. Who might some of those potential helpers be?
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:
Natural Resources Conservation Districts
I mentioned above 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. Not every county has a NRCD, but many do.
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.
VERMONT'S NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION DISTRICTS
All across the state of Vermont you will find a variety of watershed groups. Here's a map of their distribution. I bet there's one near your school. (Click on the map to access a cool interactive watershed group Web page.)
Many of those blue water droplets represent groups that have a special interest in a local river. Some focus not so much on a single river but rather on the extended watershed of that river. Here are some of the rivers covered by these organizations:
Below I've provided a link to a Web page listing all these organizations as well as others.
RIVER AND WATERSHED GROUPS
Here's an example of the Web site of just one of these groups.
Members of the various Audubon Society chapters around the state have also in the past assisted schools with their Release Days. Here is some contact information on each of Vermont's seven Audubon Society chapters. I'll bet there's one in your neighborhood!
UVM Sea Grant program
Finally, schools in the Lake Champlain drainage might be able to get Release Day (and other) support for TIC fieldwork from the faculty and students of UVM's Sea Grant program. Such a collaboration would also allow your students to meet and work with inspiring young adults who are pursuing careers in science.
Click the logo below to go to the Sea Grant Web site.
Schedule your Release Day!
TIC programs generally release their trout in the second half of May or the first two weeks of June. So it's time to get serious about planning Release Day. In this and future blogs, I'll address the four questions that have to be considered when thinking about Release Day:
On the subject of WHAT
First-time TIC teachers should watch a few of the Release Day videos we have on this Web site (click link to access a page of RD videos). Here's one example of such a video, but there are many more.
Release Days can range from simple, 20-minute long events to four-hour long programs that include several different fieldwork activities. Chapter 9 of the current VTTIC Manual describes a "sample agenda" for a TIC release day.
Schools that take the brief approach to Release Day are typically those that have engaged their students in fieldwork all year long. For example, Guy Merolle, science teacher at my local school, Castleton Village School, enjoys the luxury (because of the proximity of a nearby trout stream) of having his kids doing work in the Castleton River, just north of CVS, from August to June.
When the end of the TIC program approaches, Guy doesn't need to provide additional fieldwork opportunities for his students, so he embeds the release of their fish into an annual service project that the whole school performs at Lake Bomoseen State Park. All the kids are transported to their release site. Guy and some students make a few speeches; they put their fry into a tributary of the Castleton River; everybody cheers; and then they get back on the buses and go on to Lake Bomoseen, where they pull water chestnuts or some other invasive species. A great Release Day for CVS!
But most schools don't have the option of year-round fieldwork, so they choose to augment the release of their fish with fieldwork activities. Here's a list of activities that many Vermont schools have included in past Release Days.
You can find details on how to conduct these various activities (a) in our VTTIC Google Docs folder, (b) at the national TIC Web site, or (c) on the Internet. Before you get committed to an ambitious, exciting plan for Release Day, however, make sure you can recruit the volunteers you'll need. I'll address the question of WHO can help with your RD in my next blog.
If I've listed above an activity you'd like to use on your Release Day and you can't find details on how to conduct it, let me know and I'll provide instructions or a description of the activity.
Think about TRANSPORTATION
Except for those few schools who can walk their kids to a local stream--lucky you!--just about everyone else has to arrange transportation. At a private school that might mean parent cars, but usually it means scheduling a school bus. Occasionally, at a school with a really tight budget, it might even mean fundraising (or finding a donor) to cover the cost of the bus.
Red Fox School
I was able to visit Sarah Dube, at the Red Fox School, a few weeks ago. While there, I got to see the impressive stand that a grandparent built. Here are some pictures I took that day of the stand, trout art, and a step stool that's perfect for looking into and working on a tall tank. I found a folding two-step Cosco-brand version available at Walmart here for $25.27.
Joe Mark is Lead Facilitator of Vermont's Trout in the Classroom program.
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 a parent-friend 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.