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Trout in the Classroom: Feb. 2014

by Scott Kemp, Science Teacher, Rocky Mountain High School

As you reminiscence back to the days when you were sitting in a science classroom, the thought of raising trout was probably never imagined by you or your teacher. Today, through a national and state funded effort by Trout Unlimited entitled, Trout in the Classroom, <troutintheclassroom.org> this very activity has led to a wonderful interaction of students, staff and trout at Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Scott Kemp, RMHS Teacher and RMF Member
RMHS Teacher and RMF Member Scott Kemp
Trout in the Classroom is a hands-on experiential project that enables students and staff to be involved with all aspects of raising trout—from receiving the fertilized eggs, a few months ago, to releasing the fish into the Poudre River, in town, this coming May. The project has been challenging and interesting from day one. Preparing for the arrival of the fish required a month of conditioning a 55 gallon tank and stabilizing the water chemistry. On October 24th, the rainbow trout eggs arrived by FedEx from the state of Washington. Students counted exactly 200 eggs and placed the eggs in a hatching basket. Before the basket was lowered into the tank, several students got close views with a dissection microscope and were able to see blood flow and movement of the developing embryo within the egg. Junior, Jesse Brokuop exclaimed she didn’t know much about trout but now, “I feel like a real scientist.” As a teacher, to hear and watch both students and adults react and proclaim their sheer delight and interest with the trout is rewarding and inspiring.

The practical scientific lessons and benefits are real. Students are involved in the daily maintenance of the tank and care of the trout. The biggest highlight is the daily feedings of the trout as they have become celebrities and numerous students regularly check on their progress. Classes take turns and note observations of feeding behaviors, while, testing the water for ammonia, nitrates, nitrites and pH levels. Additionally, students observe and note water changes, monitor the filter and chiller, which is a key component of trout habitat as it keeps the water temperature a cool 52 degrees Fahrenheit. Students see the critical components that control a trout’s life such as conservation of resources and the unmistakable connection between the physical, biological and chemical aspect of clean water.

The difficult lessons of life and death are common as the cycle of nature is observed. A percentage of trout don’t make it even in a protective environment like ours with an absence of predators. Many trout have died due to simple genetics—dealt a “bad hand”, the lack of instinct to eat, the competition for food and space, etc. As April approaches, several trout will be sacrificed for testing purposes to ensure they are disease free before the remaining fish are released into the river. While research suggests that only 1-2% of wild trout survive to spawning age, we are on target to release 45, three-inch trout.

Currently, the trout are following nature’s course, from egg to sac fry to free, swimming fish. This classroom partnership with Trout Unlimited has been an exceptional experience, from the inception with Dennis Cook’s careful planning and expertise, to the anticipated release. Students are already discussing how they will release their fish to the wild, Poudre River. If you are in the neighborhood, please feel invited to stop by to see the trout. Check in at the front office at RMHS, pick up a visitor pass and walk to Science room 522. You will be glad you did and you may even see a trout rise, for real!

TIC Begins It’s Second Year at Front Range Community College

Feb. 2014

Trout Eggs from Nursery
On January 16th RMF members Bruce Rosenthal and Dennis Cook visited FRCC and joined class instructor Heather Dannahower kicking off another TIC project year. A refrigerated package of rainbow trout eggs arrived from the nursery, were unpacked, inspected and 206 carefully were transferred into the mesh breeder basket and placed into the water attached to the side of the tank. During the previous month the tank had been cleaned and filled, let sit to release chlorination, chemicals added to ensure zero toxins and maintained at 52 degrees for about three weeks to make certain all the equipment operated correctly.

FRCC Students Work with Trout Eggs
Over the weekend of January 24-27 all 206 of the eggs hatched as sac fry, were released to live in the gravel for about a week while feeding nutrients from their sacs, and then began rising in the water column (life stage known then as alevins) in search of real food...so feeding of very fine particulate began. In a couple weeks the fry will begin to develop the vertical parr markings along their sides as they grow, and then become known as parr fry. For the remainder of the semester students will check water chemistry and temperature to ensure all is well. Some fish will die, especially during the tank’s nitrogen cycle as it establishes it chemistry norm, but we’re optimistic we’ll again have a large population remaining before Parks & Wildlife conducts their pathology dissection tests...and eventual release in early May.

Trout In Classroom (TIC)

February, 2013 FRCC Instructor Heather Dannahower
FRCC Instructor Heather Dannahower prepares to mount
egg-hatching basket in the tank.

Since the last newsletter when we announced our new TIC project at Front Range Community College (FRCC), things have been happening as expected.
The eyed eggs delivery was received on January 16th from the Washington State commercial hatchery. We ordered 200 and the shipping invoice stated 1000 were included...but we could easily see that more than 4000 were actually shipped. Heather and her student intern counted out 200 eggs and placed them in the basket shown in the photo above, and the basket was attached on the edge of the tank so the eggs were all submerged in a location that received enough water circulation to keep them oxygenated without physically disturbing them. The tank was completely darkened with foam panels and the waiting began, with water chemistry sampling conducted daily by the intern and temperature maintained at about 52 degrees. In the wild only about 1-2% of eggs survive to spawning age.

Between January 22-25 all of the sac fry (officially named “alevins”) hatched successfully, and after two days observing to remove any that might die (none did!), on January 27th they were released and immediately swam down to hide under the gravel substrate, feeding off their yolk sac “lunch bag” of nutritional food.

On February 7th the first “swim-up fry” emerged from the gravel but died immediately...possibly of loneliness? Late the next day, a Friday, we estimate close to 100 swim-up fry (each about ½" long) had emerged. Several were swimming at the water surface seeking food, and several more in the bottom of the water column, and the rest were hanging out near the gravel surface consuming their remaining sac nutrients, many with their heads buried in the gravel. We agreed to wait over the weekend to allow the remainder of the fry to emerge, and then begin feeding them.

When a swim-up fry begins to search for food and will begin to develop dark vertical parr marks along its sides, and becomes referred to as a “fry parr”. During this period, non-feeding fish called “pinheads” (large heads/small bodies) will be noticed; these may experience a mortality spike and should be removed from the tank before they die. After learning to feed, surviving fish become referred to simply as “fry” until they exceed 1" length after which they are called “fingerlings”.

Now begins a delicate period while the fish are so small. Temperatures and water quality parameters must be closely monitored and maintained. Fish must not be overfed (a common cause of deaths) and the tank nitrogen cycle must be carefully maintained. During the “Nitrogen Cycle” 4-6 week phase, the biological process converts toxic ammonia and nitrites (caused by trout waste and uneaten food) into relatively harmless nitrate compounds. Potentially fatal “spikes” of ammonia and nitrites become common and must be immediately remedied. These processes are monitored and balanced by the students as they learn about good riparian ecology and that it is important for good water quality...and also recognize that trout are one of many indicator species of good or poor water quality.

Dennis Cook, TIC Coordinator

Kickoff of Trout in the Classroom

2012-10-11 TIC tank setup
Setting up the fish tank
On Thursday, October 11th, RMF’s TIC Coordinator Mark Miller and Youth Outreach Chair Dennis Cook visited Windsor High School to assist setup of the tank and associated equipment with classroom teachers, Leah Thomas and Melinda Spaur and two TIC student team members.This is the third year that RMF has collaborated with Windsor High School’s Agriculture Department providing the TIC experience for students to become knowledgeable about watershed conservation concerns and techniques to ensure healthy, clean coldwater resources.
On October 30th the classroom will receive about 200 rainbow trout eggs, and the students will monitor and experience the eggs hatching and progressive growth of the fish while learning about water chemistry and other life support interests. Next spring the students will perform dissections to provide pathology testing tissue to ensure fish health, followed by eventual release.
Trout in the Classroom is a Trout Unlimited program nationwide, and locally is overseen by a formal Memorandum of Understanding between the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife and Colorado Trout Unlimited and its chapters. In addition to RMF’s TIC, there are three more in Colorado at Woodland Park, Breckenridge and Lafayette, and three more possibilities that may yet also occur.

Dennis Cook, Rocky Mountain Flycasters Youth Outreach Chair

Trout in the Classroom (TIC)

On April 5th, CDOW Senior Fish Pathologist, Pete Walker, visited with our Windsor High School TIC Student Fish Team. He chatted briefly with two seniors who plan to attend college this fall for major studies related to careers in the Division of Wildlife or U.S. Forestry Service, and two other underclassmen who will form the core of our Student team next year.

Dissecting small fish is delicate work
Student Team dissecting for pathology samples.
The main purpose of Pete’s visit was to sample 16 of our least healthy looking fish, dissecting them and collecting tissue samples. Three samples are taken from the kidney and one from the spleen, to be analyzed for various diseases. The Student Team helped Pete with the dissection and preparation for some to be shipped to a Montana laboratory and the rest to the CDOW Aquatic Pathology Laboratory in Brush, Colorado. It typically requires at least 30-days for these analysis to be completed, after which we hope for a ‘clean bill of health’ so we can then arrange with our local CDOW Aquatic staff to coordinate a release of our fish.

Following this sampling our TIC tank still has about 40 very healthy fish, many easily 4-inches long and with a robust girth.

RMF is currently also investigating a second TIC opportunity at another NoCO school location that has approached us. More information will follow as this new opportunity develops.

Fingerlings February 2011: Last week the TIC student team began removing the smallest fingerlings to reduce the tank population from 400 fish to about 200, which is the recommended population for our 50 gallon tank. The largest fingerlings are now at almost 2½ inches, and many of the smallest were barely a full inch long, which illustrates that the population was too large for them all to get enough food. Reducing the number of fish also reduces chances that bacterial gill disease will develop which could infect the entire population. BGD occurs from over crowding that causes build up of metabolites (ammonia) creating poor water quality.

Relocation of the tank and remaining fish is expected to be scheduled in late February or early March after the major facilities move into the new Agriculture Department building has been completed.

TIC fish tank with over 400 fish
Fish tank with over 400 fish.

January 2011: In the last report we explained that we received a double egg order, and consciously decided to hatch them all...fully aware that our 418 hatched fish would be twice the number designated for our 50 gallon tank. So when the fish hatched we also doubled to daily the number of water changes, water chemistry tests and tank cleanings.

Fortunately, teacher Nathan Clark has aquaculture experience and when fish began to die one-at-a-time he suspected and confirmed with testing that dissolved oxygen was out of balance. He had the TIC Project student team install an additional, larger air pump system, and the fish stopped dying...now 408 remain. On December 14th several chapter board members visited the TIC tank and team, and all was stable and looked good.

This week we communicated with the CDOW's aquatic pathology department requesting guidance about when we should halve our fish population, and how and when it should be accomplished.

The Windsor TIC team
The Windsor HS TIC team

November 2010: Rocky Mountain Flycasters TIC project is hosted in the Agriculture Program at Windsor High School and has started off quite successfully. Teachers Nathan Clark and Melinda Spaur have assigned a designated TIC Team comprised of Freshmen, Juniors and Seniors to manage the fish as an accredited Future Farmers of America project, and all four class levels of students have visibility and involvement with the project.

Unpacking the eggs
Teachers and student check eggs upon arrival

Beginning on September 1st the fish tank was installed, filled, and enclosed with styrofoam to create total darkness in readiness for the eggs to be delivered. Our 50 gallon tank is rated to optimally raise 200 fish. The eggs arrived by FedEx on September 23rd and we were surprised to receive 420! The designated TIC Student Project Team counted and transferred 419 of the eggs (the eye of one was dead) from the shipping container into the hatching basket.

Sac fry (alevins) in hatching basket
Sac fry (alevins) in hatching basket

On October 4th all but one of the eggs hatched, netting 418 “sac fry” (aka alevins) that immediately swam to the bottom and buried themselves in the gravel to feed on the nutrient sac attached to their abdomen while hiding in the dark substrate. When their sacs became depleted, between October 26th to 28th, they emerged now as “swim-up fry” less than one-inch long, and all swam to the water surface to be fed. The fish will develop vertical parr lines on their sides as they grow, and are referred to as “fry/parr” during this stage. As they grow and attain the one-inch to three-inch length they will be referred to as “fingerlings.” Students are impressed with how all of the fish advanced through these development stages virtually simultaneously.

Fish tank
The Fish tank

The high occupancy fish community in our tank necessitates that the student team be especially conscientious. An important rule of thumb throughout the life with us of these tiny fish is to not over-feed them, because it may more likely increase death rate. The fish are being fed three times daily, and 5 gallons of water is also changed each day...about double the normal requirement. Additionally, the students take water samples daily to monitor water quality, which from time to time needs to be treated with prescribed reagents.

October 2010

Rocky Mountain Flycasters has been approved to implement Trout in the Classroom (TIC). This exciting new program resides at Windsor High School starting September, 2010. A 50-gallon tank with 200 rainbow trout eggs is to be installed, with eggs hatched and nurtured through growth and tested for pathogens before final release into area waters. Students will learn about trout biology, habitat and the need for adequate supply of clean oxygenated cold water to successfully maintain these fish. Cost for the initial installation and one-year program is approximately $2500; ongoing annual costs are about $1500.00.

See the gallery of Trout in the Classroom.

Interested volunteers should see our Youth Volunteer page.

Contact Dennis Cook by email or 970-372-9229 for more Trout In the Classroom information or to discuss volunteer opportunities.

Help by making a financial donation to the Youth Outreach programs.

Youth Outreach programs

Youth Day Camp, Children’s Water Fests in Greeley, Loveland, and Fort Collins, Trout In the Classroom, Scouting, and Colorado TU Youth Camp

Last updated on 31 Dec, 2019