Trout released into Truckee
One Thursday in March, Vanessa Burch-Urquhart’s third grade class from Fernley Elementary School boarded a bus to Oxbow Nature Study Area in Reno. In their company were several tiny rainbow trout—each a little more than an inch long, each raised by Burch-Urquhart and her class as part of the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s Trout in the Classroom Program.
Trout in the Classroom, initiated by the Truckee River Fly Fishers during the late 1990s, supplies participating elementary school groups with an aquarium and rainbow trout eggs. The program is now operated by NDOW, who deliver trout eggs to more than 100 classrooms around Nevada in mid-January. The students monitor the fish as they hatch and grow, and teachers use NDOW curriculum to incorporate the fish into lessons on biology, math, art, writing and other subjects.
“I had them keep a daily trout log, so they had to observe them and note any changes that they saw,” said Burch-Urquhart. “When we first got them, I talked to them about hatcheries. We talked about the life cycle of the trout, too, so it was cool having them right in the classroom.”
The trout begin as eggs, then hatch to “alevins”—tiny fish with yolk sacs attached to their bellies. Alevins feed off their yolk sacs, hanging low in the gravel at the bottom of the fish tank (or river) until the yolk sac is used up. During the next life stage, the fish become “fry,” which swim out of the gravel and move higher in the water to find food. After several weeks in the classroom, the fry are ready to release, and students travel to local ponds and rivers to free their tiny trout.
Rainbow trout are not native to Nevada, but are stocked in the Truckee River and other water bodies because they are popular with fishermen. According to NDOW outdoor education coordinator Chris Vasey, the Trout in the Classroom program chooses to use rainbow trout rather than native Lahontan cutthroat trout because the timing of their life cycle fits in better with the school calendar.
At Oxbow Nature Study Area, NDOW wildlife educator Tricia Dutcher led Burch-Urquhart’s students on a walk through the preserve, looking for appropriate trout habitat. The stagnant waters of the pond, students agreed, were not quite right. The Truckee River looked more promising.
“Who can point out why this habitat might be better, based on what we know about the trout?” Dutcher asked the class. The students determined that the water in the river looked cleaner, felt colder, and had more bubbles than the water in the pond—all good things for trout. In pairs, they unscrewed the tops of the small plastic canisters that held their fish, and released them into an area of quiet water along the edge of the channel. The fish swam off.
For interested members of the public, Dutcher has been raising rainbow trout fry in Oxbow’s visitor center, which will be set free on April 9 during a community trout release.