If last year is any indication, the Pownal Elementrary School’s current fifth grade class is in for a treat. The school participates in Trout Unlimited’s Trout in the Classroom program, a 5th grade program aimed at teaching students about conservation, science, and connecting them to the outdoors. It is essentially an interactive stocking program - trout eggs are delivered to the classroom and students take care of the fish, learn, and watch them grow until they are ready to be released into a local river.

Pownal teacher Michael Carrano teams up with Chris Alexopoulos, of the U.S. Forestry Service in coordinating the program. Michael is an avid fly fisherman who works part-time as a guide for Berkshire Rivers Fly Fishing and Ambassador to the American Museum of Fly Fishing. His passion for fly fishing brings a unique perspective to the program and an even greater drive to see the . “Being a guide I practice strictly catch and release. I respect the fish because I know their life in a stream, river, pond, etc. isn’t easy. Having my students witness the different stages of a trout’s development and learning the ins and outs of their survival allows them to have a better appreciation of a fishes existence and maybe they too would feel compelled to practice catch and release”. Carrano kept the children engaged with fun activities including a particularly interesting spin off of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey where the children had to pin the body parts on the fish as they learned their fish anatomy.

It is a very delicate process, taking care of fish. As Michael says “Observation is key when identify when the fish are ready to feed. Feeding the fish can be a slippery slope. If you feed them too much, the ammonia levels can rise to a level that kills the fish and this can happen quickly. You are constantly checking the water chemistry to avoid a fish kill. Also the more fish you have also increased the amount of waste and decaying matter in the tank.” He was told that a 50% survival rate should be expected. The class was given about 200 (+ or -) eggs and they had only 8 fish/eggs die. He was told by his partner, Chris Alexopolous, that the class had the highest success rate ever in the state. This drove home an important point that Carrano wanted to make to his class: trout have a tough life. As one of his students, Ethan --- explained, “They hide and need trees and rocks for protection. When they see people or scary things they swim fast because other animals are trying to eat them”. Ethan then listed off all of the threats to the trout’s life “fishermen, otters, egrets, spiders, they can all eat them”.

Each of the children involved in the program said that their favorite part was letting the fish go. Matthew --- said that it was “cool to see them hatch from eggs and grow into fries”. It seems like Mr. Carrano’s lessons to practice catch and release because trout already have a particularly hard fought life had resonated with the kids- “A lot of my kids who do fish said that they let every fish go that they caught last summer. When asked why, they enjoy releasing them back into the water like they did with the baby trout”.

We wish Mr. Carrano’s current 5th grade class the best of luck with their Trout in the Classroom program. We will be following their progress through each stage with blog entries and social media posts using the hashtag #trouttracker.