Trout transition from the classroom to the creek

Frederick, Md. (AP) – After four months of feeding, caring for and tending to 175 tiny rainbow trout living in a 55-gallon fish tank, a group of Middletown High School students turned the fish loose to fend for themselves.

The students, along with teacher Sharon Steger, gathered at Doub's Meadow Park in Myersville recently to release the fish into the cold waters of Little Catoctin Creek.

Chuck Dinkel, a volunteer with Trout Unlimited, arrived early at the park to make sure conditions were right to release the fish. Despite recent hot weather, the fast-flowing creek had lots of shade and vegetation along the banks, which is good for the fish, he said.

Dinkel and fellow Trout Unlimited volunteer Jim Marecki are part of the Maryland chapter's Trout in the Classroom program. This year, more than 3,400 fingerling trout have been raised and released into streams through the program. Middletown High is one of 13 schools in Frederick County and 50 schools in the state to participate in Trout in the Classroom.

Potomac Valley Fly Fishers works with Trout Unlimited to sponsor Trout in the Classroom in this region, and Dinkel and Marecki are members of Potomac Valley Fly Fishers.

The trout truly are about the size of a finger. The silvery, squiggly creatures have grown from tiny eggs to about 21/2 to 3 inches. "Once the schools get the eggs, the kids and teacher take on full responsibility,'' Dinkel said.

The Middletown students have kept the water chilled to the proper temperature, clean of waste and aerated with oxygen. They scoop out dirty water and replace it with clean water, usually about two to three gallons a week.

Once the fish were released, they compared the creek water to water in the tank, measuring for acidity or pH, temperature and other characteristics. Little Catoctin Creek, and nearby Middle Creek, are unusual among Frederick County creeks in that they are cold enough to support trout in the summer. The creeks have a lot of shade, which makes that possible.

Rainbow trout live best in water temperatures of 44 to 75 degrees, with an optimal temperature of 54 degrees. Big Hunting Creek and Fishing Creek, in northern Frederick County, also support trout populations.

Brian Kilonsky, a sophomore biology student, loves to fly-fish, which is how most trout are caught. He was excited to be a part of a project raising trout from eggs. The eggs are a little bigger than the tip of a pencil.

"It's cool to see them grow,'' said student Tracey Film, who was standing with Katie Montesino and Emily Keppley, eagerly awaiting the trout release. When the fish were first hatched, they stayed in one corner of the tank, but as they grew, they began to explore the entire tank.

As they prepared to release the fish, the students filled plastic cups with river water to acclimate the fish before the release.

Denzil Cotera, a biology student aide, counted the fish as they were being scooped into the cups. The other student aide, Emma Daintor, filled test tubes with creek water to test for nitrates, nitrites, ammonia and pH level.

Tracey and fellow student Zuleyka Canales eagerly waded into the creek to release their fish and watch them swim off.

Afterward, Katrina Fauss, of the Alice Ferguson Foundation's Bridging the Watershed educational program, led the students as they examined the creek's macroinvertebrate population. The creek's healthy population of mayflies, hellgrammites and caddis flies will help feed the young trout, who will instinctively learn to eat flies, even after an infancy filled with eating powdered trout food in a fish tank, according to Dinkel.

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