High-schoolers stock river with trout, learn stream ecology

(Minnesota DNR photo)

As the truck pulled in on a brisk April morning, eight students from Southwest Minnesota Christian High School stopped their river explorations and walked quickly up the banks of the Redwood River. Their assignment today: help fisheries workers from the Department of Natural Resources stock the river with brown trout in Camden State Park.

The lesson is a coldwater capstone of sorts on their stream ecology course taught by Greg Dyk. Limited only to the school’s senior class, it’s something the underclassmen hear about, which builds the excitement for this day. Cayd DenHerder was among the more enthusiastic volunteers. A self-described sportsman, he heard stories about the class from his older brother and cousins who also experienced the excitement of trout-stocking day.

“I just couldn’t wait,” DenHerder said. “I’ve really learned a lot in this class. I like being outside, working with nature, and learning how the river works and how it’s alive.”

Ryan Doorenbos, Windom area fisheries supervisor for the DNR, bounded out of the truck and grabbed a net. His instructions to the class were simple.

“The goal here,” he said pausing wryly, “is to net a bunch of trout out — and get ‘em into the water. Without flopping them on the ground.”

Dressed in hip waders, the class lined up.

“I’m so excited!” screamed Mallory Zeinstra as she waited. She was the first in line, grinning widely as she took the net and carefully walked it down the slope and in to the river. Close behind was DenHerder, quickly walking his way to the river bank. The process would repeat itself for them and the other six students over the next 90 minutes, when the last of the 2,500 adult brown trout was released into the river.

The Redwood River is one of seven trout streams the DNR stocks in south-central and southwestern Minnesota. Because trout require cold water, very few lakes and streams in these areas can support a trout population. Stocking them every year provides anglers with an opportunity that is uncommon to most of the state.

The DNR’s stocking program around Minnesota is made possible by the sales of angling licenses and trout stamps. In south-central and southwestern Minnesota, trout stocking creates a “put and take” angling opportunity – since long-term survival and reproduction rates are low for trout in these areas, DNR fisheries supervisors stock these waters for the anglers. The fish stocked in south-central and southwestern Minnesota streams are yearlings – typically around 14 inches long, and are considered “keepers” for the trout angler looking to take home a meal.

The relationship between the DNR and the Southwest Christian High School stream ecology course has gone on for more than five years. An outdoorsman himself, Southwest Christian teacher Dyk was looking for a way to incorporate the outdoors in to his curriculum. Eventually, he found a way to help out the DNR, and it’s been a successful partnership ever since.

DNR hydrologist Lucas Youngsma agreed.

“To me, this is a win-win situation,” Youngsma said. “These students survey the river for the DNR, and the DNR uses that data to help make river management decisions. While a lot of homework ends up in the recycling bin, this is a tangible lesson that lives on. It’s a great experience for these students.”

Not only that, Youngsma added, but it’s the chance to get more young people outdoors.

“The students learn how a river works and what factors impact its health. Stocking trout is the fun part for them. They’re coming out of the class more likely to be conservation-minded, and maybe we hook a new angler, too.”

That much is true. Most of the class had never gone trout fishing. Now many of them say they’d be open to trying it. And with a new understanding of stream ecology and its living beings, perhaps they’ll bring a friend, creating new students of conservation.

— Dan Ruiter, southern region information officer

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