There is so much water running under the covered bridges of Linn County that it’s no surprise when you cross paths with some real whoppers at the Roaring River Hatchery in Scio. Here the rainbow trout tip the scales at 15 pounds.
Roaring River is one of several facilities run by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department that raise more than a million trout to be stocked at lakes and ponds across Oregon. In fact Roaring River’s super large rainbow trout produce so many eggs that something extra special happens to the surplus eggs — they go to school!
“While [students] are on site, it’s an ideal place to educate them,” says Tim Schamber, manager of Roaring River Hatchery.
This continues beyond the hatchery and into the classroom. Each spring, thousands of the surplus trout eggs end up in the hands of dedicated volunteers like Leroy Schultz and other members of Association of Northwest Steelheaders, a nonprofit sport fishing and conservation group.
Schultz visits many Washington County schools, like Banks Elementary School, and delivers individual packets of 500 trout eggs. Schultz notes, “Our particular group of Northwest Steelheaders, the Tualatin Valley Chapter, works with 37 schools to assist with the delivery of the eggs and the maintenance of the equipment and the direction of the program.”
He adds with a chuckle, “Sometimes I feel like I’m a doctor delivering all these little babies.”
The group donates time and money to buy expensive aquariums so students can raise the fish eggs into fry over the next couple of months. The experience is a launching point for important “teachable times.”
“They’re going to be the keepers of our rivers and lakes,” says Schultz. “We want them to know that they are going to carry that responsibility for us in the future.”
The fish are the foundation for class assignments in writing, science, vocabulary and math. They even inspire iconic art projects that involve Banks High School students. Wood shop teacher Tim Eggleston guides his high school students to create a school of rainbow trout cutouts from a sheet of plywood.
“Some of my high school students remember the Fish Eggs to Fry program from their second-grade year,” says Eggleston. “They have memories from the experience, and they have a reason to help out the younger kids with their art project. These plywood trout will eventually become colorful rainbow trout.”
“The program takes it from that two-dimensional concept of looking in a book to that three-dimensional piece where the fish are right in front of our eyes – in the aquarium and in our art,” notes second-grade teacher Christine McOmie. “The experience absolutely comes alive and I like that it’s across the curriculum; whether it’s the science program in itself or an awareness of what fish need or writing in journals, documenting week-to-week life cycle changes and to this art project.”
Several weeks later, it is moving day as each student fills a bag with water and their fish. The kids, their parents and the fish travel together aboard a school bus to Scoggins Creek, a small stream that flows into Henry Hagg Lake in Washington County.
“Water’s important to all of us and to the fish — especially cold, clean water. This reinforces that message,” says Schultz. “By taking care of the fish and releasing them into this stream, it’s a lesson and important experience for them.
2017 marks the 23rd anniversary of the Fish Eggs to Fry program, so thousands of Oregon youngsters have had a chance to learn about aquatic ecology and develop ownership in Oregon’s great outdoors.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Department offers programs that many schools can tap into for valuable educational opportunities like Fish Eggs to Fry. Contact the Association of Northwest Steelheaders for more information about how your classroom or school can get involved in the program.
Schultz added that even though the young faces change each year, one thing has been a constant from year to year: “The excitement we see in the kid’s faces — it’s always there! They are so excited to see those fish go in the water and wave goodbye, knowing that they have been successful at a project and that it will be for them in the future.”