Trout in the Classroom: Educating the Next Generation

Both fish and fly fishing are facing a lot of challenges in today’s age. Fish are fighting against invasive species, polluted waters, and a changing climate. While these often get the most attention, fly fishing itself has its own set of issues. One of the biggest of these is the increasingly-indoors young generation, for whom going outside to hunt, fish, or hike is not the norm. Without a solid base of kids to take up outdoor activities, resources that are usually defended by outdoorsmen will suffer. However, one program that’s working to keep young people engaged with fish and the outdoors is Trout in the Classroom.

Trout in the Classroom seems like a newer program, but in reality has been around for over 30 years. It began in Canada with salmon, but has since jumped down to the states and spread across the country. Now, over 5,000 schools have implemented a version of Trout in the Classroom in the curriculum.

An adult helps a child release a fish into a river.

What is it?

Trout in the Classroom originated because teachers wanted to incorporate more hands-on environmental education in their lessons.

Though program details have varied, the idea is for K-12 students to raise trout from eggs to fingerlings in classroom tanks. Then, come spring, students are able to release their fingerling trout into nearby coldwater streams. The release day is often made into a big event, with students spending much of their day along the water.

Brook, brown and rainbow trout are some of the common species in Trout in the Classroom, but a variety of factors (like native species and local regulations), help determine which species are available for each school.

A fish tank full of small trout.

Teachers and students take care of the tank system and fish throughout the winter. Around 30 days after initial setup, eggs are added. Then, it’s the class’s responsibility to follow a daily checklist of maintenance until the trout hatch and grow to size. In the spring, trout are released, and planning begins for the next year of Trout in the Classroom.

How it helps

Trout in the Classroom provides a ton of benefits for young people. The overarching goals of the program are to educate children on the importance of coldwater conservation and to reconnect a largely disconnected generation with their environment.

Kids who may never have seen a trout or gone fishing invest three seasons in taking care of their trout. They learn the importance of healthy ecosystems, and can connect directly with nature even indoors. On release day, students spend time outside seeing where trout live and interacting with the water.

In addition to the targeted goals of conservation awareness and connecting with nature, there are plenty of positive side effects. Team building, something that often falls by the wayside in many classrooms, is very present in Trout in the Classroom. The daily checklists followed by students divy up tasks so each child can see how their part fits in with the whole. Apart from team building itself, a strong sense of responsibility is also present. Like taking care of any pet, raising trout requires effort and attention to detail. As students see their hard work pay off with growing trout, they’re able to feel a sense of accomplishment.

TIC in the wild

Trout in the Classroom is spreading across the nation. Since I’m based in Colorado, I wanted to cover the specifics on Trout in the Classroom in this state.

Statistics for the 2019 Colorado Trout in the Classroom program.

In total, Colorado has 12 participating schools, housing 17 tanks. Over 500 students participated in the program in 2019, releasing around 300 fish into local waterways. These areas included Mayhem Gulch near Idaho Springs, and the South Platte River closer to Denver.

You can read more about Colorado’s program, including how one classroom had names for nearly 60 trout, here.

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