Bethany Richmond does not know what lake water and live fish taste like and she refused to find out Tuesday during the Salmon Celebration in Kasilof.
So, as the third-grader made her way down the sandy bank to the water’s edge at Johnson Lake, she made frequent stops and flinched away from the trout she was determined to let loose.
For a year, Richmond’s third-grade class — taught by Bill Vedders at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School — has followed the life cycle of a salmon.
First, there was an egg-take in October, where Vedders had to step in and calm the group’s boisterous exclamations when two coho salmon were induced to spawn in front of the group.
They left with 250 eggs covered in milt, and put the fish in a tank full of water at their school to incubate for the winter.
As the eggs developed, Jenny Cope, fisheries biologist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, stopped by the school in January to supervise the class as they dissected and studied the anatomy of several salmon.
The “ew” exclamations were considerably less noisy during that class as most of the students dug in to pull out individual organs and identify them for Cope.
Then, in February, the group went ice fishing on Sport Lake in Soldotna where the day yielded a mix of chinook, coho and rainbow trout for Kenai Peninsula students.
Finally, the day came when Vedders’ students were ready to release their own fish into the wild.
So, on Tuesday morning, before they headed to Kasilof for the final Salmon Celebration, the group stopped by Arc Lake, near Soldotna, and let their fish go.
Richmond said she liked to watch the fish swim away; she thought they would enjoy time in a lake.
Vedders’ class joined students from across the Kenai Peninsula as they learned about the natural world.
“We saw scat,” Richmond said. “And the muskrat scat is really, really small. We learned, the muskrat scat, coyote, bears and wolf. The wolf’s is kind of rough and all chunky.”
Richmond said that although the scat was made of rubber she still just touched it with one finger.
She also learned how to properly release a fish.
“You shouldn’t touch close to the gills, you should hold close to the tail like, under the belly,” she said. “You should always get your hands wet before you touch the fish, because of the slime. That way the fish’s skin doesn’t get diseases.”
Rashah McChesney can be reached at email@example.com.