Driskoll Heath eyes a hole in the ice on Sports Lake in Soldotna while fishing with classmates from Kaleidoscope School of Art and Science Friday afternoon. About 400 students from the Kenai Peninsula School District participated in the day of fishing which was associated with the Alaska Department of Fish and Games "Salmon in the Classroom" program.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Elementary school students from across the peninsula got a fishy lesson in how to keep warm Friday afternoon.
Huddled over some 90 holes perforating the ice of Soldotna’s Sport Lake, the children got a chance to try their hands at ice fishing as part of a special program run by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Despite temperatures that hovered just a few degrees above zero, none of the kids said anything about the cold. They were too busy hauling in their catch.
Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science student Alex Bergholtz said she learned the best way to get one of the thousands of landlocked salmon in the lake to bite was to use a little persuasive language. Struggling to hold onto a wriggling salmon, Bergholtz explained the trick to successful ice fishing.
“I just put my line in and said, ‘Here fishy, fishy,’” she said.
Bergholtz’s teacher, Kelli Stroh, said the afternoon of ice fishing was a great way for the kids to get out of the classroom and get some hands-on experience with a fun, inexpensive wintertime activity. The cold temperatures, she said, only added to the authenticity of the event.
Alex Bergholtz show off her catch, a tiny king salmon, at the conclusion of her hour of fishing.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
“We were wishing for a little bit warmer weather,” Stroh said. “But this is fun. It’s a true ice fishing experience.”
This is the fourth year Fish and Game has run the ice fishing day at Sport Lake. The event is a small part of a more comprehensive program administered by Fish and Game through area schools that aims to give young students an understanding of the area’s fisheries resources.
Fisheries biologist Patti Berkhahn with Fish and Game in Soldotna said the department runs the Salmonoids in the Classroom program for students in kindergarten through fourth grade. The program, she said, allows students to raise salmon in their classroom in order to learn basic fisheries biology.
“We want to introduce the kids to the life cycle of the salmon,” Berkhahn said of the program.
In addition to raising salmon from eggs, she said, the kids are given a comprehensive understanding of the important role fish play in Alaska. Because harvesting salmon is the best way to see the end result of a sustainable fishery, the ice fishing event is held each year.
“We want to teach them the importance of healthy watersheds,” she said.
Berkhahn said the overall goal of the program is to give students an understanding of how important it is to keep area waterways clean and healthy so that when they’re adults, they take an interest in maintaining the fisheries.
“The goal is that they take on stewardship of their local streams,” she said.
The ice fishing day was one of three held across Alaska this winter, according to Fish and Game educational biologist Fritz Kraus. Kraus said as many as 400 Kenai Peninsula students from five schools Cook Inlet Academy, Kaleidoscope, Chapman Elementary in Anchor Point, Sterling Elementary and Kalifornsky Beach Elementary participated in the Sport Lake event. In addition, approximately 2,200 kids participated earlier this winter in Anchorage, while roughly 800 took part in the Matanuska Susitna Borough.
Kraus said the department provides the ice fishing gear, drills holes in the ice and gives students a few tips on how to keep their rods free of ice. Then, he said, it’s up to the kids to haul in the fish.
“This part of the program is a way to focus on how they can enjoy the resource,” Kraus said.
Despite having a slow day fishing, Kaleidoscope student Connor Johnson said he was pleased with how the afternoon of fishing turned out.
“I just like sitting here on the ice,” he said, casually watching his hole as a piece of shrimp dangled a few feet below the surface of the water. “It’s relaxing.”
Matt Tunseth is a freelance writer living in Kenai.
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