Students at several Kenai Peninsula elementary schools got a chance to see yet another stage in the life cycle of salmon last week.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which sponsors several classroom and outdoor activities for schoolchildren statewide, brought its ice fishing unit to the peninsula Wednesday. The program, which provides all the necessary tools and instruction for students to fish, has been offered for years in the Anchorage and Matanuska Valley areas. Last week's program was a first for the Kenai Peninsula, though.
On Wednesday, students from Kaliforn-sky Beach, Mountain View, Sterling, Tustumena and Sears elementary schools took turns visiting Sport Lake in Soldotna for one-hour fishing trips.
Fish and Game staff members gave students a brief overview of the process of ice fishing, then set kids loose with poles and bait to try their luck in the predrilled holes on the lake.
Decked out in snowpants, hats, boots and gloves, the kids seemed impervious to the winter chill which thankfully was several degrees warmer Wednesday than it has been in weeks taking breaks from fishing to make snow angels and test the lake temperature with their fingers.
But, ultimately, the trip was about fishing, and that's what dominated most of the kids' attention.
K-Beach sixth-grader David Buben tries out a different technique of ice fishing, looking through the drilled hole into the water below. "I just heard this girl kept on catching a lot of things after sticking her head in there," he said.
Photo by Jenni Dillon
For many of the children, Wednesday was their first opportunity to try out the winter sport.
K-Beach Elementary sixth-grade Cam-eron Mullan said he'd done plenty of "regular" fishing, but had never been out on a frozen lake with a pole before.
"This is just fun," Cameron said. "You just sit here, throw the line out and work it."
David Buben, another K-Beach sixth-grader, agreed.
"It's cool," he said. "You've got to be patient, though. If they're not biting for a while, you wait and bob it up and down."
For several of the students, patience paid off.
"I never thought I would get one," smiled Jonah Lange, a K-Beach sixth-grader, examining a bagged king salmon.
Just an hour into the day, the 75 K-Beach students participating in the program had caught 31 fish, and plenty more were expected through the afternoon.
Fish and Game stocks Sport Lake annually with both king salmon and rainbow trout, but the salmon were the only ones biting Wednesday.
That actually worked out well, as Fish and Game's educational programs focus primarily on salmon, said Fritz Kraus, a department staff member from Anch-orage.
Kraus explained that the department teams with schools statewide to supplement science lessons, particularly for sixth-graders. Students participate in summer "egg takes," collecting unhatched salmon to raise in classroom incubators. They follow the life cycles of the fish throughout the school year, also participating in salmon dissections, ecosystem and watershed studies and recreation activities, like ice fishing and fly tying. The year of study culminates with a "Salmon Celebration," in which students host booths on various aspects of Alaska wildlife, ecology and sport and release their incubated salmon into a landlocked lake.
Kraus said the program reaches thousands of Alaska students each year and is well-received, likely because salmon are such a central part of Alaska life.
"On the peninsula, especially, most of the kids have some sort of relationship with salmon," he said. "There's some tie to the resource, and that's why it's such a neat educational tool. They know something about (salmon), and they want to know more."
And helping kids know more about the resources around them is important to Fish and Game, Kraus said.
"We want them to understand how fish work, how to enjoy and take care of them, so they're around forever," he said. "We want to get them more tuned into the resource."
Craig Baer, another Fish and Game employee, said it's not just about fishing, either.
"Maybe they'll never fish again," he said. "But hopefully, they'll understand the watershed."
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