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Learning on the fly

Fish and Game program weaves biology, fly tying

Posted: Friday, February 28, 2003

"Is this science?" came the question from somewhere amidst the hubbub of a Nikiski Elementary School classroom of fifth- and sixth-graders huddled around fly-tying vises.

"Who ever said science can't be fun?" came the reply from Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Fritz Kraus, an instructor for the Division of Sport Fish's STREAM (Salmon Trout Restoration Education and Aquatic Management) Program.

Any good angler, especially a flyfisher, also needs to be part amateur biologist, and as part of the STREAM Salmonids in the Classroom curriculum, Kraus has been on the Kenai Peninsula this week helping elementary school students make the jump from classroom biology to creekside casting.

"(The Division of Sport Fish's) goal is to not only increase awareness of the resource, but also teach kids how they can go out and enjoy it," Kraus, also known affectionately as Fish Guy, said.

To that end, Kraus has been helping student-anglers apply some of the salmon biology they've learned this year to craft four basic flies that could be used on any salmon stream in Alaska: an egg pattern, an eyed egg, an alevin and a fry.

Helping out with the program this year are Kraus' comic foil Craig Baer, who works with Fish and Game out of the Palmer office; Tracy Smith, who works out of the department's Anchorage office; and Patti Berkhahn, a fishery biologist from the Soldotna office.

 

Katrina Truesdell displays the four flies she made during the class at Redoubt Elementary School. From left, an alevin, an egg, an eyed egg and a fry.

Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

The biology lesson started last fall when classes picked up salmon eggs to place in incubator tanks in their schools. As students watch the eggs go through the four stages of development, they also receive a hands-on lesson in the form of a fish dissection.

The biology lesson culminates with the release of the fry into land-locked lakes -- Kraus pointed out that the STREAM Program was an educational program, not an enhancement program -- and a salmon festival at Johnson Lake State Recreation Area in May.

Because students have watched the eggs develop, they also glean an understanding of when to use the different patterns to attract fish that feed on developing salmon, namely rainbow trout, Dolly Varden char and grayling.

The eggs, students observed, should work best in early fall, when salmon are in the stream spawning. The eyed egg should be effective in late fall, while the alevin should be an attractive pattern in late winter and early spring. The fry pattern should be effective about the same time students will be releasing their incubator-reared fry salmon, in late spring and early summer.

Kraus said fly tying was something he'd wanted to do since he started the STREAM Program in 1991 -- introducing kids to sport fishing is one of the program's goals -- but it took a lot of help to get the fly-tying classes off the ground.

"Fly tying was something I'd wanted to do, but I didn't really know how to do it," Kraus said. "We got some volunteers together.

 

Fritz Kraus, a fisheries biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, uses a digital projector to teach students at Redoubt Elementary School how to tie a fly. The students converted four bare hooks into four tiny fishing lures and learned about the life stages of salmon in the process.

Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

"It's perfect, because it not only ties into fishing, but also into the life cycle."

Kraus said a big part of the program's success was due to funds provided by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association to buy vises and tools, as well as Eagle Claw, which supplies the size 8 egg hooks and streamer hooks the program uses.

From there, Kraus has been able to break the techniques of tying the four flies down to the basics, including his highly technical terms for pink chenille, flat pearl braid and orange yarn: pink fuzzy stuff, shiny stuff and orange fluffy stuff.

Kraus said he does have students ask where they can continue learning the art of fly tying, and recommends local tackle shops and sporting goods stores as good place to start. The Alaska Flyfishers, a club based in Anchorage, also provides a wealth of information on its Web site at www.akflyfishers.org.

Kraus and his merry band of fly tyers wrap up their swing across the peninsula today with classes at Chapman Elementary in Anchor Point and the Ninilchik School, where a special presentation will be made to Zac Cooper. Cooper's artwork has been selected for the cover of the 2003 Southcentral Alaska Sportfish regulations booklet.

Other peninsula schools involved in the program include Sterling Elementary, Nikiski Elementary, Redoubt Elementary, Kalifornsky Beach Elementary and Mountain View Elementary.

In all, Kraus figures he will have taught 2,000 students to tie the four patterns by the end of the school year in 100 schools from the peninsula, Anchorage, the Matanuska and Susitna valleys, Fairbanks and Kodiak.

"They all get to keep their flies," Kraus said. "Hopefully, they go fishing with them."



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