Tying one on

Lessons on salmon extend beyond the classroom

Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2001

Reading, writing and 'rithmetic are essential to schooling, but if kids are growing up on the central Kenai Peninsula, their education cannot be called complete if they don't know their salmon.

Area elementary schools have teamed up with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Aquatic Education Program to make sure young people and young salmon get acquainted.

The program has been going on for years, with seven peninsula schools now rearing juvenile salmon in aquariums.

But Friday a new aspect of the program debuted on the peninsula: fly tying.

Some schools have done fly tying on their own in individual classes or after school clubs, such as one now active at Nikiski Elementary. But this is the first time Fish and Game, which has a popular program making lures in other parts of the state, has gotten involved.

"The fly-tying thing is brand new down here," said Fritz Kraus. "This is the first ever that we've done on the peninsula."


Teacher Bill Vedders helps third-grader P.J. Laws tie a fishing fly during a session combining crafts, fish biology and the central peninsula's favorite summer sport. Vedders is a third-grade teacher at Mountain View Elementary School whose class took part in the workshop.


Kraus, a Fish and Game fisheries biologist, specializes in education outreach to students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Friday he mesmerized a swarm of third-graders at Mountain View Elementary School in Kenai with a hands-on lesson in preparing lures.

Introducing pointy fish hooks into a room full of wriggling 8- and 9-year-olds might seem like a risky situation, but the students were fascinated and well-behaved.

About a dozen adults assisted, including parents, school staff and additional volunteers from the Kenai River Sportsfishing Asso-ciation Inc.

"I think there was only one girl who got a Band-aid. They were focused," said Dave Knudsen, the third-grade teacher who organized Kraus' visit.

The students had to pay attention because of the fine motor skills involved, Knudsen said.

Knudsen's students joined Bill Vedder's class for the program.


Kelsey McCurdy concentrates on making a salmon egg fishing fly Friday. She is a third-grader in Bill Vedder's class at Mountain View Elementary School in Kenai.


Kraus brought a complete set of equipment and supplies, including clamps, hooks, thread and salmon-colored yarn. He set up a closed-circuit television at the front of the class so the children could watch an enlarged version of his manipulations of the tiny pieces.

The children began with a lure shaped like a salmon egg, then progressed to ones mimicking later stages of juveniles. They made an egg, an eyed egg, an alevin and a sockeye fry.

The intent was to tie the fly tying in with their aquarium studies, Kraus said.

Knudsen began making arrangements last spring. He contacted Kraus and got on the list to receive a fish tank and eggs.

The schools received silver salmon eggs from Crooked Creek in September and have been incubating them in temperature-controlled aquariums Kraus set up.

Late in February, the eggs began hatching. The children monitor the tiny fish daily and check the temperature in the tank.

When Kraus visited the school, he adjusted the thermostat to move the aquarium from winter to spring mode.

"Friday he turned the temperature up. They will become more active and develop more quickly," Knudsen said.

By the end of spring break, the salmon fry will have absorbed their yolk sacs and be ready to feed. The children will take turns feeding them.

The third-graders will continue following the progress of the young salmon for the rest of the school year.

Later this spring they will have an opportunity to dissect adult salmon with biologists from the Soldotna Fish and Game office. On May 8, they will join students from around the district attending a salmon celebration at Johnson Lake in Kasilof and help release rainbow trout to stock the popular site.

The salmon they have raised themselves will be released into land-locked peninsula lakes, Kraus said.

The lessons will continue past the end of the school year.

Knudsen said many students have asked when Kraus will return and voiced eagerness to try out their flies this summer.

"I've seen my dad use these," they tell him.

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