VIDEO: ‘Trout Technicians’ DNR, Trout Unlimited again bring trout eggs to be raised in the classroom

BEMIDJI -- Tony Standera stood at the front of Jeff Wade's fifth-grade classroom Thursday at Northern Elementary, pondering the best way to deliver some frightening news.

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Gavin Johnson starts to pour 500 brown trout eggs into an aquarium in Jeff Wade’s fifth-grade classroom at Northern Elementary. This is the ninth year that Wade and his students have teamed with Trout Unlimited and the Minnesota DNR to raise trout. The fish will eventually be stocked into a local stream. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Tony Standera stood at the front of Jeff Wade’s fifth-grade classroom Thursday at Northern Elementary, pondering the best way to deliver some frightening news.

It was about the two brown pitchers that sat on a nearby table -- more specifically, the soon-to-be creatures hiding inside.

Some day, those tiny orange eggs will hatch, Standera said, and some of the fish will grow up, “and they’re going to start eating their brothers and sisters.”

For a moment, silence.

Then the squirming, red-cheeked kids cracked missing-tooth smiles, as if they’d just had a brilliant idea about their own siblings.


Wade’s class looks forward every year to filling their fish tank with trout eggs, checking the tank each morning to see if they’ve hatched, and once they have, giving them pellets of fish food, hoping they’ll live long enough and grow strong enough to be released into the wild in the spring.

“I was thinking about this all last night when I was going to sleep,” said 10-year-old Kiera Nelson. “I couldn’t wait to wake up.”

This year’s batch of eggs will grow into brown trout, and in Joe Adams’ class in the next room, students are raising rainbow trout, though the eggs are indistinguishable: orange and pea-sized, appearing like a half-carved jack-o’-lantern with a pair of black eyes.

Standera prepped the class for nearly half an hour, explaining that trout like their water around 50 degrees, since they can’t control their body temperature like humans can.

“We stay about 98 degrees,” he told the class.

“It’s 98.6,” one boy said.

Standera, who works for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, explained that trout like their food in small, digestible bits.

The stuff “looks like coffee grounds,” he said, “so don’t let Mr. Wade confuse it with his coffee.”


Wade’s classes have been raising trout for the past nine years. He used to take the kids on fishing expeditions with Steve Young, a volunteer with the local chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Then Young had a better idea: “How exciting to have this in our classroom,” Wade said.

The eggs come from the DNR, purchased by Trout Unlimited with grant money.

For the rest of the year, students will be “trout technicians,” keeping an eye on water temperature and food supply, using turkey basters to vacuum up eggshells and the remains of unlucky fish.

When it was time to move the eggs into their new home, the kids rushed out of their seats, knocking elbows, jostling around the tank to get the best view.

Moving carefully, almost in slow-motion, fifth-grader Codey Dahl poured the eggs into two baskets near the water’s surface, trying his best to follow the golden rule regarding eggs.

“I think there are too many in this basket,” he said.

Of the 500 eggs in Wade’s tank, maybe 100 will survive until May, when the kids head out to Clearwater River and let the lucky few swim free.


The DNR tallies the river’s trout population in September, usually finding a handful of fish whose origins trace back to Northern Elementary classrooms.

The fish are about 4 inches long by the fall, but some get a head start.

Young, from Trout Unlimited, said most fish are about 2 inches when the kids set them free, releasing them to sink or swim, like their own flesh and blood.

But last year, there was a monster fish. Cannibalism was its job and its pastime.

“That sucker was 4 inches when we let it go,” Young said.

The poor brothers and sisters.


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