By RALPH BARTHOLDT
The fish were shiny and about the size of a threepenny nail.
They squiggled in the cold water of a blue cooler until Ramsey Elementary School second-graders scooped them one at a time with a small dip net and placed them into the surf of Hauser Lake.
“That one is Bob,” said 8-year-old Farrah Stewart.
When the small kokanee fry was released, a few child onlookers bid the fish goodbye.
“Have a good life,” they piped. Or, “Bye, Bob.”
Ramsey instructor Mandi Weber — in her second year working with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in an effort to teach second-graders about fish commonly found in North Idaho lakes — helped her students release the tiny, living, exclamation marks into Hauser Lake’s wild waters.
The fry had lived in an aquarium before their release early Wednesday, amid chattering kid voices and sparkles of sunlight on the lake’s rippled surface.
As an elementary school teacher in Lewiston several years ago, Weber was introduced to a classroom steelhead rearing program.
When she got a job working in Coeur d’Alene, she brought the idea with her, and has changed up the species of fish her students learn about.
“Last year we raised rainbow,” Weber said. “This year it’s kokanee.”
Although the younger students are responsible for raising the fish from eggs, closely observing them and learning about their life cycles, the experience is spread throughout the school. The fish tanks the kokanee called home until Wednesday are visible from the hallways, so all students can stick their noses against the glass and see what’s happening, and Weber sends school-wide emails to keep students, teachers and parents apprised of the project.
“It’s a good experience,” said Ann Gallardo, Farrah’s mom. “They studied the life cycle from an egg all the way to this point.”
The students fed the fish, monitored water quality and temperature, and grew concerned when the numbers dropped.
“They were pretty invested in it,” Gallardo said.
The fish went from eggs, to alevins that live off their eggs sacks and hide in the gravelly lake or river bottoms, to fry. If they survive in Hauser, they will become parr, then smolts.
Some likely won’t make it to the end of the day.
“That one looks dead,” Collin Thiessen pointed out after releasing a tiny brown fry.
It may be in shock because of the new environment, Weber explained.
Students started the project in December with 250 potential kokanee, but 71 survived to be dipped Wednesday one-at-a-time into the lake, with a final farewell.
“Have a good life,” students called from shore.
Wednesday’s field trip included casting lessons, a visit to Idaho Fish and Game’s fishing trailer, a search and rescue exhibit, games and a scavenger hunt.
Audrey Rhodes, Collin’s mom, said the class also filmed the fish’s life cycles and turned the footage into films.
“They learned technology by making the videos,” Rhodes said. “It’s a neat thing.”