Students lined up to carry a bucket with a flopping, splashing rainbow trout down to the bank of Johnson Lake before releasing the juveniles into the water during the annual Salmon Celebration Thursday in Kasilof.
Over 1,000 elementary students helped to stock the lake with rainbow trout catchables from the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery in Anchorage, as part of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Sports Fish’s stocking program, said Jenny Gates, fisheries bioligist with the division.
“I like how we got splashed by the fish and it flip-flopped around,” said Alena Ellis from Nikiski North Star Elementary.
The day brought students from all over the Kenai Peninsula to learn about everything salmon, and all things environmental.
“This is kind of the end-of-the-year event for our Salmon in the Classroom program,” Gates said. “We have tons of different agencies here with different activities, so lots to do, lots to see and hopefully, lots to learn as well.”
Before releasing their trout, the students stopped to practice some fly-fishing. Then they had a chance to spin the “Salmon Wheel of Misfortune,” which would guide them through the different fates of a salmon’s life cycle. Students also had the chance to identify hides and skulls of different native peninsula animals.
“Most of the things there, I’ve already felt because I shot a black bear and a mountain goat,” said Carter Lemons of Connections Home School. “But it’s cool still.”
Kids could then move on to the “You Don’t Know Scat” table or try their hand at playing “Eye Spy Water Fowl,” before learning about the different macroinvertebrates found in waters on the peninsula.
“Days like today provide a great opportunity for local kids to learn more about salmon and the environment around them,” said Maggie Haring of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, who was guiding students through the early stages of a salmon’s life cycle — eggs and alevins.
At the stocking station, students held on tightly to their trout’s bucket to ensure they made it to the bank of Johnson Lake without flipping or flopping out.
“I just love the fish! We learned that you can’t touch them without having wet hands or they will get hurt,” said Landon Turner of Mountain View Elementary.
“There are so many kids here, and it’s great to see the excitement they have about the fish,” said Chris Guo of the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve.
Throughout the year, the schools work with the Salmon in the Classroom program which brings the salmon life cycle into the curriculum.
“Classes get to attend another field trip in October and come to our egg tanks where we spawn a couple of coho salmon,” Gates said. “Some fertilized eggs go back to their classroom and students get to watch the eggs develop throughout the school year, monitoring the different life stages.”
During the Salmon Celebration activities, some of the classes were able to bring their salmon from the classroom and release them in Arc Lake, just outside of Soldotna.
“It’s just a lot of fun. You get 1,000 kiddos out here and it’s a little nervewracking leading up to it, but that all melts away,” Gates said.
Each student was able to release two rainbow trouts into Johnson Lake — although some took a third or fourth opportunity — so the lake should be well stocked for the upcoming summer season.