Editor's note: My Back Pages recalls previous columns penned by the author.
My Back Pages:
"Trout in the Classroom"
Fishery program promotes
science and conservation
As students from Sylmar, Calif.'s Harding Street School lined the banks of Piru Creek to release fish they had raised from eggs, fifth-grade teacher Vicki von Arx tried to explain the sadness some were feeling.
"They have mixed feelings," she said. "They know that some will make it and some will not."
After all, the third- and fifth-graders had nurtured the rainbow trout for six weeks, watching them hatch and grow to 1 inch while discovering details about their life cycle and habitat requirements, the importance of water quality and other lessons in conservation and ecology. The culmination of their science project, "Trout in the Classroom," was at hand.
"I'm going to miss them a lot," said Janet Arreguin, 8, of Sylmar. "Some make me laugh when they are running around the little aquarium.
"They helped me by surviving, and now I am surviving like some fish. I'm surviving because I'm learning. I learned what bugs fish eat and all that."
Older students rationalized that letting the trout go was a good thing, a happy occasion.
"It was like exciting because we raise the fish and when they put them back … hopefully they will make more fishes," said Timothy Martinez, 11, of Sylmar.
Embraced by the Los Angeles Systemic Initiative – the L.A. Unified School District's math and science arm – "Trout in the Classroom" introduces children to "yucky" science in a friendly, hands-on manner, sometimes without them realizing it. Moreover, it transcends science, and education itself, covering many varied topics and involving resources outside the school, including the Department of Fish and Game, area fishing clubs, parents and the community at large.
"I think they are getting science and conservation fed to them without knowing they are learning anything. Teachers are sneaking it in on them," said Erwin Goldbloom of West Hills, Calif., education chairman for the Sierra Pacific Fly Fishers, one of more than a dozen Southland fly-angling clubs whose members are program volunteers.
"If the teachers are on the ball, they can go into other offshoots – reproduction, genetics, life cycles of bugs, plant life, the food chain. And spelling, essays, math – what percentage of fish make it, for example," said Goldbloom, donning waders for the Nov. 19 trout release northwest of Castaic, Calif., to help with the collection of insects for basic lessons in entomology. "It also gets them out here, which is nice."
Taught in more than 40 LAUSD classrooms a year, the interest in "Trout in the Classroom" can have a snowball effect, said Chris Holle, LAUSD's science coordinator.
"You see this in more than one class and it excites the imagination of the whole school," Holle said. "It's a way to get the community involved and the parents involved and give them a sense of stewardship. They have a greater sense of responsibility for the environment, so that when they go to it they have a new appreciation and understanding of it."
Sylmar postal clerk Gloria Mendez arranged for a day off to be with her 8-year-old twins, Angelica and Marcos, and help hand out art material for a drawing project that coincided with the trout release. Students also played games, went on a nature walk and studied water conditions. Mendez caught the trout-program bug because Angelica would come home and speak so excitedly about it.
"Almost every day she talks about it," Mendez said. "She then draws pictures of fish and now she likes to eat fish."
"Besides," she said, "this is about science. I like science."
It's exactly the type of comment that fuels science coordinator Holle's passion to turn on a greater audience with programs like "Trout in the Classroom."
Introduced to Southland schools about six years ago by Trout Unlimited and the Southwest Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers, "Trout in the Classroom" is based largely on a curriculum developed in 1988 by a substitute science teacher at a Humboldt County elementary school in northern California.
Diane Higgins wanted to teach fishery science to her students in Eureka, Calif., but was unable to find lesson material. After attending a teacher's workshop dealing with a 1970s British Columbia program of rearing salmon eggs in the classroom, Higgins applied for and received a $12,000 grant to develop a teaching curriculum she called "California's Salmon and Steelhead: Our Valuable Natural Heritage."
Higgins said her lessons are now taught across the state and in parts of Oregon and Nevada. Classrooms are provided with refrigerated trout incubators – purchased either by a fishing club or school district. In California, the Department of Fish and Game supplies rainbow trout eggs. Educators receive DFG-approved training to care for the eggs and to assist them with the curriculum.
"It's boomed. It's gone big," said Daniel Iwata of Fountain Valley, Calif., a member of the Fly Fishers Club of Orange County who was instrumental in ushering "Trout in the Classroom" into the region. "It really gets into the stewardship of nature's resources, and I think that's the important thing."
And if the program develops new anglers, well, Iwata said, "That's an extra kudo."
It already has spawned a few.
"I want to learn how to fish to see how the fishes look when they are adults," said Janet Arreguin.
Would you keep them or release them?
"Release them," she said.
"Because they need some home and they need to protect themselves and make more fish, because without them we won't grow much healthier."
This article originally appeared Nov. 26, 1998, in the Los Angeles Daily News.
Gators, gators and more gators (but that won't be the new name of this blog)
We started the ball rolling with news of large reptiles late last week, and it's become a veritable alligator avalanche ever since.
What is it with stealing gators, anyhow? And gators helping to capture a not-so-grand auto thief? And a gator showing up in a homeowner's kitchen?
Indeed, we kicked off the whole, scaly affair by sharing the story of Texas man who decided in the middle of a getaway from an alleged heist to pull his Buick over and pick up a 6-foot alligator off the road, toss it in his rig and bring it to a friend. (Oh, and this came a day after he apparently did the same to a water moccasin and was bitten by the snake for his troubles.)
Wild stuff, to be certain.
But this wouldn't be Backcasts if it didn't get better, or worse, or both.
Let's move east from the Lone Star State to the land of flamingoes and blue hair – ah, Florida – for three follow-up stories:
Dateline Daytona Beach and another stolen alligator.
This time five college students allegedly attempted to capture a baby gator at a miniature golf course, police told the Orlando Sentinel.
The scene unfolded at Congo River Miniature Golf Course's reptile exhibit, which holds 25 juvenile gators that are between 2½ and 3 feet in length. Four freshmen and a sophomore from nearby Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University were arrested after running from the exhibit.
No word how they got to the golf course, but we have to wonder if they were flying.
Police said that while three students served as lookouts, two others climbed down into the alligator exhibit and tried to make off with baby alligator using a palm frond and duct tape, according to the newspaper's Web site.
The facility's general manager, George King, said a similar incident involving intoxicated North Carolina students occurred at the exhibit eight years ago.
King also wins quote-of-the-day honors as he explained that despite being small in stature, baby gators can deliver a wallop of a bite.
"They may not break a leg or a hand, but they're still extremely dangerous," King states in the article. "If you stick your finger out and they grab it in a death roll, you might lose it. I really don't know for sure because we haven't tried it yet."
You catch the best part? "Yet." We love that. Thanks, George!
Dateline Brevard County and alligators and an ambulance. (We couldn't make this stuff up.)
After eluding police in a stolen ambulance during a three-county chase, with the vehicle's sirens blaring and lights twirling, the alleged perp was finally foiled by alligators lurking on an embankment between him and his freedom, according to Local 6 News.
Indeed, when police finally used stop-sticks on the ambulance, the man fled on foot. He soon stopped in his tracks at the sight of the gators. Jared Crowl was to be charged with grand theft auto and eluding police, according to the TV news station's Web site.
Dateline Oldsmar and a gator that came to dinner.
Well, the 8-foot-long beast may not have dined on anything, but it certainly wasn't invited, either.
Yep, Sandra Frosti, 69, figures the alligator pushed in the screen door on her back porch, then walked through an open sliding glass door and into her living room, before making its way down the hall to the kitchen, the Associated Press reports.
Unbelievable … and even more so that no one was hurt – save for the scaly intruder, which apparently suffered a cut before being removed from the premises by a trapper.
Meanwhile, we promise not to change to name of Backcasts to the Green News, but we can't guarantee reptiles won't on occasion make repeat appearances on these pages.
A taste of the sweet life from "So Many Fish, So Little Time"
We've been remiss at Backcasts in calling out one of our own.
When last we checked in with Amarillo, Texas, free-lance writer and author Mark D. Williams, he was wetting a line from the banks of a lazy flyfishing stream in the Land of Enchantment.
Now the fishing guru checks back in with his latest book, "So Many Fish, So Little Time" (HarperCollins Publishers; $19.95).
The subtitle tells it like it is: "1001 of the World's Greatest Backcountry Honeyholes, Trout Rivers, Blue Ribbon Waters, Bass Lakes, and Saltwater Hot Spots."
Williams offers us a taste of the good life (hey, what's better than getting paid to review fishing locales) with an excerpt from his title:
Location: Northern Idaho
What you fish for: Cutthroat trout
Highlights and Notables: Beautiful wilderness river full of big cutts
In the language of the Nez Perce, the Native Americans indigenous to this land, the word Lochsa means "rough water." Amen.
I was a traitor to Kenny on this river. He and I were fishing, the trout were rising to caddis and the day was sunny. We leapfrog pools, staying within sight (and bragging vision rights) and I was about to walk wide around his pool when I noticed him fiddling with his leg.
As I approached, I saw two remarkable things: 1) Kenny's leg was impaled on a sharp branch of a fallen log and 2) a fat trout rising at the tail of the most beautiful pool I'd ever seen. Normally, my fishing buddy instincts would take over and I would have helped him remove his leg from his entrapment. It was an ugly bloody wound, weird looking. It looked like Kenny had super-glued a four inch sharp stick to the front of his calf muscle.
He had stepped over the log and half-fell, caught himself and realized he wasn't going anywhere. The long skinny sharp branch went through clean as an arrow.
Here's where I departed from my normal help-Kenny-once-again nature. I don't know why I bailed but this is what happened:
1. I said something warm and fuzzy, like "Ouch, man, I bet that smarts" or "I feel your pain." That led him to believe I was sympathetic and might actually help him.
2. Without him noticing, I cast to the middle of the dark pool, drifted in the rising trout's lane and then caught the 19-inch cutthroat, got it's head up, brought it in, netted and held it up for him to see as he broke the stick off from the log and stood there looking helpless with a small tree protruding from the front of his leg.
3. I said nothing when he asked me this: "Did you just fish my pool?"
4. I just hung my head.
It was the wrong thing to do, taking a man's pool, catching his big trout. There are plenty of pools up and down the river. I didn't need to steal his. I should have been performing emergency surgery on his calf muscle. But damn, that fish was fat.
He yanked the stick out and bled like a stuck pig. I leapt two pools ahead of him for the rest of the day and both of us caught a lot of cutthroats. Fine ones. Great colors. They ranged from 12 to 16 inches. They held in deep runs. Dark pools. Pocket water. IN the riffles.
These beautiful cutts were everywhere and we caught lots. But none were as long or heavy-bodied or soulful as the stolen-pool trout. Kenny still whines about the stolen trout to this day. And he has two nice scars to prove it happened, to throw in my face. I don't even say a word, just let him babble. I still got the fish after all. Rough water.
The reason you don't see the Lochsa on everyone's list of top trout rivers in America is because this diamond is so far away from anything and everything. If the vodka-clear Lochsa wasn't so far from Texas, I'd fish it a lot. Not much has changed about this river since Lewis and Clark floated it in 1805.
The highway that runs along the river wasn't there, of course, but it is named the Lewis and Clark Highway. And given how easy it is to access the Lochsa, the fishing pressure is low. Nearby Kelly Creek doesn't get much fishing pressure and I'm of the opinion that the Lochsa gets even less.
Westslope cutthroats and rainbows of good size populate the river. Chinook salmon and steelheads move into the river when it's their season. Come spring, the great rapids and drops and fast water means that whitewater enthusiasts show up and clog up the river.
The Lochsa is a sanctuary, one of the greatest unknown fishing getaways in America. You're as likely to see MT or WA plates as those from ID. If you see TX, find me and fish with me. We can leapfrog pools.
Thanks, Mark, and we may well check back in with you for another "taste" at a later date.
Contact Mark D. Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author: Brett Pauly spent nearly six years editing and publishing ESPNOutdoors.com before moving on to produce the ESPN.com Sports Travel site. He is a national award-winning writer and editor with 14 years of experience in the newspaper trade, including stints at the Los Angeles Daily News and Seattle Times. The Evergreen State is where he now makes his home. Click here to email him.