By Mark Rhodes, Idaho Department of Fish and Game
I can remember a few of my school days, but I don't remember any quite like this one.
On May 28, about 40 fifth-graders from Spirit Lake Elementary spent their "school day" at Round Lake State Park, north of Coeur d'Alene. The curriculum for the day included how to remove the hook from the mouth of a bullhead without getting poked, what type of habitat is needed by a bull trout, and how to cast an open-faced spinning rod.
Idaho Fish and Game conservation officers met the school bus full of students, teachers and some accompanying parents in the mid-morning, and the day of fun and sunshine began.
Senior Conservation Officer Dan Hislop had organized this event with Spirit Lake Elementary fifth-grade teachers. He made sure there was plenty of fishing gear and sunshine. The students and teachers made sure there were plenty of hot dogs and chips.
Senior Conservation Officer Tom Whalen spent time with each group and taught them about the needs that all fish have, particularly bull trout and other threatened species. The students all played a game that taught them about predators, prey and habitat, and they then practiced their fish identification on a cooler full of different species of fish.
After learning the things they needed to know, the real fun started. We went fishing. Every child caught at least one fish, and many caught more than a dozen. The scramble to get fish off the hooks and worms on the hooks was interrupted only by the occasional "snarl" of fishing line, the malfunction of a reel, or the race to look at a turtle.
Several students told me they had never caught a fish before, and many more told me this was probably the best day of school they ever had.
Kudos to Spirit Lake Elementary teachers and administrators for recognizing that not all education should occur in the classroom. I have never been around a better-behaved group, and that speaks volumes for the parents and teachers.
Our part was easy: we just took them fishing and played with them. Come to think of it, it was probably not just the best day of school, but was also one of our best days on the job.
Mark Rhodes is the district conservation officer in the Panhandle Region.