Biology students help stock Mill Creek with rainbow trout

PHOTO COURTESY OF NORA GATHJE Students of the Chatfield biology class assisted Travis Viker from the Lanesboro Fish Hatchery stock Mill Creek with rainbow trout on Tuesday, May 7. Students, from the left, are Ann Warren, Maddie Collett, Hannah Grebin, Jacob Stephas, Katie Ihrke, Sabina Boettcher and Chance Backer.

PHOTO COURTESY OF NORA GATHJE Junior Sabina Boettcher helps transfer rainbow trout from the truck into Mill Creek with a net.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

There was nothing fishy about what Nora’s kids were doing in the creek, except for freeing the rainbow. Nora Gathje and her Chatfield biology students worked with Travis Viker of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Lanesboro Hatchery to stock rainbow trout into Mill Creek on Tuesday, May 7.

“Gathje knew that Lanesboro Fisheries annually stocks rainbow trout into Mill Creek and previously has had a class come assist with stocking,” Viker explained. “Previously, from my understanding, the class had stocked fingerling or young of year trout. This year, because of the timing of a kids’ fishing event the following weekend on Mill Creek, Lanesboro Fisheries was stocking rainbow trout yearlings, or fish of a catchable size.”

Gathje’s students have, in the past, raised trout in the classroom through the Trout in the Classroom (TIC) program of Trout Unlimited, but getting to release fish into the stream is something they’ve gotten to do only a few times.

Viker observed, “It is important for young people to be aware of the natural resources that exist to near where they live. Trout are not found everywhere in the state of Minnesota, and it is a somewhat unique experience to assist in stocking trout. From the perspective of my office, it happens not very often. Schools generally are more interested in a stream sampling or electrofishing demonstration which we perform for at least a couple of school groups annually.”

Viker pointed out some of Gathje’s students may be among the hundreds that have visited the Lanesboro hatchery, but this year has been an exception.

“Students definitely tour the hatchery regularly, and it is coordinated through staff at Lanesboro State Fish Hatchery. Unfortunately for students, the hatchery is under construction,” Viker said.

His supervisor, Scott Sindelar, added, “Due to safety concerns, the Lanesboro hatchery is closed for public tours until construction is complete. Project completion is scheduled for December of this year. However, there may be opportunities to tour other Minnesota hatcheries during this time – additional cold-water hatcheries that raise trout are located in Peterson at the Peterson State Fish Hatchery, in Altura at the Crystal Springs State Fish Hatcher, and Remer at the Spire Valley State Fish Hatchery, and due to limited staff availability, tours should be arranged with staff in advance.”

Viker remarked stocking Mill Creek with Gathje’s students was also a short lesson on stream ecology. “It was a relatively brief experience for them stocking trout. I suggested that if the students haven’t visited a hatchery such as Lanesboro State Fish Hatchery, that they make a visit,” he said. “The hatchery has a much more complete view into the life cycle of trout in regards to different ages of fish. I was able to explain to the kids that the rainbow trout we stocked were hatched around December of 2017 and are now roughly half a pound per fish.”

He enjoys working with high school students because of their willingness to ask questions. “Some students are really interested in what the DNR does and ask lots of questions. I think most of them are just happy to be out in a more natural setting. It’s fun for me to see students’ reactions when they see the trout bouncing around in the net before going in the water,” Viker said.

He added some students are grossed out and others are laughing and excited.

He also likes to quiz students on things like “What are the three trout species located in southeast Minnesota?” and “What is a native species?” or his personal favorite, “What direction does water flow?” (Downhill).

“Students are fun to work with because they are inquisitive and attentive when dealing with an outdoor experience that they may not have had in their lives yet,” Viker said. “I think all the kids take something away from an experience in the outdoors with an outdoors professional.”

Sindelar contributed, “The cold-water hatcheries in Minnesota collectively stock 1.7 million trout into 200 lakes and 100 streams throughout the state. These stocking programs are a critical part of the DNR’s efforts to maintain and enhance fishing in Minnesota and provide angling opportunities that wouldn’t be there without stocking.”

He also noted that the Trout in the Classroom program administered by Minnesota Trout Unlimited, with support from the DNR, helps create new opportunities for classrooms to receive the equipment and eggs for hatching, raising and stocking trout.

“The popular program allows students to gain experience examining water quality, projecting hatch dates, calculating feeding and growth rates and observing developmental changes until the students release the fish in a designated stream,” Sindelar noted.

For more information about the TIC program, contact Amber Taylor, the education program supervisor, at 952-239-6123 or visit