History of the Brule River Sportsmen’s Club Aquarium Project
By Dennis Smet
In the summer of 2000, Al Pribnow, a Brule River Sportsmen’s Club board member, came to a board meeting with information on salmon hatching projects that were taking place on both coasts of the U.S. and Canada. As a middle school science teacher at Central Middle School in Superior, I jumped at the idea as did the Club. For $680, the Club purchased an aquarium chiller (to cool the water enough for salmon or trout eggs), and Larry Nelson from the Wisconsin DNR Les Voigt Hatchery donated approximately 400 chinook eggs. We were off and running. Chinook eggs worked well because they were relatively large and tough once they “eyed up.” Chinooks also spawn in the fall, and the eggs “eye up” in November, fitting the school schedule well. The eggs hatched in December and the fry emerged from the gravel in January. In the early spring, Carey Edwards, from the Les Voigt Hatchery gave a presentation to the classes on the life cycle of the salmon. Bill Gobin, from the Wisconsin DNR Brule Rearing Station, or Carey then picked up the fry in April (fry could not be returned to the hatchery due to the possibility of contamination). In late May, we took a field trip to help the Wisconsin DNR plant several thousand fingerlings in the Amnicon River. The project was a huge success.
When I retired in 2001, I turned the project over to Judy Peterson, a fellow teacher in Superior. The Club also purchased a second chiller for the Northwestern Middle School in Maple. Russell Bailey and Jamie Teal share that project. Judy has since moved to the high school and Dan O’Connell has taken over the Superior Middle School project. The Wisconsin DNR planting field trips continued to take place at the Amnicon River boat landing for Northwestern and at Loon’s Foot Landing in Superior for the Superior Middle School.
With the discovery in Lake Michigan of the fish disease viral hemorrhagic septicemia in 2005, the DNR was not able to hatch chinook eggs which were collected from the tributaries of Lake Michigan and brought to the Lake Superior watershed. We tried hatching coaster brook trout from the Tribal Hatchery in Bayfield, but the fry were so small that they got sucked into the aquarium filter. Carey Edwards, who now works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Fish Hatchery in Iron River, suggested that we try hatching lake trout eggs provided by the Iron River Hatchery. Lake trout eggs and fry have traits similar to chinooks and worked very well. We have continued using lake trout eggs ever since. I take the eggs to the schools in October or November depending upon which strain of lake trout is available. Over the years, food for the fish has been donated by either the Wisconsin DNR Les Voigt Hatchery or by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Fish Hatchery in Iron River. Carey Edwards continues to give a classroom lesson on the life cycle of trout and salmon each spring. Since fish are no longer stocked from shore in Lake Superior, the planting field trip has been eliminated. The Ashland Middle School (with Club help) and other schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota have taken up similar projects (with support of local Trout Unlimited Chapters).
Note: For a 3-minute video of a similar project in Bemidji, Minnesota click on Bemidji Trout in the Classroom. The Brule River Sportsmen’s Club offered advice when this project was first beginning.