KETCHIKAN — “We got to miss school and go fishing” Fawn Mountain Elementary School fourth-grader Asher Ilten yelled. He leaned against the railing of the Ketchikan School District’s F/V Jack Cotant while holding up his limp, fiercely spined rockfish.
Cheers flew as grinning kids, stuffed into yellow, red and blue lifejackets jostled to show off their catches of the day.
Fawn Mountain’s counselor, Norm Noggle, held a two-week after-school fishing workshop in April. He then took his 14 fourth- and fifth-graders for a five-hour fishing trip Thursday.
This was the second year that Noggle has conducted the workshop and taken the kids fishing on the Cotant, he said.
“Last year, we were boarded by the Coast Guard,” he said. The students were worried, and had no idea what to expect.
The crewmen “handed out little chits for free ice cream, because they noticed all the kids had their lifejackets on,” Noggle said.
At Fawn Mountain, for one hour per day in the workshop, Noggle taught the students how to tie knots, cast, put line on reels, and identify fish species. He also taught them about Fish and Game regulations, fish habitat and fish-catching strategy.
Noggle brought in experts from the U.S. Coast Guard to teach the students about boat safety, and Fish and Game professionals who taught them about fish species, gave a pop quiz, then coached them through making a “mepps spinner” salmon lure.
He also took his group on a field trip to the Whitman Lake Hatchery, and students asked the staff questions they had created and rehearsed ahead of time.
He said he’d like to add a fly fishing course next year that would teach students about fishing etiquette, how to “read” the water, tie flies and how to cast.
Among schools offering educational fishing excursions is Point Higgins Elementary, where teacher Linnaea Troina will take her fifth graders out on Wednesday. Knudsen Cove Marina sponsors their fishing trip, she said, supplying boats, fuel, and guides.
Ketchikan Charter School teacher Greg Gass also headed up a fishing class this year. Instead of an after-school workshop, his was offered as a physical education elective.
He chuckled when he explained why, out of all the sixth-through-eighth graders who could have participated, only one eighth-grader was in the group of 12 on the fishing trip. Students in eighth grade were allowed to sign up for their choice of elective classes first, and most of them chose more traditional classes, like sports.
Gass laughed and said that the ones who opted out of the fishing class were seriously rethinking their choices when his group was gearing up for the fishing trip.
The group of 12 students milled around the ling cod, yelloweye snapper and rockfish hanging on Clover Pass Resort’s rack. Sixth-grader Brittnee Gibson hovered close to her fish, a ling cod stretching from her shoulder to her ankle.
The best part of the day for Gibson? “The fight,” she said. She added that she learned that “patience is a good thing to have.”
Elijah Murphy, the lone eighth-grader, also caught a hefty ling cod. He said he got into the class accidentally, because, like the other Charter School eighth-graders, he wanted to sign up for more typical elective. He said he was glad he got into the class, however, and his favorite part was actually being able to catch a fish.
To prepare for the fishing trip, as with Noggle’s class, the students studied boating safety, Southeast Alaska fish species, fishing gear and fishing locations. They also wrote a report, Gass said.
The whole class was surprised when resort staff suggested a complimentary guided fishing trip instead of simply offering rented skiffs for the group.
Resort general manager Russell Thomas said that three guides donated their time, the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization donated half of the fuel for the trip, and Alaska Sportfishing Expeditions supported the venture.
Thomas, who is also vice-president of the guides organization, emphasized the equalizing nature of fishing.
“From the poorest person to the person who’s got the most money in the world, there’s all kinds of opportunities for fishing,” he said.
Gass said he hears kids say that there’s nothing to do in Ketchikan, and part of his motivation for taking his students on the fishing trip was to show them that if they change their perspective, they’ll find plenty to do here.
He said he tells them, “Look around you — you can fish anywhere.”