November 14, 2012

For the first time in 7 years, the Trout in the Classroom (TIC) program in Southern Virginia will be raising all 3 of Virginia's trout species, Browns, Rainbows and Brooks.  This unique approach to conservation education engages students, teachers and the public, educating all on the importance of protecting our valuable water resources.  TIC is an exciting program developed by Trout Unlimited over 30 years ago and established in Virginia in 2005 by local orthodontist, Dr. David Jones.  

Currently, the program is under the direction of the Dan River Basin Association with funding from the Harvest Foundation, and additional sources for tanks in North Carolina.  The local TIC program in Southern Virginia has grown to include around 30 tanks in schools throughout 4 counties.  Last year the program was introduced across state lines to Rockingham County in North Carolina, increasing the program to 5 counties. The program has also developed statewide under the direction of the Virginia Trout Unlimited State Council and currently there are 200 tanks in schools across the state.

Hillary Robinson, Fieldale/Collinsville Middle School 6th grade Science Teacher's class, was the first to receive Brook trout eggs. A former staff member of DRBA, Mrs. Robinson was thrilled to have her class get Brook trout eggs. "I absolutely love DRBA's mission and what the organization has to offer for our community and I am equally as excited as my students are to be able to participate in TIC this year with Brook trout. I think it is going to be a great learning experience for my students as well as for me" stated Mrs. Robinson.

Each year over 2000 students and teachers participate in the program and raise trout from eggs to fingerlings, release them into our local streams and learn about conservation and resource protection in the process.  Once teachers and students get their trout tanks prepared, they anxiously await the arrival of trout eggs, usually in late fall or early winter. This year however, some teachers were lucky enough to get their tanks up and running early enough to receive Brook trout eggs!   For the past 6 seasons of TIC, only Brown trout were raised in the local Southern Virginia TIC program while Brook trout were raised in other parts of the state.

Brown trout eggs are picked up in December from the Wytheville State Hatchery and delivered to area schools.  Last season, DRBA staff also picked up Rainbow trout eggs. Most of the Browns and all of the Rainbows were released in the Smith River.  Some Browns were
released in the Dan River at Kibler Valley and some were even released in the upper portions of the Smith River near Woolwine.  A special permit has to be obtained from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) for each location where trout are released. The Smith River through Henry County is a trout stream due to presence of cold water coming from Philpott Lake at the base of the dam. Trout need this cold clean water to survive and the 45 degree water from the deep lake keeps the river cool for nearly 30 miles and provides good habitat. Brown trout were originally stocked in the river in the early 1960's and the population adapted to environmental conditions there. The Smith River became home to a reproducing population of Browns and they are still a consistent draw for anglers wishing the catch a "wild" Brown trout in Virginia.

This year the Dan River Basin Association requested that VDGIF allow the TIC program to raise brook trout in addition to Browns and Rainbows.  Education Outreach Coordinator, Krista Hodges obtained permission from the Scott Smith of VDGIF to raise brook trout for
release in the Smith River.  "Brook trout are Virginia's only native species of trout and we are very excited to have the opportunity to raise them in the TIC program," according to Brian Williams, DRBA Program Manager. "The Smith River has a large population of wild Browns
(meaning they reproduce in the river) but they are native to Europe and the Rainbows stocked in the river are native to the western part of our country, so "brookies" are our one true native species and are really special to us."  

The Brook trout eggs were obtained from Paint Bank State Hatchery and delivered to seven schools as well as the education department at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. "This is very special for us to be raising all 3 of the common trout found in Virginia's rivers and streams this year and it's important that the museum begin working with Brook trout as well. Future plans for the new Wild Waters of Virginia exhibit at the museum include a trout tank with the native Brook trout," said Krista Hodges. "We are the only program to raise all 3 of these trout during the same season and since the eggs arrive at an earlier time than the Browns and Rainbows, this will also allow us to hold school trout releases at various times throughout the spring."

"Approval from VDGIF to raise Brook trout in the TIC program was the first step and once that was secured we obtained the eggs for our program from the Paint Bank Hatchery", said Brian Williams. Brook trout generally are found in the smaller streams across the state but they can live in the larger streams as well. It will be interesting to see how they do and if they find a niche in the Smith River and begin to grow and reproduce.  "We appreciate all the VDGIF has done to help and encourage the TIC program; without them, this would not be possible," said Brian. "There are several streams across the state where Browns, Brooks and Rainbows
can be found living together, and as a fly fisherman, I can tell you it's a real
treat to be able to catch a Brown, Rainbow and Brook all in the same day from
the same stream," he added.

"The students and teachers really light up as soon as they find out their eggs have arrived" says Krista Hodges, "and this year it's even more exciting with the arrival of the
brookies."  The trout eggs are carried inside of a wet cheese cloth bundle containing around 200 eggs at the "eye-up" stage and are almost ready to hatch.  In about 3 weeks the Brook trout will begin to feed and by December, the remaining schools will be ready to receive Brown and Rainbow trout eggs.

"You can see the incredibly positive effect TIC has had on our area as more students, teachers and parents are aware of the importance of conserving and protecting our greatest natural resource.  We not only get our drinking water from the Smith River but we also know that a great fishery attracts tourism.  Paddling, fishing, nature trails and the other amenities help make our area more attractive for tourism and for companies and people looking for a great place to live," said Dr. David Jones, founder of the TIC program in Virginia.  "Each year we see student's lives changed by the program and each year we see a new awareness for our natural areas and just what an incredible resource we have in the Smith River. Through Dan River Basin Association, TIC has grown to be the largest single program of its kind in the country and the addition of Brook trout this season has brought it to a whole
new level, it's very exciting," added Jones. 

The students learn how to take care of the trout and provide them with a healthy environment to grow over the next six months preparing them for release into our local streams.
"The program focuses on clean water and healthy rivers and teaches the students
the importance of trout as an indicator species in our streams," according to
DRBA Executive Director, Tiffany Haworth.  The students also learn the value of a clean
river and a balanced ecosystem.  The program is not only exciting for the students but it also instills a conservation ethic where they learn good stewardship and what it takes to keep
their own local waterways and environment clean forever." 

The trout release schedule will be posted on the DRBA website ( and the Trout in the Classroom Southern Virginia Facebook page in March of 2013 and the public is
invited to attend releases at the announced locations.