Science class had a fishy twist to it last Tuesday as 18 West Yellowstone School students participated in the Take-a-Kid Fishing Program.
The eighth-grade science and Biology II classes, along with teacher Sara Hoovler, hopped on a bus and met up with 12 volunteers for a day of guided fly-fishing on the Madison River.
Vehicles brimming with a variety of flies, waders, fly rods, boots and extra layers of clothing were lined up at the Three Dollar Bridge parking area as students got off the bus and suited up for the water.
Dennis Alverson, a former director of the Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana, tried the program out in Livingston and local outfitter Joe Moore wanted to bring it to West Yellowstone.
"All of the FOAM board members were together. We thought, 'Let's take this back to our communities,'" Moore said.
Alverson created the program in 2010 with several goals in mind, as outlined on FOAM's website, www.foam-montana.org.
The program aims to introduce kids ages 11 through 16 to fly-fishing and several of the sciences associated with fishing, like icthyology (fish), macroinvertebrate biology (fish bugs) and limnology (rivers).
West Yellowstone students met all of those goals as they spent the day recreating on the Madison River and learning about their local surroundings.
They had to do more than get a permission slip signed to be able to go on the trip though.
West Yellowstone students were required to get signatures from five teachers and donated two hours of community service, as a way to pay back the community for sponsoring them in the program.
Hoovler noted that her Biology II students pitched in to help write the proposal for a West Yellowstone Foundation grant that was used to assist with the fieldtrip. The grant covered the expenses for bus transit to and from the school, the cost for substitute teachers and lunches for the day.
The group also received a fishing license waiver for May 22 from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
And, there couldn't have been a better spot to take the crew of students.
"This is a good site for a larger group like ours because they can go up and down the river and both sides of the bridge," Hoovler said.
Once the students were assigned to guides for the day, the fishing ramped up.
"So today, we're going to cast the line up stream and then down a little bit," Mike Swanson, a guide for Bud Lilly's Trout Shop, said as Moore, outfitter Jonathan Heames and eighth-graders Trent Golloday and Garrett Arnado made their way down the riverbank.
Swanson added, "Presentation is the secret to fly-fishing."
Students learned about various casts, like roll casts and back casts and practiced mending the line while their fly drifted in the water.
It was a successful day on the river, whether students caught a few fish, or learned how to put on a set of waders and picked up a fly rod for the first time.
"In fly-fishing, it's not about catching fish all the time. That's the goal, but look at where we are, one of the most beautiful places in the world," Swanson said.
A sign with an acknowledgement welcomes visitors to the Three Dollar Bridge Fishing Access Site.
The acknowledgement shares a special story with visitors about the access site.
The Three Dollar Bridge Fishing Access Site is a 100-acre property with three miles of frontage on the Madison River. The sign reads that for decades, the owners of the historic Candlestick Ranch allowed river access in that location in exchange for a $3 parking fee, but this tradition of public fishing was in serious jeopardy when the property was put up for sale. It continued, that in response, thousands of anglers from across the country gave generously to ensure that this section of the Madison River would be preserved and open to the public. On June 27, 2002, Montana FWP completed the funding package with fishing license dollars and acquired the property for a permanent fishing access site. A long list of organizations and individuals are listed on the sign that were part of the effort to secure the access site.
"They saved it (as public land) for you and me and a lot of people so that they can go fishing," Moore said.
And, the kids did indeed go fishing.
Alice Owsley, of Riverside Anglers, congratulated eighth-grader Natalie Schmier on her "big old rainbow." Schmier reeled in a 19-inch rainbow trout before it was time to break for lunch.
Classmate Olivia Gospodarek caught a rainbow trout and Andrew Borash caught four fish throughout the day with outfitter Justin Spence, of West Yellowstone Fly Shop.
"The first fish I ever caught was a rainbow trout," Borash said.
He learned that casting and keeping his fly rod up could help him land the fish.
"I've never been fishing with a guide before, except for my dad," he said.
Spence explained that the weather can also play a key role in fishing. Bugs and fish are more active in warmer temperatures.
"Just in the last half hour, as it warmed up, you could tell the difference in the feeding," Spence said. "That's pretty typical in the spring like this. It's more of an afternoon fish than a morning," he said.
Borash landed a rainbow trout using a Red San Juan worm as the fly of choice.
"This fly is a good early season fly, when the water is high," Spence said of the red fly, meant to imitate a worm.
Junior Nick Liszka, of the Biology II class, who had a variety of flies lining the rim of his hat, enjoyed fishing the Madison during a typical school day.
"It's a really neat experience to go out with all these guides and my friends fishing," he said.
Eighth-grader Bailee Parker added, "When you're in doubt, strike."
She was told that valuable piece of information by outfitter Mark Johnson as they fished a spot on the Madison alongside her classmates.
"I really want to give Joe (Moore) a lot of credit for today," Hoovler said while everyone took a lunch break. "He's the one who really pulled the whole trip together, and of course, all the guides who donated their time for the day."
The 12 guides, outfitters and fly shop employees from the West Yellowstone area that volunteered their day for the Take-a-Kid-Fishing Program fieldtrip included: outfitter Jonathan Heames, outfitter Travis Hansen, of Yellowstone Fishing Guides, Mark Johnson and John Gospodarek of Jacklin’s Fly Shop, Mike Loebl, of Madison River Outfitters, outfitter Alice Owsley, of Riverside Anglers, Justin Spence, outfitter/owner of West Yellowstone Fly Shop, outfitter Steve Hoovler, of Oarsmen Expeditions, outfitter Drew Mentzer and Tylor Robinson, of Blue Ribbon Flies, outfitter Joe Moore, of Big Sky Anglers and Mike Swanson, of Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop.
Waders were provided by Blue Ribbon Flies, Madison River Outfitters, West Yellowstone Fly Shop and Yellowstone Fishing Guides.
"The other guides all had waders that were used as well. Each guide brought along a rain jacket just in case we needed it – and we did," Moore said.
The guides also provided rods, reels and flies for the trip.
"Dick Greene at Bud Lilly’s prepared a dozen flies in a fly box for each kid to take home with them. He also called Simms (in Bozeman) and got them donate hats and then Dick and Barb (Klesel) paid for the embroidery of their logo," Moore said.
FOAM gave each student on the trip a t-shirt.
With rain, rushing springtime waters and a valuable learning experience, the Take-a-Kid Fishing Program fieldtrip was certainly a day to remember.