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Students raise steelhead fry, release them in Morgan Lake

Add a new fish to the list of those in Morgan Lake — steelhead.

A total of 198 tiny steelhead were released into Morgan Lake May 20 by students in Michelle Cregger’s sixth grade Nature’s Studies classes. The fish are fry about a half inch long.

Cregger’s students had been raising the steelhead for about six weeks after receiving 400 fertilized eggs from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wallowa Hatchery.

Raising the steelhead was sometimes an intense experience for the students. The eggs were kept in an aquarium for which the water had to be checked frequently for ammonia and acidity levels. These changed rapidly because of the waste released by the tiny fish. Water had to changed often.

Cregger has had her students raise rainbow trout in previous years for release at Morgan Lake. She jumped at the chance to have her students raise steelhead since the fish is distinctive to this region.

Rainbow trout are everywhere through the Northwest, but steelhead are not. The Grande Ronde River has an annual run of steelhead returning from the Pacific Ocean. The run is extremely popular among anglers.

Anglers at Morgan Lake may be catching the steelhead planted by LMS’s students starting in a year or two when they will be big enough to catch. Anglers will never know they are steelhead, though. The fish will look identical to rainbow trout.

Steelhead are essentially rainbow trout that migrate to the ocean where they grow to be much larger than rainbow trout.

The steelhead in Morgan Lake, should they survive to adulthood, will never become bigger than rainbow trout because they are landlocked.  They will look exactly like rainbow trout.

LMS’s sixth-graders raised the steelhead while studying salmon and trout anatomy, fish life cycles, habitat requirements and survival statistics.

Cregger received a permit to allow her students to release the steelhead into Morgan Lake through the ODFW’s Salmon-Trout Enhancement Project. Through the program Oregon teachers can apply to get fish eggs to raise in their classrooms.

The LMS students who came to Morgan Lake to assist with the release included Andrew Branen, Brad Chatfield, James Bartlett, Logan Petty, Jett Hall, Shawn Keeler, Kurt Boyd, Derek Yohannen and Zosha Parker-Halstead.

The students all volunteered to come up on their own time to release the fish.

Morgan Lake now not only has steelhead, but also has rainbow trout, catfish and possibly crappie. Rainbow trout are stocked regularly at Morgan Lake by the ODFW. Catfish and crappie, though, were released there illegally years ago and took hold. It is not known, however, if crappie are still in Morgan Lake.

The lake’s catfish population today is solid. The heaviest fish caught at the annual Morgan Lake Fishing Derby in April was a catfish that weighed 1 pound, 8.8 ounces.

 

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