By Diana Miller

The anatomy lesson is always one of my favorite parts of the Adopt-A-Trout program. Students tend to divide into two groups: those enthralled and those grossed out.

The Adopt-A-Trout program in Wyoming is a partnership between Trout Unlimited and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department designed to bridge the gap between science and education in the world of fisheries.

Students watch a biologist work a trout as part of the Adopt-A-Trout program in Wyoming. Courtesy Diana Miller/Wyoming Game and Fish.

Since its inception, the Adopt-A-Trout program has been implemented eight times in the Teton County School system in Jackson, but until 2016, the program was applied inconsistently, whenever it might fit into busy schedules.

Since 2016, all 7th grade students at Jackson Hole Middle School have taken part in the Adopt-A-Trout program. Each student participated in two field days and five classroom days during the school year. Field days were organized into six, 20-minute learning stations that the student rotated through. Classroom days consisted of lessons presented during the regularly scheduled science class period.

The certificate students get while participating in the Adopt-A-Trout program in Wyoming. Courtesy Diana Miller/Wyoming Game and Fish

The “Whoa” Moment

During our recent Adopt-A-Trout program this fall, a girl, I’ll call her Wendy, was firmly entrenched in the grossed out camp until we started identifying organs. Wendy slowly inched closer and closer to the dissection tray until she was next to it, pointing to the heart, the stomach and other internal organs. I watched Wendy reach out to touch the slimy skin of the fish and pull away quickly then reach back a second time to get a better feel. Her eyes got big as she murmured “whoaaaa” before letting the next student have a turn.

Biologists visit the classroom to walk through the anatomy lesson of the Adopt-A-Trout program in Wyoming. Courtesy Diana Miller/Wyoming Game and Fish.

Seeing that change in Wendy was really a rewarding experience and it made me wonder, with a bit of invested hope, what career path she will end of taking in life.

The program was created by Trout Unlimited staff and the Wyoming Council of Trout Unlimited as a surrogate for the similar Trout in the Classroom program that has been implemented in schools nation-wide. Unfortunately, the Trout in the Classroom program is not ideal in Wyoming due to the regulations governing the raising, transport, and stocking of fish. The required permitting and inspections make it costly and time intensive to implement, so Adopt-A-Trout was born.

Getting up close and personal with trout

The goals of the Adopt-A-Trout program are: to spark children’s curiosity and interest in fish, fishing, aquatic habitats and watersheds; to engage children in the skills and knowledge needed to have fun fishing and recreating on the water; to teach students about the underwater world; to give students the opportunity to get to know fish up close and personal; and to involve students in a real research study where they contribute to local science in their community.

Students learn about all living things in the river during the Adopt-A-Trout program in Wyoming. Courtesy Diana Miller/Wyoming Game and Fish.

Students learn about, and witness, electrofishing, fish tagging and the insertion of transmitters in trout so they can how research is conducted. They also learn about fish passage, water quality and aquatic macroinvertebrates.

Students get to watch a telemetry device being placed in a trout as part of the Adopt-A-Trout program in Wyoming. Courtesy Diana Miller/Wyoming Game and Fish

Serious Science

By partnering with the Wyoming Game & Fish Department in an ongoing movement study, Trout Unlimited is able to incorporate actual research into the program. Adopt-A-Trout has been implemented numerous times in Wyoming over the last decade but nowhere more consistently than Jackson, Wyoming.

The Adopt-A-Trout program not only provide agencies with funds to devote to research projects, but informs and connects students to the local landscapes where they live. It gives them a deeper understanding of fisheries, watershed, and how they fit into that big picture.

Diana Miller is a fisheries biologist for Wyoming Game and Fish based out of the Jackson area. She is also a member of the Jackson Hole Trout Unlimited Chapter and serves as the conservation chair for the Wyoming Council of Trout Unlimited. You may recognize her from the Fly Fishing Film Tour fan favorite “The Return”, which documented the return of Yellowstone cutthroat trout in Yellowstone Lake and its tributaries.