Children squeal and shout excitedly as a big catfish thrashes on the line. A mother pulls the fish out of the pond for a moment, but it breaks the line and disappears under the water.
After classroom fishing clinics, Valencia Elementary School students took field trips to Willow Bend recently to learn about fishing and aquatic life at the manmade pond on the east outskirts of Portales.
“I learned that you have to be careful when you’re going fishing, because you could get hurt,” said fourth-grader Xsara Gay.
Xsara’s group visited Willow Bend on Tuesday, the last day of the field trips.
Everyone should go fishing “because it’s fun and you get to learn stuff and see all kinds of fish,” she said.
During the day, fourth-grade teacher Elvira Iturralde said, the students took water samples and looked at them under microscopes to see the tiny invertebrates living there. They drew pictures of the little creatures and discussed the pond’s food chain.
The children also helped clean up around the pond.
To practice writing, they wrote fictional stories about a giant catfish.
Fourth-grade teacher Margarita Pacheco said the students also estimated the water temperature and then measured it.
The day ended with catch-and-release fishing. With help from teachers and parents, children attached hooks and weights to their lines, baited the hooks with Vienna weenie pieces and tried to get a bite.
New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Sport Fishing educator Ti Piper conducted fishing clinics in classrooms a few days before the field trip. He taught about using fishing equipment, fish identification and more.
Piper also accompanied the children to Willow Bend to lead activities there and help with tangled lines and other hang-ups.
“I think it’s a great learning opportunity,” Pacheco said.
The trip may be some students’ only chance ever to fish, she said.
The Game and Fish Department funded the clinics and field trips with money from fishing licenses and a tax on tackle. Piper said the fishing program, available around the state, aims to get people to enjoy the outdoors and fishing.
However, he said, fishing isn’t a topic for schools, so the program incorporates reading, writing, math and science. Piper’s curriculum is very similar to material on state standardized tests, he said.
The Valencia trips were the first time Willow Bend has been open in six years, owner Joe Chandler said. He was able to reopen because the schools are covering liability now.