“Behind you....Flag up!”
With that alert from one of their instructors, several elementary students scampered across the snow-covered ice of Delta Lake toward an ice-fishing hole, where a suddenly upright flag on a “tip-up” device indicated a bite on the sunken end of a baited line.
Ooohs and aaahs followed, with one student jokingly shouting “a goldfish!,” as an approximately 10-inch perch slowly came into view on the line being pulled from the hole.
The catch, only a few minutes after students arrived on the frozen lake Tuesday afternoon, marked a fast start to an ice-fishing expedition for about 50 fourth-graders from Denti and Staley elementary schools.
Among those assisting them were about 13 Rome Free Academy students and about six teachers, plus state environmental conservation officers.
“I think this is...really, really cool,” exclaimed one student with a small fishing pole, shortly after a nearby group learned how to use a hand augur to drill a hole in the ice. “You’re screwing it in the wrong way,” said environmental conservation officer Chrisman Starczek, correcting students to crank the augur in a clockwise direction. One student asked “can we get an electric drill?” shortly before another student reached water with the augur and shouted “I did it!”
Shortly afterward, student Isaiah Campos of Denti pulled out an approximately six-inch perch using a “tip-up” device. While this was “my first time ice-fishing,” he said, he has done some regular fishing including catching a walleye last year. After his perch was released back into the water Tuesday as part of a “catch-and-release” approach, nearby student Karson Iwen at another fishing hole asked about keeping fish caught, adding “I want to bring them home for dinner.”
The trip to Delta Lake State Park was part of a Camp CEAL (Character Education through Adventure Learning) program. It also included a morning ice-fishing session for about 50 fourth-graders from Bellamy and Gansevoort elementary schools. Camp CEAL involves elementary students from the four schools participating in activities led by RFA students.
This was the second Camp CEAL ice-fishing outing to Delta Lake following one in March 2015, said RFA CEAL instructor Melissa O’Rouke, noting that trips planned in 2016 and 2017 were cancelled based on weather conditions; the date for this year’s trip was moved up, in hopes of better conditions.
It is a “great experience for the kids,” including “opening their eyes” to a new activity, O’Rourke said of the ice-fishing trip. Living in upstate New York, “you have to embrace winter” and its associated activities, which can help people be happy and healthier, she remarked. For the RFA students working with fourth-graders, it is “awesome to see them practice skills” such as communication, cooperation, and good decisions, which also can be applied to job skills, she added.
Upon arriving at Delta park, elementary students gathered in the beach house where they were greeted by Starczek and fellow environmental conservation officer Shana Hutton. The officers basically are like game wardens, Starczek told students, but in New York State they have a “fancy name.”
The officers “love hunting and fishing,” Starczek said, and they like to help guide students with that. The ice on the lake was about 14-15 inches thick, “nice and safe,” he added. He pointed out afterward that the school group received a permit through the state for the fishing, while individuals seeking to ice-fish need a license.
Starczek and Hutton emphasized acting safely when ice-fishing, including how to hold the augur; being sure to go inside a tent/shanty by the fishing spots if students felt cold; and to not get involved in horseplay on the ice which can be slippery.
After they went onto the lake with the afternoon group, Hutton said it was “great” that the school district and RFA enable the elementary students to participate in ice-fishing. It is “something a lot of these kids would not have the opportunity to do” otherwise, she added.