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Tiger muskie experiment offers alt-ed for students

Limon High School junior Blake Paintin releases a netful of tiger muskies into Harvey Gap Reservoir north of Silt on Thursday evening. Paintin was part of a group of students at the school who raised tiger muskies for Colorado Parks and Wildlife to stock at the reservoir. Paintin says the work has interested him in pursuing a possible career in aquaculture with the agency.

Limon High School junior Blake Paintin, left, and sophomore Luke Meier head to the middle of Harvey Gap Reservoir north of Silt on Thursday evening to release a batch of tiger muskies. The two were part of a group of students at the school who raised the fish for Colorado Parks and Wildlife to stock at the reservoir.

With a setting sun lighting the waters of Harvey Gap Reservoir, a group of Limon High School students Thursday evening took the hard-earned product of months of school work and unceremoniously tossed it overboard.

The students showed little sadness at the release of 250 tiger muskies in the reservoir a few miles north of Silt.

Maybe that was because of all the time they spent enduring the sting of sharp teeth, and even occasionally watching the fish they were trying to raise eat each other.

“I didn’t really know that they were so aggressive,” said Limon High junior Blake Paintin, one of those involved in the fish-rearing project for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Now, these hybrids between northern pike and muskellunge can direct their aggressive, predatory nature toward CPW’s goal of controlling the increasing numbers of illegally stocked northern pike in the reservoir while also providing an attractive new challenge for anglers.

Tiger muskies are sterile, which means more of the muskies’ energy can go toward growth rather than reproduction, often leading to fish weighing more than 30 pounds.

This experimental undertaking by the agency also has provided an educational opportunity for the Limon students. CPW has introduced tiger muskies into the reservoir, before but those fish were small (6–8 inches) and never established a population.

This time, the agency obtained tiger muskies from Nebraska and gave them to the school to rear to a bigger size. The fish were raised in grant-funded facilities installed at the school about a dozen years ago.

“We got them in as fingerlings and raised them up,” agriculture education teacher Cody Weber said.

The school received the fish in October and returned them to CPW about a month and a half ago.

Weber said the project “had some challenges along the way,” including the surprise of occasionally seeing one tiger muskie swallow another.

When a couple of fish managed to leap to their deaths from a tank, the students promptly rigged up a plywood cover.

Weber said the undertaking will provide students with a better understanding of how to raise animals “and hopefully interest them in outdoors-type careers.”

The latter is the case for junior Blake Paintin. Paintin’s grandfather was a Parks and Wildlife technician, and Paintin has been interested in working for the agency but wasn’t aware of career options within it other than technicians and wardens.

“I’m really interested in the aquaculture part now,” he said.

He also liked the idea that the project involved something different from hours of classroom time spent listening to teachers lecture.

“I thought, ‘This is just the class for me,’ ” he said.

Paintin and freshman Devin Christian said they learned about things such as plumbing and welding over the course of the project.

They also were involved in tagging fish, which they discovered was a slippery proposition that benefits from the use of wool gloves.

“Once you get them held down they’re pretty easy to tag,” Christian said.

He said he learned there’s “a lot more to raising fish than putting them in water and giving them food.”

Lori Martin, Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist from Grand Junction, thinks the rearing effort went pretty well, all things considered.

“It is tricky because tiger muskies are cannibalistic, and they’re always a little finicky,” she said.

She thinks the experiment at Harvey Gap is off to a good start.

Said CPW Rifle district wildlife manager Brian Gray, “Hopefully, if this works out we can do it year after year.”

He said the school involvement is a benefit because it’s not economical to raise larger tiger muskies in state hatcheries, considering the time required and their propensity to prey on each other.

Fifty-seven students in all had a hand in raising the tiger muskies, with the biggest role played by eight students in an aquaculture class.

The school has been involved in a number of fish-rearing projects over the years, and it is waiting to find out what the next one will involve, Weber said.


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