“New” News

Welcome to the new school year!

There is certainly a lot “new” about this kick-off to the 2017-2018 Trout in the Classroom academic year.  New students, new expectations, new classrooms and instructors joining the program – I just love the promise that every fall brings, don’t you?

Another “new” that I need to introduce is…me!  I am the new Trout in the Classroom Staff Assistant for this year, and I am quite excited about it.  Previously, I had been working in the biotechnology research and development field for most of the past twenty years, happily interrupted with few years of teaching biological sciences at a community college.  I have a passion for science and promoting the role of science literacy in our society.  I also am an avid outdoors enthusiast, so with my youngest child off to college and a fresh desire to pursue new endeavors, I jumped at the chance to take this position with the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission that combines all of my favorite things.

One of my favorite “new” things is always the chance to gain new knowledge.  I am looking forward to learning from many of you TIC veterans about your experiences with the curriculum and how you are using it in novel ways in your classrooms.  For the new TIC instructors this year, I will be learning new things right alongside you as I journey through my own first year of raising trout (I will be maintaining a tank or two myself.  Thankfully I have easy access to of a lot of in-house expertise!)  My goal is to provide an opportunity for all of us to share our experiences and build on ideas together regarding the TIC program.  Please drop me a line (denise.morozov@nebraska.gov) if you have any problems or suggestions that you think the Nebraska TIC network would benefit from discussing.

Coming up in early November will be our fall training sessions for new instructors.  We are currently in the process of determining the dates and locations (watch your emails for a poll about possible training dates).  I will also be making regular blog entries here, so email me if you have particular topics you would like to see covered.

Until next time…


DM Snake River


End of season maintenance

Hi!  It’s been a while since my last post because everything seems to be going well for most folks.  I want to talk briefly about what to do with your equipment when your fish are gone, but first I’d like you to meet Bob.


I named him Bob because that is the most common name so far this year for fish released into the pond at Schramm Park.  He was the result of warm, moist air in our office coming into contact with the cold glass of our trout tank.  This is nothing to be concerned about unless you have a paper decoration of some sort on your tank.  Bob only lasted about a day.

Once your trout have been released there are some important steps to take to make sure everything is ready to go for next season.  After you unplug all the equipment and drain the water it’s time to clean a few things.  The filter media can now be cleaned vigorously. We don’t care about the bacteria anymore, but we don’t want to use any products that will leave a residue.  My suggestion would be to use warm or hot water and a little elbow grease for the sponge.  It is really important that these are left out to completely dry before they are stored anywhere.  If you would like to clean some of those calcium deposits off the tank or the filter, now is the time.  Vinegar works wonders to dissolve calcium deposits.  Be sure to give a good rinse with water when you are finished.

The gatorade bottle on the intake of my filter will be discarded as well as the mesh on the outside. These will be replaced next season.  I haven’t posted a picture of it so here we go…


I purchased a large sheet of mesh (same mesh size as the blue nets) from a local fabric store for $2. The little hearts you see in the bottle came from Lindsey’s hole punch.  They serve the same function as the slits in Marissa’s design.  If you want to keep your bottle and mesh, just clean them off and let them dry.

The airstone and gravel can be cleaned with a solution of bleach water.  Again, don’t use anything soapy like dish detergent because it will leave a residue.  The pump that feeds the chiller can also be scrubbed with bleach, but be careful when you are disconnecting the hoses or you may end up with a wet floor!  The hoses should be fine as long as you let them dry before storing them.

The chillers that we use have proven to be very durable.  It helps that we only run them for a few months during each year.  One thing you can do to extend the life of your chiller is clean the filter.  It’s very simple.  There is a single screw on the front of the chiller.  Look near the bottom.


Once you take that screw out and give the front of the case a little tug you will have the filter in your hands.


You can use compressed air, a vacuum, or a brush to get some of the dust out.  They don’t have to be spotless.  We just want to maintain good air flow.  There is also a vent on each side of the chiller that can be cleaned in the same manner.  They pop right off without any tools.


Send me an email if you have any questions about storage.  The most important thing is to make sure everything is dry.

I’d like to thank everyone who has made the trip to Schramm to release trout.  We have had some great groups so far.  That includes students, teachers, and parents.  I’ve been very impressed with the level of excitement despite some bad weather.  I look forward to meeting some more of you soon.




If you have any pictures from your release event that you would like to share here, send them to me.  We can’t post them all, but Lindsey and I will pull out some of our favorites.

You know where to find me if you need me.  Have a great week.



An update and a request

Many of you know by now that I am a huge fan of water changes.  When I say fan I’m talking about a Chicago Cubs fan who believes that he/she just personally won a championship for the first time in a century.  I love them.  I want you to love them.  Water changes, not the Cubs.  I’m from Cincinnati.  The usual rule still applies about not fixing something if it isn’t broken.  I should clarify that, in my mind, a water change means changing out some water.  That’s it.  Vacuuming the gravel and rinsing off the media inside the main filter are valuable tools, but not to be done when I mention frequent water changes.  I’m speaking to those of you that are having water quality problems.  In some cases the source of these problems is still a war of attrition on our bacteria.  When you see a nitrite level that is almost off the testing card, I don’t want your first thought to be cleaning the filter media or adding a chemical treatment.  I want your first thought to be changing some water.  And then changing it again.  And again if necessary.  Several water changes per day over the course of a few days will not harm your fish (with the same caveat from the previous post).  Use regular tap water treated for chlorine and chloramines.  No more than 20% at a time.  Rinse and repeat.  I would suggest waiting an hour or two in between the changes.  Again, this alone will not hurt your fish.  It will bring some dangerous water parameters closer to acceptable levels.  Then we can begin to diagnose and attack the real problem.

I haven’t looked at the sponge or anything else inside my main filter since I took those pictures for this blog.  And I didn’t clean or rinse them when I did that.  Water flow through the filter is amazing so I have no desire right now to open it.  I did replace the water bottle filter on the intake with a gatorade bottle just because it’s more structurally stable.  I rinsed the blue mesh, attached it to the new bottle and stuck it right back on.  I’m changing about 8-10 gallons of water each day.  That’s overkill for our tank, but I’m trying to find ways to make things simpler and more efficient for you.  It’s not hurting anything and it takes very little time when all you want to do is take some water out and put some new water in.  It’s overkill for our tank because I did some tests this morning and…


Ammonia: 0 ppm

Nitrite: 0 ppm

Nitrate: 20-30 ppm


Your nitrate level does not have to be anywhere near that low!  I’ve just been experimenting with more water changes lately.  If you are having high levels of ammonia or nitrites, my humble suggestion would be to temporarily pretend that your filter doesn’t exist (assuming good water flow) and do some extra water changes.  Sometimes you have to start by treating the symptom.  Then email or call me and we can try to figure out what caused it.

That update directly transitions into my request.  Some of you have expressed concern about boring me with the details.  I need the details.  I like the details.  I can’t help you without the details.  These are not simple systems and I commend all of you for tackling this project.  One common issue throughout the entire process is high nitrites.  As I said before, I want your first thought to be about water changes to get it under control.  When you contact me (or do your own aquatic sleuthing), we need to know ammonia and nitrate levels as well.  The combination can paint one of many pictures and they all need to be addressed differently.

At least one of you did get the reference in the previous post.  Many thanks to that individual because I was starting to feel weird about it.

Take care.  Talk soon.




Water Changes

Last week I was lucky enough to talk to more of you and I continue to be impressed. Some tanks are going well.  Others are not going well.  As always, my goal here is to help you through it by offering some helpful tips.  I know what I know because I’ve had my fair share of setbacks.  It happens.  We learn from them.

The theme of most of our conversations has been diagnosing problems.  I’ll write something more in depth about that later, but for now I want to highlight one problem. I’m partially to blame because I scared some of you with my post about too much love.  I stand by what I wrote in that post, but I think I made some of you a bit timid about doing water changes.  Here is the spot where I would love to give you the easy answer.  By now you probably know I can’t.  It’s complicated.

If done properly, you can do frequent water changes.  Before I go any further…if things are going well, don’t change what you’re doing.  If you’re seeing spikes in ammonia or nitrites, you can do several small water changes to get things back in order.  Just follow my advice in an earlier post.  Don’t change too much water at once.  We want small, subtle changes.  Your fish will thank you and you may even get that elusive smile that I received.  I also stand by that.  It happened.

Now let’s make it complicated.  Some of us may be harming our fish with our water changes.  And it’s not always obvious.  Two recent examples come to mind.  One classroom was using water from a fancy drinking fountain for water changes because the water was cold.  They test the water regularly and the test results suggest that everything is going well.  Everything is not going well.  They have had an unusually high mortality rate.  I don’t know for sure what is causing it, but that drinking fountain is a prime suspect.  It has a chemical filtration component that is not described in detail by the manufacturer.  I would drink from it, but it could be harmful to our fish.  When in doubt, use tap water and treat it appropriately.  The other example that surprised me was expired water conditioners.  I haven’t confirmed this, but there is a possibility that treating your water with expired conditioner can cause a pH spike.  I’ll look into that and let you know what I find out.  My point is that water changes are always a good idea as long as the water is good.  The problem could be as simple as soap residue on your hands.  Just think through the process.

I’m hoping at least one of you gets this reference.


It’s a brand new week.  Remember to have a little fun.


Easy Maintenance

We’ve already talked about loving our fish too much.  Since that post I’ve been receiving questions about my routine with the tank here in the office.  I’m wary of calling it a routine because that implies that we are prone to repeat the same procedures despite what our fish are telling us.  I swear one of my little buddies smiled at me this morning, but I can’t prove it.  I’ll be ready with the camera next time.  You’ll see.

Your manual is still the best source of information for tank maintenance.  What I want to do here is throw out helpful tips that can make your lives easier and your fish healthier.  Many of you are using the filter Marissa described on this blog on 11/30/16.



Many of you are still using it.  I am.  Your fish should now be strong enough to avoid the intake, but that blue filter is still useful.  Dead fish and other chunks of organic matter can’t swim away.  They get sucked up and stuck to the sponge in your filter.  Some of you are probably thinking that’s the purpose of the sponge.  You’re not wrong.  In fact it is necessary for organic waste to reach the sponge.  But it’s also necessary to let your bacteria in your sponge do their thing and not clean them into non-existence.  It’s when we see large amounts of gunk on our sponges that we clean too much.  Marissa’s creation allows us to remove the big bits of waste (including dead fish) without the risk of over-cleaning our filter media.

I don’t regularly look inside the filter.  Every few days I remove the intake and wash off the blue filter under tap water.  I don’t care about the bacteria on the blue filter.  I just want it clean.  Here’s a look at what ours looks like right now.  It was just cleaned.


No, I did not trap that fish.  He’s a camera hog.  I should have taken a picture before the cleaning.  I assure you it was dirty.  It gets that way every few days, but it’s easy to clean and takes very little time!  As it gets dirtier you will notice a decrease in water flow from your filter.  Here’s what my output looked like prior to cleaning.


Not a big deal, but that tells you it’s time.  If you let it go too long you may see something like this.


That’s a problem.  Not only are you robbing yourself of the full potential of the bacteria in your filter, you are potentially damaging the pump inside the filter.  Troubleshooting needs to begin ASAP!  Either the motor is dying or your intake filter is REALLY dirty or there’s a dead rodent stuck in there somewhere.  If you can’t find the problem, you have my number.

After I cleaned the intake I took another picture.


That’s a beautiful thing.  Also note the white stains on the rim of the tank and the filter.  Those are mineral deposits (most likely calcium) left behind when water evaporates.  It will not hurt your fish.  It will not hurt your fish.  Did I mention it won’t hurt your fish?  What will hurt your fish is the act of using household cleaning products where they can end up in your tank water.  I understand that many of your tanks are literally works of art.  I wasn’t here when they were decorated, but they look great.  Well done.  If you want to fight the good fight in the war on calcium deposits I would suggest finding a couple rags or towels that have never touched a cleaning product and promise yourself that they will only touch warm water and your fish tank.  There’s a reason water is often called the universal solvent.  That and a little elbow grease (figurative grease!!) can go a long way.  If your stains are a little more stubborn you can try some vinegar AFTER your fish have been released and you are preparing for next season.

Back to the goal of keeping the big pieces of waste out of my sponge…I took another picture.


It is full of bacteria, but it doesn’t look like a college dorm bathroom so I’m not tempted to bleach it.  That’s a good thing.  Always remember to think about the processes in your little ecosystems.

So…my maintenance routine.  I rinse the blue intake filter twice per week while I change 20% of the water.  My water is pretty nice right now.  It’s a brisk 53 degrees, but the fish seem to like it.  If something about the water started to worry me I would bump it up to 3 or 4 changes per week.  An increase in water changes is not likely to stress your fish especially if you are trying to correct another problem.  The key is to not change too much volume at once.  Those massive water changes often leave you with a tank full of regret.  Everything in moderation.

Oh, I probably owe you a picture of a slightly larger version of me.

Nathan Klar pic

Happy Tuesday.


Almost spring!

If you haven’t seen it yet I would highly recommend watching Marissa’s video tutorial on trout dissection.  I’ve heard reports from some of you that dissections are going swimmingly.  Sorry, I had to say it.


But wait!  There’s more!  Here are some amazing time-lapse videos from our friends in California.


On a somewhat sappy note…I’ve exchanged emails and spoken with many of you since my first post here.  I am very impressed with the level of passion you have for this project.  I’m glad to be here.  Let me know if you need help.



Too much love

Hi!  My name is Nathan Klar.  I’m taking over Marissa’s position.  Many of you are probably sad to see her go, but I’ll do my best to fill her shoes.  I’ve been taking care of all kinds of fish tanks for over 25 years and even did it professionally for a while.  I don’t have all the answers, but I’m excited to work through it with you.

We all love our fish, but it is possible to love them too much.  My father used to call it ‘overworking the buttons’.  That was about TV remotes, but the same principle applies to our fish tanks.  Sometimes we try too hard and the result is not good for our fish.  I want to focus on two aspects of fish care where this is most often a problem.  We feed too much and we clean too much.  Hear me out before you stop feeding your fish.

We feed too much.  I think we are all guilty of this at some point.  I know I am.  Be sure to follow Lindsey’s feeding instructions from an earlier post.  I’m often tempted to add more and more food to make sure every fish is happy, but that’s a mistake.  It usually results in some fish being overfed and the ones that weren’t getting food at the beginning probably still aren’t eating.  It’s also a water quality issue.  Every speck of food we add to our tanks is a little more nitrogen.  Whether the excess food is eaten by fish or broken down by bacteria it is a source of ammonia.  If your fish look healthy you’re doing just fine.

We clean too much.  This can be a much larger problem than overfeeding.  A clean tank is a wonderful thing, but we have to be aware of the risks.  The act of cleaning can be stressful to our fish.  Of more importance is the impact on the denitrifying bacteria.  The majority of bacteria in your system are in the filter.  That’s also where most of the fish waste is located.  How do we get rid of one without the other?  You can’t.  If your water parameters are good you should gently rinse the gunk off and place the media back in the filter.  If the water is flowing great, you’re great.  If you are having water quality problems, you need to take some extra precautions.  Your bacteria are having a difficult time keeping up with the ammonia input.  Rinse off your filter sponge in tank water that you remove during a water change.  That water should not contain any chlorine or chloramines and will not harm your bacterial colonies.  Cleaning the filter too vigorously can result in a collapse of your nitrogen cycle.  It will restart, but not before a few headaches and lost fish.

If your fish look healthy and your water quality is good, sit back and enjoy the show.  Don’t overwork the buttons.  As always, let us know if you need help.

Enjoy the weekend and try to stay warm!



I’m a little taller now.

Fish Mortality

This week many of us saw some mortality in our trout populations.  I wanted to drop everyone a quick line before heading home for the weekend – don’t worry if you’ve lost some fish this week!  In my tank, I pulled out several on Wednesday and 5 more today (not including all 6 of the ‘curly-q’ deformed fish that finally gave up this week).  All of these fish were very emaciated (their heads were bigger in diameter than their bodies), indicating they never learned to eat and finally succumbed to starvation.  Sad, yes, but no need to fear for your population as a whole, especially if your water quality is normal and the rest of your fish look healthy!  Use this small die off to talk to the students about natural selection. This process is part of the recruitment cycle – not every egg that hatches is meant to survive. Some don’t make it past the egg stage.  More don’t make it past the fry stage, usually because of deformities or because they don’t learn to eat. That is why fish invest their energy into producing so many eggs!  To increase the odds that some survive to adulthood and reproductive age.

Below are photos of a dead fish I removed from the tank and an average sized healthy fish to compare it with.  If your fish look like the fish on the right, you can relax!  If they all look more like the fish on the left, try increasing the number of daily feedings.

And relax, you’re doing a great job! 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend!


Bizarre Fish


Jamie Shaner shared this photo of one (two?) of her trout at Brady Public Schools.  Two heads are better than one, right?  Does anyone else have trout with an interesting deformity?


Also, I thought you may be interested in checking out the Ennis Fish Hatchery’s website, where our trout were spawned.  For middle- and high-school students particularly, check out the ‘Ennis Investigations in Fish Culture’ tab.  They are doing a lot of rainbow trout research!


Everyone should have swimming fry by now!  If you haven’t done it already, release the fish from their hatching baskets and let them enjoy all the space in the tank.  Feed a pinch of food 2-3 times daily.  Watch your trout after you feed. If most of the grains settle to the bottom, you are overfeeding.  (Also, don’t forget to vacuum the substrate and rinse your filter and water pump intakes weekly.) What do I mean by a pinch?  This:



I noticed that many of you signed up for the quilt project.  That is awesome!  I’m excited to see what you come up with.  Please share your progress with me.

Finally, Tori Mullins sent me some inspiration for aquarium decorating.  I thought you would enjoy this Mario-themed Lego aquarium. (And, Tori says HI!)


Changes in your Water

Hi all,

Lindsey and I have been receiving many comments about spikes in your water chemistry, particularly your Nitrite levels. We recommend 20% water changes every couple of days until levels have normalized. Remember that we want to see Nitrite levels under 1 ppm (you can see ideal levels in your Equipment and Care Manual starting on page 15). If your Nitrite levels are really high, such as 5 ppm you can also add Nite-Out per the instructions on the bottle.

It is not uncommon to see these changes, as there is a lot of biological break down from your trout hatching. Make sure that your filter is working correctly, and that you have adequate water flow through this. If you have a foam filter, make sure you wash this frequently. Daily cleaning of this may be necessary if you are having troubles. Remember you have a foam insert inside of the filter as well that should be cleaned off.

Continue to monitor your chemicals, and as always feel free to reach out if you need further guidance!