ELLIS — The morning quiet at Lakeside Campground ended quickly Monday with a rumbling of wagon wheels on the gravel road and children shouting with joy.
Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from Washington Elementary School ran and skipped to the city’s small lake, carrying or pulling wagons full of fishing gear, coolers, blankets and more for an annual fishing field trip in the last week of school.
Each year, the students walk to the lake from school — just less than a mile — shortly after the start of the school day and stay until a little after 2 p.m.
It’s a tradition that goes back at least 25 years, staff at the school said.
“Some of the teachers thought this would be a good field trip, just come down and stay in town and let the kids fish. It’s a good experience because maybe some of the kids had never fished before,” math teacher Pauline Edmonds said.
“They always look forward to this,” she said.
Many of the kids agreed.
“I go to school the first day, and then I think about it for the rest of the year,” said Sabre Walker.
Austin Gilbert said it was the highlight of the year. Others said it was fun to be out of the classroom and hang out with their friends.
There’s been just a few years where drought dried up the lake. Those years, the field trip was at Cedar Bluff Reservoir.
Science teacher Emily Burd went on the trip when she was a student at Washington. On Monday, she and social studies teacher Amy Kuppetz patrolled along the site, helping students bait their hooks or untangle lines.
“At first, it was very simple — tackle box and a fishing pole. And it’s kind of evolved,” Kuppetz said.
“They prepare wagons, everything comes with them,” Byrd said.
Students brought coolers full of water and their lunches, wagons and backpacks loaded with bug spray, sunscreen, worms or corn for bait, blankets or towels, and folding camp chairs.
A group of girls even brought a small tent to give them some shade while they fished. Nicole Schumacher, Dakota Gilbert, Josephine DePuy and Kennedy Fischer tossed their lines from in front of their tent or relaxed inside through the day. Schumacher even caught a couple of small fish by mid-morning. Gilbert helped her remove her first fish from the hook.
“It’s so cool to see them helping the other kids and helping each other,” Kuppetz said. “It’s always funny, too, to watch the campers, because they come out and ask ‘What’s going on?’ ”
Sometimes the kids reel in some unusual catches, Kuppetz said.
“We got a wheelchair one year, we always get a bike. We’ve gotten all kinds of stuff that people have thrown in the creek,” she said.
Parents and grandparents come by during the day, sometimes even joining the kids in throwing in a line, Burd said.
Lily Elstun said her family didn’t fish and didn’t have equipment, but her friends Charli Arnold, Isis Egner and Jordan Herrington were helping her fashion one from a stick and fishing line.
“I have, like, no experience. I don’t like fishing. I’ve been here a few times before, never any activity. Fish just do not like trying to go for my pole,” Elstun said.
The teachers even sneak in a bit of learning. Kids who catch a fish took it to a table near the fishing pier to weigh and measure before releasing it back into the water. Edmonds recorded the measurements in a notebook with the student’s name. There are no prizes given, but the list is usually read at an awards assembly for “bragging rights.”