Student Schools Enjoy Fishing Trip | Local News

Captain Jesse James Cook, left, washes his hands after baiting hooks for Pleasant Grove Elementary School student Jaylee Wolfe to catch a fish on Wednesday, February 9. Her classmate Jordynn Harmon reacts to the take.

It’s o-fish-ial. For the first time, all fifth-grade classes in Citrus County were invited to participate in the Book, Line & Thinkers program, an educational field trip organized by the Homosassa Girl Guides Association and the Citrus County Education Foundation (CCEF).

For two weeks, guides and boat captains from Homosassa and Crystal River showed youngsters the ropes of coastal wildlife – and some of their favorite fishing spots.

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Captain Eric Toney heads to the upper reaches of the Homosassa River on Wednesday, February 9, while showing off birds, manatees and animals during the Book, Line & Thinkers activity.

On February 7 and 9, the Chronicle joined Captain Madison MacDonald and Captain Jesse James Cook, respectively, for their outings with fifth-grade students at Pleasant Grove Elementary School.


Captain Jesse James Cook slowly returns to the docks on Wednesday, February 9, as he and a group of students from Pleasant Grove Elementary School experience nature first-hand through the Book, Line & Thinkers program.

On a cold Monday morning, MacDonald helped students TJ Raymond, Rylan Ruska and Donovan Castranze onto his boat and fitted them with life jackets. The students were greeted by two blue crabs, which they were able to study closely.


Blue crabs are an important part of the local ecosystem providing an excellent table meal. Jaylee Wolfe, a student at Pleasant Grove Elementary School, watches one closely while holding the crab with a special glove to protect her fingers.

The Homosassa captains began the outings with a quick lesson on the spider monkeys that reside on Monkey Island.


This adult West Indian manatee and her calf swim from the upper reaches of the Homosassa River on Wednesday morning, February 10. These animals, along with a host of other wildlife, were put on full display for students at Pleasant Grove Elementary School as they learn about many of the wild creatures and plant life that make this unique region.

As the group sailed up the river, MacDonald explained why they were navigating in slow motion – to protect the local manatees from potentially deadly propeller strikes. Besides, “Why rush when you’re having a good time,” he said.

The group anchored near a few docks in Homosassa Springs to try their luck catching mangrove snappers. “We’ll take turns,” MacDonald said. “Everyone will be lucky enough to have one.”


From left, Scarlett Broadhurst, Jaylee Wolfe and Jordynn Harmon listen to Chaperone Sophia Helt, right, Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 9, as the group visits the Homosassa River.

MacDonald showed the group how to properly bait banana tip shrimp and on the second cast the snappers started biting. The three boys each had the chance to bring back a few fish while the mother manatees and their young grazed on the seagrass below.


Jaylee Wolfe, left, Jordynn Harmon and Scarlett Broadhurst are assisted by Captain Jesse James Cook as they search for mangrove snapper Wednesday February 9 on the Homosassa River. The students take turns fishing, putting the rod back after each catch.

Some of the sneaky snappers even got away with a free shrimp dinner. “That’s why they call it fishing and not catching,” MacDonald told the boys.

However, the group closely examined a dozen snappers, which the boys brought back. MacDonald warned them of the snappers’ sharp teeth and spines. “They have vampire teeth!” Raymond said.


The mangrove snapper is ready to bite almost every day and Wednesday February 9 was no exception. Students at Pleasant Grove Elementary School caught handfuls of greedy fish during the Book, Line and Thinker program on the Homosassa River.

On the way back to MacRae’s, MacDonald quizzed the young boaters on the local wildlife, including manatees, dolphins, blue crab and abundant mangrove snappers.

While half the class was on the water, the other half was indoors to participate in four learning stations: the water cycle, animal classification, weather and erosion and seagrass. “The idea is to get them excited about the standards,” said CCEF executive director Shaunda Burdette.


Jaylee Wolfe, left, has the courage to kiss a fish her classmate Jordynn Harmon is holding on Wednesday, Feb. 9 during the Book, Line & Thinkers program.

At the Water Cycle Station, the class learned about condensation, precipitation, collection and evaporation from a model built by Captain Mike Baize, former teacher and original creator of Book, Line & Thinkers . He started the program at Homosassa Elementary School about 15 years ago.

Thanks to volunteer Lis Gardner, the students learned some fun facts about the water cycle. She told them that the largest clouds can hold over a million tons of water, and lightning can reach 50,000 degrees, five times hotter than the sun. “Lightning strikes the Earth every second of every day,” Gardner told them as they listened intently.

At the eelgrass station, students learned about native plant conservation, protection and restoration efforts with Save Crystal River’s Angelique Hickman and her son Garrett Hickman of Sea & Shoreline.


Students at Pleasant Grove Elementary School fish for Captain Jesse James Cook on Wednesday, February 9.

While holding a plastic bag full of mud, Garrett asked the students if they knew what it was. “Is it an invasive species? asked Castranze. He guessed correctly.

Inside the bag was a sample of blue-green algae, or Lyngbya, which blocks the sun from eelgrass, preventing photosynthesis. “We’ve actually removed around £175 million from the ecosystem,” he said.

Eelgrass is important, Garrett said, because it provides food for manatees and habitat for many small aquatic creatures. “A manatee can eat 100 to 200 pounds a day,” he said.

After their quick lesson, the students had the opportunity to plant eelgrass in a bucket, which will be brought back to their classroom in Pleasant Grove until it is ready to be planted in local waters.


Pleasant Grove Elementary School students board boats Wednesday morning, Feb. 9, as they prepare to depart for the upper reaches of the Homosassa River.

For the fifth graders, the day was rich in hands-on learning opportunities. However, the fan favorite seemed to be fishing. Ruska said his favorite part was learning about the types of fish they caught with MacDonald.

Raymond said he liked learning more about invertebrates and found it interesting that some fish are carnivorous, while others are herbivorous. “My other favorite part was catching the biggest fish,” he added.

For more information about CCEF, visit

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