After sharing the wonders of nature with students for almost 20 years, Ti Piper says retirement beckons - Albuquerque Journal

After sharing the wonders of nature with students for almost 20 years, Ti Piper says retirement beckons

After spending nearly two decades beguiling and thrilling – and perhaps occasionally grossing out – thousands of youngsters from all corners of New Mexico, Ti Piper is hanging up his teaching fishing pole.

Piper, author of “Fishing in New Mexico,” has been working on contract with the state’s Department of Game and Fish, sharing the joys and wonders of fishing, while also teaching valuable lessons about water, biology and even a bit of the law.

“We designed the program to get people fishing who otherwise would not go fishing,” he said. “The easiest way to do it is through the schools.”

Piper has been spending this week at the Carlos Gilbert Elementary School, which has been an annual stop on his soon-to-end tour of the state.

Each year, the third-grade classes raise a trout so Piper has made it a point to stop by the school.

In addition to his classroom time, he takes the classes to Monastery Lake and the fish hatchery there.

“These kids can tell them how to do it because they have a mini hatchery of their own,” Piper said.

The all-day trip includes looking at various things under a microscope, picking up litter around the lake and, after lunch, Piper’s favorite activity: fishing.

“If we catch something and it’s appropriate, we’ll take it apart and do some biology,” he said.

The program is careful to mix in elements of standard education, as required by the state’s Public Education Department, Piper said.

So, for instance, “kids who have gone through the program can tell you where water comes from, where it goes and what it’s used for,” he said. “And what it takes for a fish to live.”

Older students discuss real issues facing water use in the west.

“It’s fascinating to take the role of a farmer in need of irrigation or a biologist in charge of the silvery minnow or go view a sewage treatment plant,” Piper said.

They also get a taste of western water law and even do a mock courtroom hearing.

“So, we have young people learning about water in the Southwest,” he said. “Soon we’re not even going to have enough water to share. It’s interesting to see what happens when it all goes to court.

“We do mock courts and argue in front of the judge. Usually, they decide that the lawyers are the only ones winning anything in that. We have to learn to compromise and come to agreements.”

Piper got his love for angling at an early age growing up in Minnesota.

“Fishing was a normal part of growing up,” he said. “It didn’t matter whether you fished or not, fishing was normal. And now, 60 years later, if you go fishing, it’s often specialized.”

Truly the best part of the sport, Piper said, is getting out into nature, just enjoying the surroundings.

“Someone said, ‘It’s not so much that fishing is important, but everything else becomes unimportant,'” he said. “It really connects you with that which doesn’t have batteries. The sights and sounds of a river or a stream, a pond or a lake. The aim is to catch fish, but I like to go places with good people and good dogs.”

Now he’s looking forward to a little time away from the classroom, and back out with the rod and reel.

“I used to fish 100 days a year,” Piper said. “Now I teach 100 days a year.”

That will soon change.

“I like to go to beautiful places with my wife,” he said. “I like to go where the landscape is superb and I can enjoy the beauty of it with my wife. And the fishing is good.”

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