MIDDLETON — Jacob Gillitzer, 15, a freshman at Clark Street Community School in Middleton, was studying fish found in Pheasant Branch Creek when he discovered one with six horn-like projections sprouting out of its head.
The skin on the body had the appearance of a smudged rainbow done in watercolor, he said.
“It’s kind of freaky because it has the horns,” Jacob said.
His father, Gary Gillitzer, showed a picture of the fish to a friend who identified it as a horned dace. Jacob’s partner in the study, sophomore Bryce Hollfelder, 16, also wound up catching some of the fish after his classmate did.
They were conducting a study on the types and number of fish caught in the creek as part of a class called Flora and Fauna this past school year, the first for Clark Street, a Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District charter high school. The curriculum at the school is project-based.
As part of the class project, Jacob contacted the DNR to make sure it was OK to fish there. He said he was given approval but was told the creek lacked fish.
“They said it was a waste of time,” he said.
Kurt Welke, Dane County fisheries manager, said he assumes Jacob was told that because Pheasant Branch Creek is not a destination most anglers would choose.
“It has been altered in the last seven decades,” he said. “There are opportunities; however, some of them are modest.”
He said anglers wouldn’t go there to catch “a memorable fish or one you would consume.”
Turns out that horned dace is a colloquial name for a common creek chub, which is rather ubiquitous in Wisconsin.
It sports a flashy appearance during mating season when the horns, or tubercles, grow.
In addition to the creek chub, Jacob said he and Bryce found a number of fish, including large-mouth bass, trout, a crappie-bluegill hybrid, bluegill and other pan fish.
As part of his final project, Jacob created sketches of fish in the creek for a brochure. Jacob and Bryce also detailed information about the fish such as what they eat.
While the goal of class was to blend science and art in a natural setting, a number of academic areas were involved in the project, said science teacher Heather Messer.
“We wanted kids to interact with the setting and figure out what they wanted to explore,” she said.