In Allen Andrews’ kitchen, a fake trout holds a glass of water in its gaping mouth. A tiny rubber trout dangles from his key ring. And his truck license plate reads: IM4FISH.
Andrews is an admitted fish fanatic. He’s a millworker and heavy equipment operator who moonlights as a fish farmer. He’s got a backyard pond full of lunker trout - a few 3 feet long - that he hopes turn into a lucrative business.
“This is a job a guy could love without any problem,” he said, tossing a handful of fish food into his quarter-acre pond.
Waves from the motion of 350 fish ripple the surface as they pursue the morsels. Andrews likes to watch the large Kamloops trout roll their fattened bodies on the surface like some kind of lake monster.
“I’ve got my kids after me to let them fish, my friends after me, literally throwing money in my face to let them fish,” Andrews said. “But when you have so few, every one counts.”
He’s vowed to shoot or sic his dog, “Big Boy,” on even his closest friends caught trying to dip a fishing pole in his pond.
The big fish, between 22 and 36 inches long, are his brood stock. They produce enough eggs for him to have about 25,000 fingerling trout for sale come summer. At least 6,000 of the unhatched trout already are spoken for.
He may sell some of his larger stock to restaurants that want fresh Idaho trout on the menu.
“I can bring them in wigglin’ if they want,” Andrews smiled.
One of his goals is to raise a world record Kamloops trout in captivity. The current record was caught in 1947 in Lake Pend Oreille. The fish weighed 37 pounds.
Andrews is one of two or three fish farmers in North Idaho. The water here tends to be too cold to raise fish fast enough and compete with southern Idaho’s massive fish market, Idaho Fish and Game officials said.
Water comes out of the ground in North Idaho at about 42-45 degrees. Ideally, it should be about 55 degrees to produce fast-growing fish, said regional fisheries manager Ned Horner.
“If you are going to try to make a living rearing fish up here, it’s going to be pretty tough,” he said. The Magic Valley, near Twin Falls and along the Snake River, has the world’s largest commercial trout production, he said. They raise millions of pounds of fish.
Andrews’ market consists of avid fishermen like himself who want to stock their own ponds or streams with trout. Fish and Game officials raise trout to plant in public waters and can’t supply private individuals.
Horner has a handful of people on a list who are certified to sell and transport fingerling trout to private ponds. Some of those are in Washington state. So Andrews may have found a niche market in North Idaho, he said.
He has worked with Fish and Game officials getting advice on rearing trout and constructing his ponds. For six years he’s experimented with what was supposed to be a hobby. Andrews wanted a sure-fire place to catch fish with his kids and friends.
“I’m the type of guy who used to catch fish and put them in a tank so my buddy and I could test our lures to see if they worked,” he said.
The fish farm started as a 55-gallon hole atop Andrews’ Baldy Mountain property. The hole was near a natural spring and provided drinking water to his remote home with a panoramic view of Lake Pend Oreille.
“The first year the mosquito larvae on the water were so thick you could walk across them,” he said. A couple of brook trout in the water took care of the problem.
Andrews kept digging the hole larger and buying more trout. Now he has three connected ponds, one 25 feet deep, with a spawning area and waterfall. He’s lost hundreds of fish, however, while perfecting the system.
One year the pond lacked enough oxygen, and 300 fish in the 18- to 20-inch range died. They became fertilizer for a nearby orchard. “I’ve learned the expensive way,” he said.
Eventually, Andrews wants to add another pond so he can get back to his original intention - fishing. He wants to open the pond to the public, mainly for the disabled.
“They often can’t get to places to catch a really nice fish,” he said. “I don’t know of anyone who likes to go fishing who doesn’t like to catch big fish.”
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