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Trophy trout are latest “crop” for rural Nebraska fish farmer
by Gene O. Morris
The Pleasant Valley Fish Farm is located less than a mile from where U.S. Highway 83 enters Frontier County, Nebraska. But you would never know it.
The well-developed fish farm — with 51 ponds and annual sales of more than a quarter-million fish — is secluded from public view, nestled among the trees, foliage and farmland which surround Red Willow Creek.
It's a little like a separate country. While highway traffic streams by and boats zip across neighboring Hugh Butler Lake, Bill Hahle overlooks an operation which sits smack-dab in the middle of pure nature.
The Good Life, Nebraska style.
It's the Good Life, Nebraska style, and Hahle and his family have been enjoying it for 36 years. It is one of those things that seems meant to be. As a boy growing up in Hamilton County, Neb., Bill learned fishing from his father on the Little Blue River near Aurora. "I was almost a river rat," Bill admits.
His love for nature found expression in 1972 when Bill and wife, Sondra, purchased the 400-acre farm south of Hugh Butler Lake. Traditional kinds of Nebraska farming — corn and cattle — had already begun to fade away as the Hahles started digging a series of fish ponds.
Today, 51 ponds sit amid the trees and grass, with six wells and submersible pumps providing prime conditions for growing fish. At peak times, the ponds hold between 150,000 and 250,000 fish, ranging in size from two-inch fingerlings to 15-pound trout.
The trout are behind the wells to take advantage of the coldest water. The other fish species are wide ranging, including largrmouth and smallmouth bass, perch, crappie, bluegill, catfish and minnows.
Fish for fisherman.
Almost all the fish go to sport fishermen. "That has changed a lot over the years," Bill said. "At first, 90 percent of the fish were sold as fingerlings. Now, 75 percent of our sales are catchable size fish." The big reason for this change are fishing clubs and resorts with stocked lakes, Bill said.
Brian Hahle, Bill and Sondra's son, does most of the fish transport, driving pickups and trailers with tanks to buyers in Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota. "There was a time when he went a lot farther away, including sales in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, but regional demand has grown and it's no longer necessary to travel great distances," Hahle said.
Teach a man to fish...
There are travel exceptions, however. Because of his success in aquaculture, Bill has been called upon to teach the art of fish farming in far-away lands. In three different years—1995, 1996 and 1998—Bill and Sondra traveled to Tanzania, where they helped the people there grow fish for protein.
With sponsorship help from the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the trips brought about fish farm development in the foothills and the area surrounding Mt. Kilimanjaro. "The Tanzanians wanted trout, but the water could not be kept cold enough. We ended up stocking nile talapia, which could feed on flankton and algae. It was a satisfying experience because we were able to add a source of protein for the Tanzanian people's diet," Bill said.
Yes, it has been a satisfying life for Bill Hahle, his wife, Sondra, and son, Brian, who is a partner in the business. "We live in the midst of nature. We have the fish to take care of, and there are deer, turkey, pheasants and quail all around. We don't have all the comforts and convenience of town living, but I wouldn't trade it." Looking around at the serene surroundings, Bill concluded: "For me, it truly is the good life."
Who To Contact...
Pleasant Valley Fish Farm
72581 US Highway 83
McCook, NE 69001