In November 2013, Rushing Waters Fisheries, Wisconsin’s largest rainbow trout farm located in Palmyra, sent ripples of excitement across the rolling hills of the Kettle Moraine State Forest with the opening of its on-the-farm restaurant, The Trout House.
The new, all-encompassing farm dining experience not only celebrates ingredients sourced on-site from Rushing Waters’ 80-acre sustainable fishery, but also sources ingredients from local farms for its rotating seasonal menu.
So far business has flourished and the response has been overwhelmingly positive says Jeremy Colberg, front of the house manager at The Trout House. In fact, people are flocking from all over the state for the farm’s popular Friday night fish fry.
Colberg recalls a busy Friday night in January where over 300 people came for the fish fry.
“We didn’t have enough trout,” he says. “I had to send three guys down to the farm to harvest more. What other place can you do that? Other places if you run out of trout it just comes off the menu. Here I just send the guys out and say get me another 60 pounds.”
With the addition of The Trout House, the farm now offers visitors the option of fishing in the farm’s public fishing pond and enjoying their fresh catch for lunch as part of the “Hook & Cook” package (no fishing license required).
“This is something that you can only do at our restaurant,” says Colberg. “We’re the only restaurant in the United States that is offering this. You can go fishing in our public pond from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, and whatever fish you catch, we’ll take it in the processing room, filet it for you and then cook the exact fish you caught in our restaurant.”
Wisconsin’s Largest Rainbow Trout Farm
Rushing Waters has been Wisconsin’s leader for farm-raised rainbow trout since the 1940s.
The fishery, carved during the glacial movement, is the ideal environment for raising this species of fish. Artesian springs feed crystal-clear, 49-degree water, to the farm’s 56 ponds and hatcheries.
Although the trout is labeled farm-raised, the environment they are raised in mimics their native environment. Each pond has grass borders and earthen bottoms and contains a diverse ecosystem of aquatic life that provides the trout with access to wild food sources. Watercress grows along the ponds and is harvested for use in The Trout House.
“Our trout are flourishing in this water. This is their natural setting,” says Colberg. “The great thing about our ponds is we don’t use any chemicals. The fish are swimming in their own ecosystem. We never change that. We never clean the water. Not once. Everything takes care of itself.”
Aerators constantly move the water and spread oxygen throughout the ponds. As a result, even in the coldest of winter, the ponds never freeze over.
Rushing Waters prides itself on raising all-natural rainbow trout without the use of antibiotics, pesticides or preservatives. Because trout are carnivores, the farm’s fish feed is a 90 percent protein and 10 percent schooling fish mix that has been specifically developed for them. Farm workers feed all of the fish by hand several times a day by tossing pellets into the water.
“We experimented with feeders on timers, but we feel we can better monitor our fish by doing it by hand,” says Colberg.
From Egg to Harvest
“Rainbow trout are the highest quality,” says Colberg. “We were looking into introducing another species, but we got a good thing going here. Pick the one thing and master that.”
The farm gets its rainbow trout delivered to them as eggs. Because they only raise female trout they don’t have any spawning on the farm. This helps in controlling the population in the ponds, says Colberg.
The trout start off as fry in the farm’s two hatcheries. They then are moved into large tanks inside the hatchery which are also fed with artesian spring water, and when they grow to a fingerling size after about two months, they get transported to the outdoor ponds. Once in the outdoor ponds they move in two stages throughout the property before being harvested at the ideal weight of one pound.
The lifespan from hatchery to harvest is 18 months.
“That is actually longer than other operations,” Colberg explains. “Everyone else is at 11 or 12 months but we spend an extra couple of months just making sure the quality is there.”
“We have four or five guys out here and they harvest all the fish,” says Colberg. “They use harvesting boxes that are measured to a specific size that we want the fish at. They are out here everyday moving the boxes and crating the fish.”
Harvesting is a two-man operation. They stand in the water and they drop the box down into the water and they’ll scoop the fish in a net and then grate them by hand. The grates are built to specific dimensions so if the fish doesn’t match the size to be harvested they get thrown back into the pond to grow larger.
The harvesting process at Rushing Waters is also based on order.
“You’ll never see us harvesting a ton of fish,” says Colberg. “Our guarantee to our customers is you will get your fish at the maximum of 48 hours. You will receive your fish no more than 48 hours of them swimming.”
In Stores/At the Market/ On the Menu
The farm also has a booth at several farmers markets throughout the state. See the farm’s calendar of events for where they’ll be each week.