Food & Drink

‘The Fish Man’ raises trout to stock ponds

Pennsylvania anglers that fish private ponds or fishing derbies could be reeling in some of Dan Brigham’s trout.
Pennsylvania anglers that fish private ponds or fishing derbies could be reeling in some of Dan Brigham’s trout. Photo provided

This article originally ran in 2007 but is still timely for May and our local fishing season, except that now Dan Brigham has lived on the banks of Spring Run and Elk Creek for almost three decades. Brigham, a vendor at the Friday State College farmers market and at the North Atherton Saturday farmers market, is shipping out for his Alaskan salmon season this week. First he will head to Vancouver to pick up and work on his new boat, then sail the inward passage to Sitka and fish the Gulf of Alaska during the salmon run. His new faithful companion, Rusty the “Scurvy Sea Dog,” will be with him on the boat and, when they return, at every outdoor farmers’ market. Pennsylvania anglers that fish private ponds or fishing derbies could be reeling in some of Brigham’s trout.

Dan Brigham, “the Fish Man,” has lived on the banks of Spring Run and Elk Creek for 20 years. A former fish commission employee, he dreamed of opening his own hatchery and purchased a site that had been used for that purpose. His property has the rough and ready character of bygone industry; a former paved road is now covered with weeds and outbuildings partially conceal pieces of machinery.

One of the outbuildings is the hatch house with between 4,000 to 5,000 trout fingerlings in six narrow tanks. Though he has used his own trout eggs in the past, he now buys fish eggs and grows them to the size of a slender finger. Spring water is pumped into the hatch house, 20 gallons per minute, but the raceway where the fish mature is fed by gravity, 600 gallons of water per minute, from the many springs nearby.

The spring water temperature is a constant, chilly 50 degrees Fahrenheit all year — perfect for the fish to build a layer of healthful Omega 3 fatty acids to insulate themselves. When the fingerlings are a few months old they are moved outside to the raceway, which is divided to separate the fish by size and species. The fish learn quickly that bumping a metal cord that hangs down into the water from a container set over the channel will release pellets of fish meal into the water for them to feed. The activity under the containers is constant, with a lot of thrashing and splashing.

Brigham hatches between 25,000 and 30,000 trout per year but loses about 10 percent of that to predators. Heron and mink live nearby and find the fishing to be easy in the shallow, contained raceway.

“I keep a trap set for the mink,” Brigham said, “but it’s hard to keep the birds out. That’s Punkin’s job,” nodding to his constant companion, his 9-year-old lab/collie mix who always used to accompany him to the farmers market in State College.

Neither Brigham — nor Punkin — will be at the market this summer. They will have some bigger fish to fry when they head for Sitka, Alaska, at the end of the month. He plans to fish the Alaska waters for the duration of salmon season on his own boat, trolling with two to three dozen hooks and lines, the sustainable way to fish for wild salmon because it limits the bycatch.

“April and May are the months I do most of my business, which is selling live trout to stock ponds. There is a retail market here, but it’s just not busy enough to keep me around all summer. I’ll be seeking fame and fortune in the far north,” he said, “living on the boat for the summer, with Punkin. I hope to return at the end of the salmon run to do the late market in State College in October — with both farm-raised trout and wild-caught salmon available.”

Looks like we all should get our trout fishing rods out. 

Eric Sarnow’s Potato Wrapped Trout Fillets

Hummingbird Room executive chef Eric Sarnow featured this classic preparation on his menu at the restaurant in Spring Mills.

Serves 4

▪ 1 large russet potato, washed and peeled

▪ 4 trout fillets

▪ Salt and pepper

▪ Clarified butter

Slice the potatoes as thinly as possible (a mandolin helps with this task). Arrange potato slices in four areas of a flat work surface and overlap the slices to cover an area twice as wide as the filets, about 4 x 8 inches. Place one trout filet in the center of each shingled potato area. Season the fish with salt and pepper. Roll up the trout in the potato slices to form a neat parcel. Brush the exterior with clarified butter to help the potatoes adhere to the filets. Heat additional clarified butter in a sauté pan until the butter is hot and a few drops of water shaken on to the surface “dance.” Place the trout-potato parcels in the hot butter, and cook over medium high heat until the golden brown. Do not cook at too high a heat or the trout within will not be fully cooked.