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Unlikely farmers hooked on business venture

by: POST PHOTO: NEIL ZAWICKI - Gwen Hawkins, 8, illustrates the size of the fish she caught at Rainbow Trout Farm, located between Sandy and Welches off Highway 26. If you look closely enough, you can see the trout swimmming in the pond.Rainbow Trout Farm out on Sylvan Road has a history rooted in economic necessity.

The original farm dates back to 1932, the cruel third year of the Great Depression. The Pope family started the farm back then, in such a shaky economic climate, likely to manufacture a job for themselves.

The same scenario played out in 1982, when Mike Kaiser and his wife, Marti, bought the property. Kaiser had broken his back at work in 1979 and, like the Depression-era Popes, he needed a job.

“I had to retire,” he said. “I had to quit, so I invented this thing.”

The 22-acre trout farm (originally 30 acres until Kaiser sold eight of them) is as picturesque as a well-heeled golf course, with multiple ponds stocked with big, beautiful trout, waiting to be caught, and a large lawn for picnics.

“It wasn’t like this when I bought it,” said Kaiser. In fact, it was little more than an overgrown forest area with one building, and the big lawn was nothing but thick overgrowth before Kaiser had it cleared.

A lot of work, to be sure, and the kind one might think only an avid fisherman would commit to.

Not the case.

Asked if he likes to fish, Kaiser gives a solid, “No.”

“I thought if I could stay home and make $25,000 a year, that would be great,” he said of his decision to buy the farm 31 years ago.

by: POST PHOTO: NEIL ZAWICKI - Mike and Marti Kaiser have made Rainbow Trout Farm a popular destination.That sort of “turn-key” business model proved an illusion, and Kaiser found himself a student of fish stewardship. He learned things like fish sorting, aerating the ponds and feeding cycles. The sorting, for example, requires floating boxes with slots that let the smaller fish escape, allowing him to segregate the fish.

Kaiser gets as technical as he cares to when describing the process.

“We put the fish in the box and the ones that swim through go to a different pond,” he said. The escaped fish are caught in a net surrounding the box and removed.

The sorting assures specific sizes in each pond, so that guests can select the size, and subsequent price of the fish, they want to catch. The 10 ponds contain fish that range in size from 6 inches to 2 feet, and guests pay 50 cents on up to $22.50 apiece for their catch.

While Kaiser borrowed the fish sorting box concept, he expanded upon it. Normal sorters are small, maybe suitcase size. His boxes are huge, big enough to pack a standard size refrigerator.

“I didn’t want to spend so much time sorting the fish, so I made the big ones so I only have to do it once,” he said.

Kaiser buys his fish as fingerlings from an operation in Seattle. He said he goes that far to get them simply because that’s where he’s always bought them. It is clear that Kaiser is not one to change up when things are working. Even his fliers have not changed since 1982.

“Why should I pay $500 to have the graphics changed when they work just fine?” he said.

While he might not have realized his plan of sitting at home and collecting (1982 numbers) $25,000 a year, he and Marti are content, and they live on the property as well, so it’s almost like he never had to leave his house.

“We haven’t had a job since we started this thing,” he said. “You should have been here on Father’s Day. The place was packed!”

With all the traffic, as well as the captive audience, so to speak, in terms of the fish in the pond, the clear question is whether or not the resident trout become wise to the efforts of the anglers.

Asked if the fish get smart, Kaiser gives a characteristic answer.

“Well, they get caught,” he said.




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