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A Fish-Lovin’ Trek

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - May 10, 2013





Kids and fish and water go together perfectly. I know this to be true because I grew up near the Smith River in Bristol and spent every summer watching my father fish, hearing about fish, and eating lots of trout. (My mother was never so excited as when she saw the fish hatchery truck drive up our road because she knew it meant fresh brook trout were being deposited into the river. The minute my father came home from work, he took off for the river with fishing pole in hand.)

As if that was not enough, my family’s idea of a great outing was a drive to a fish hatchery. Fish hatcheries were a mystery to me as a kid: I never really knew why there were so many fish in the long, concrete holding tanks or exactly how they were fed or where they went. It never mattered because the fun was to watch the hundreds of fish in the water. Being near the water was a lure as well. Fish hatcheries had it all, including lots of room to run outdoors, the chance to watch the fish, and time to enjoy the picnic lunches my mother packed for the trips.

This past winter, when I was working on story ideas for The Laker, I happened upon the website for the Sumner Brook Fish Farm. I was immediately interested. Honestly, I have not kept track of fish hatcheries in years, but now and then I remember those childhood treks. And, occasionally, I hanker for delicious rainbow trout, grilled to perfection, such as I enjoyed as a kid. “Why not check this place out in the spring?” I asked myself.

A few months later on a gloriously warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, I made my way to Route 16 in Ossipee to check out Sumner Brook Fish Farm. (The website also offered information on Sumner Brook Herbals.) There are few things I love better than driving the roads of the Lakes Region on a warm spring, summer, or fall afternoon. The road between my Laconia area home and Ossipee was peppered with Sunday yard sales and little shops; I must admit I was enticed to stop at a few sales and also to browse the swap shop of my local transfer station.

My drive led me through Alton Bay and Wolfeboro and onto Route 28 to Ossipee. There are many pretty views of the water on this route and, although it was too early in the season, I know many antiques shops in the area will soon be opening, offering further enticement for the day trip adventurer.

Route 28 from Wolfeboro eventually intersects Route 16 in Ossipee at a set of traffic lights (Hannaford is on the right in a shopping plaza). Take the right at the lights, which will put you on Route 16. A three-and-a-half-mile drive on Route 16 will bring you to the Sumner Brook property on the right. (If using GPS, Sumner Brook Farm is located at 277 Route 16, Ossipee NH; you cannot miss the hatchery because there is a large sign in the yard and a beautiful little shop with a Sumner Brook Landing sign over the door.)

Down a bit of a hill from the parking lot, I could see the fish hatchery. It quickly brought to mind the fish hatchery visits of my youth at locations around the state. Before I made my way to the fish pond area, I was drawn to the pretty little shop. Jessica Cole, the young woman who owns the shop and is a certified herbalist, greeted me. She invited me to browse the shop and we chatted as I did so.

“This building was a 1940s two-car garage that we turned into the shop,” she explained. Jessica and her husband, Jesse Prunier, operate the fish farm and shop and it is a full-time, year-round operation. They have lived and worked the farm for five years; before that it was operated by Jesse’s father, who also at one time owned a fish hatchery in Milford.

“The shop has lots of locally made gifts and plants and I make all the herbal teas and products,” she added.

Within the wonderful shop, there were African baskets of many sizes, a huge wall shelf space full of Jessica’s herbs in glass jars, packaged herbal products, soaps, t-shirts, pottery, and many fishing-related items. I spied and loved the rustic fishing nets and also saw a small refrigerator sporting a sign that told visitors Sumner Brook sells smoked trout, a unique treat for those who love fish.

The couple has many things in the works for the farm, including herbal walks that Jessica is planning. Because she sells herbal products online as well as in the shop, she is always busy.

“We get lots of visitors who came here as a child and now want to bring their children to visit a fish hatchery. Kids love our feed-the-fish machine (25 cents) and parents remember it from their youth. Visitors can fish in the pond for free and they keep what they catch and pay us per fish. Fishing pole rentals are just $1 per pole,” she said.

As we chatted and I shopped, Jessica’s husband, Jesse, joined us. He mentioned that they are in their busy springtime season, delivering fish to private landowners for ponds and to fish-and-game clubs and town derbies. They were preparing to open for the season and that requires a lot of work as well. (The fish pond is open Memorial Day through Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; the herbal shop is open year-round with limited winter hours.)

“I grew up in a family that ran a fish hatchery, so I am used to the lifestyle and schedule,” Jesse explained. Jessica shared that Jesse was born on the Milford Fish Hatchery, operated by his father.

The process of raising the fish (mostly rainbow and some brown trout) begins when the fish eggs arrive from a supplier in Connecticut and are placed in incubators and then in large, round tanks in the greenhouse on the property until they grow to finger-length size. Their next “home” is the large holding areas with water fed from Sumner Brook. The fish reside in that area until taken via a special truck to stock ponds and other fishing areas.

Running the hatchery requires a great deal of maintenance of property and care of the fish. In the busy season, Jessica and Jesse employ a helper and Jesse’s father is also part of the operation.

Certainly no visit to a fish hatchery is complete without a trek to see the trout up close. I must say at this point that I loved the property as well as the actual hatchery. It so vividly reminded me of the hatcheries I saw on childhood visits to such locations. The pine grove near the greenhouse (a perfect place for a picnic lunch), the cement block building on the property, so standard in the days of state-run hatcheries, and the overall wildlife feel of the hatchery brought me back to my youth.

The large, water-filled areas where the trout are kept would be any child’s dream spot. The chance to see fish up close as they swim in the water holds allure for youngsters and I can imagine adults would love it as well. The old, funky Feed the Fish for a quarter sign and the fact that visitors can still get a handful of fish food for just 25 cents is a special touch.

Jesse led the way to the pond where visitors can have the fun experience of fishing and catching their own trout. “We help people who want to try but have never fished before,” Jessica added. “We love to see families fishing by the pond. And for those who don’t know how or don’t want to clean the fish they catch, we will do that for them.”

“We get a lot of Scouts who are working on badges and projects,” Jesse said. “Everyone loves to watch the fish and they love how high the fish can jump out of the water.”

As I looked around the property, I thought how much work maintaining the area must be. The couple told me that, in the future, it is their dream to have hydro and solar power. They say they do not mind the fact that the business requires so much of their time; indeed, it is their life. Both went to Unity College in Maine and both majored in environmental/wildlife fields of study.

It promises to be a busy spring and summer season at Sumner Brook Fish Farm and Sumner Brook Herbals. In August, the farm will feature Get Wild at Sumner Brook. That event last year offered many outdoor and wildlife activities for families, such as the chance for children to catch their first fish for free. This year’s event is open to families and anyone interested in wildlife and fish.

As I bid Jesse and Jessica farewell, I was already thinking about a return visit to Sumner Brook for later in the season. It would be a good excuse to take another Sunday afternoon drive with stops for yard sales and a chance to try my luck at catching a trout in the pond.

Who says kids are the only ones that go together with water and fish?

For information on Sumner Brook Fish Farm, visit www.sumnerbrookfishfarm.com or call 539-7232. 

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