There I was, 10 years old and perched on the edge of a small pond at the Tahoe Trout Farm holding a fishing pole with a little bobber at the end of the line. Next to me, my cousins Brandon and Shellaina also had rods in their hands. It was a sunny summer morning in the early 1990s; suddenly, Shellaina caught a fish and everyone ran over to her. But at that same moment, something yanked on my line and in a state of panic I flung my pole up behind me and a small trout went flying into the bushes.
“You were so excited, you just kept yelling, ‘I caught a fish. I caught a fish!’” my mother recalls. I remember being so shocked that I had caught something that I did not know how to react; it is one of my earliest Tahoe memories.
A few decades before me, Jim Vallier also remembers catching his first Tahoe fish at the Tahoe Trout Farm in his younger days. Now, more than half a century later not much has changed except that Vallier and his wife Jackie acquired the trout farm to continue the tradition of giving families something affordable and fun to do at the historic Tahoe site.
“We wanted to keep it as one of the few remaining historical parts of Lake Tahoe and save it for generations to come,” Jim says.
Tahoe Trout Farm in South Lake Tahoe has been in continuous operation since its inception in 1946. It is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. April through early October. In 2011, the Valliers purchased the trout farm and source the trout from Mt. Lassen Trout Farm, steelhead rainbow trout and lightning golden trout. They restock the ponds with 2,500 pounds of fish, delivered every two weeks.
The Valliers are proud of the quality of the fish; they donate fish to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, Christmas Cheer Foundation and other community organizations. Tahoe Trout Farm also helps Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts earn merit badges at the farm.
Tahoe Trout Farm offers free entry, free parking, free bait, free tackle and free otter pops, which is what many kids remember the most. No fishing licenses are required; all ages are welcome. People pay for what they catch at $1 an inch and another $1 to clean it, if wanted.
The farm has had a problem with thieves. As Jim helps dislodge a hook from a young girl’s freshly caught trout, he admits that in the early days in 2011, bears would wander in and swipe fish. They installed an electric fence to keep the bears out but then they had an issue with the osprey. The couple has since kept a rubber bald eagle at the end of the Whopper Pond to deter them from coming in.
“We would rather donate fish to the bears at the Wildlife Center than have them come and help themselves,” Jim says.
Once a kid catches a fish, there are three options on what he or she can do with it. First, the fish can be cooked and vacuumed sealed onsite for the child to take home, the child can take it to a restaurant — MacDuff’s Public House will cook trout in either a blackened Cajun, sherry dill or beer batter — or the child can donate the fish to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care or Christmas Cheer.
At 11 a.m. on a warm weekday morning, the ponds are already filling up with families and Jim goes over the rules: don’t hook each other, don’t throw fish back into the pond and don’t jump in the pond. He offers the kids their choice of bait: Mr. Salmon Egg or Mr. Worm. He then gives them a simple fishing pole with a bobber, line and a hook attached.
About a half-hour later, I see that the same family on the side of the pond with a fish wiggling around in the net. The little boy is jumping up and down, bobber in hand. “I caught a fish! I caught a fish!” he exclaims, immediately taking me back to the thrill of catching a fish at the Tahoe Trout Farm 30 years ago. I experience déjà vu and feel grateful to the Valliers for keeping this family-friendly, fish-catching mom-and-pop business alive. | tahoetroutfarm.com