Big Pine Trout Farm
When I think about fishing in Appalachia, my thoughts immediately turn to trout–and the zen-infused sport of fly fishing. Anglers are known to be obsessed, and the most general Google search for “fly fishing philosophy” or “zen fly fishing” reveal a bevy of books and websites dedicated to the delicate and focused activity.
While I’ve been looking forward to the chance to start my fly fishing experience, I’ve been worried about my utter lack of experience and gear–angling adds up–and reading books like Christopher Camuto’s A Fly Fisherman’s Blue Ridge is engrossing, it’s not exactly helpful for technique. My luck changed completely when my friends invited me to accompany them to a practical fishing day up at Big Pine Trout Farm.
The day was actually the proprietor Jim’s Bone-In Appetit event–an afternoon dedicated to teaching his loyal smoked trout and fresh fillet customers how to catch, clean, and cook his regionally famous naturally farmed trout. At a first glance of the propert, I was most interested in his farming system. Big Pine shoulders up to the George Washington National Forest, a beautiful mostly wilderness area in the mountains, and the property contains a managed stream that flows out of the forest. The stocked fish come from Jim’s ponds. Instead of the usual concrete structures that we’re used to finding in fish farms, the ponds are all dirt, all water, and all oxygenated from the gravity flow of the stream through the ponds (some of the stream water is piped through the ponds, naturally oxygenating and cleaning the ponds). The fish themselves are fed an all-natural high protein diet including as many bugs, craydads, and other goodies Jim wrassles up. And as far as the property goes? It’s gorgeous.
During the course of the afternoon, I learned how to use the tenkara method of fly fishing from Kevin Kelleher who has a book on the 400 year old Japanese method forthcoming. I ought to say I began to learn how to fly fish–fly fishing in a stocked pond is cheating compared to in a stream, but baby steps. Jim then taught me how to clean the fish, bone-in, and then Ginger Hillery of Full Circle Farm taught us how to make fish stock, cook a whole fish, and make a lemon beurre blanc. Finally we all shared a meal together–fish chowder, the fish with beurre blanc, Ginger’s fresh milled grain bread, local roasted parsnips, turnips, carrots, and onions, and local wine from Chateau Morrisette. I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful, if not gut- and blood-filled, afternoon.
The ability to catch, clean, and cook fresh, local, sustainable fish is essential to the region. More than ever, streams in Appalachia are facing crisis–acid rain, climate change, development, and factors we aren’t even aware of have been depleting the biological wealth of our watersheds. While fish farming sounds like an entirely unsustainable affair, Big Pine really turned the table on that supposition. This isn’t a shrimp farm in the middle of what used to be a mangrove–it’s a plot of property in the shade of the mountains that doesn’t interfere (much) with the natural environment. Plus the opportunity for customers to drive up from the city to the farm to catch and clean their own fish cuts back on customer cost–and provides the chance for everyone to become more involved in their food systems. If nothing else, I’m excited more now than ever to get out into a stream in a few months and try my attention at “real” fly fishing. I might not catch anything, but I’m ready to face the challenge.