|Originally published in OREGONnews, June 17, 1999||Back to WISTROUT|
Many of their peers will spend their retirement traveling or playing golf. Mark and Jean Hanson will simply step out their back door for relaxation.
A 0.75-acre pond filled with trout and a pair of mute swans, a stable of horses, a collection of tractors and one of the oldest, and in its time one of the largest continually family-owned farmsteads in Dane County should keep the former school teachers busy for years to come. They have no plans to leave the 140-year-old farmstead anytime soon.
"Every day when I go home, I have a vacation," Jean would say to her co-workers at Madison LaFolette High School. "I have a little bit of heaven."
Jean retired earlier this year after 36 years as a business education teacher, while Mark stepped down in June after 34 years of serving most recently as manager of the Madison Metropolitan School District's cable channel.
The farm, on Highway 14 about two miles south of Oregon, has bas been part of the landscape since before the Civil War. Visitors from throughout the area in the 1880s came to look with envy at the new 40x80 barn, considered then to be one of the biggest in the county. The farmstead was also owned by Ralph Sholts up until his death in 1984. He was a well-known farmer and former member of the Oregon School Board. Today, the farmstead is best known for the high-quality hay it grows for area horse farmers and for its rainbow trout that entice area anglers of all ages.
When Jean was growing up, the pond was just a mud hole for pigs, but in the early 1960's, her dad dug out the area and tapped into the natural cold-water spring that for years had kept milk cool in an adjacent spring-house. The small stone building still stands and now is used to store fish food.
"After they built the pond, they put a sign on the road, and it's been there ever since," Mark said. "We don't define it as work."
About 1000 trout ranging from 10 to 20 inches inhabit the 13-foot deep pond at Century Trout Farm. Fishing is free, but if you catch something, you must keep it and pay by the inch. Fish 12 inches and under cost 30 cents per inch; 12- to 15-inch fish are 35 cents and inch, while fish 15 inches and longer are 40 cents and inch. The largest fish ever caught at the pond was 24 inches, but it's not unusual for anglers to reel in trout 15 to 16 inches in length.
About 2500 trout are stocked yearly, and all are 10 inches or longer. The couple buy their fish from a supplier, but Mark is contemplating raising his own and/or adding bluegills or possible walleye to two other ponds on the 60-acre piece of property filled with a wide variety of different trees planted by Sholts. Fish are not sold to restaurants or individuals. The only way to get a fish here is to drop a line in the 50-degree water.
"There's a chance you won't catch anything," said Mark. "That's half the fun of it."
Besides raising top-quality hay for horses, Jean is also experienced in fly-fishing, and the pond can be a perfect place to test out a new fly rod or work out the kinks of a cast. The park-like setting is also conducive to families who want a little more privacy with their fishing and picnicking experience. The only advertising for the trout farm is by word of mouth and the wooded roadside sign.
"They can count on it being private and not busy," Mark said. "It's just very pleasant, and I've met some fine folks."