An Eastern Shore retiree is hooked on fish farming, pond management

OUTDOORS

April 02, 1995|By PETER BAKER

Thomas Geist turned off the secondary road, shifted his well-used pickup truck into four-wheel drive and drove slowly into the low hills and shallow swales of Queen Anne's County. From the jump seat of the cab, Jo, Geist's golden Labrador, rose and nosed toward the window.

A dozen geese lifted from a small pond, circled inside the tree line and set down on another. Mallards moved from the shoreline toward the safety of open water, where bass, bluegill and stripers dimpled the surface.

Geist stopped the truck, shifted a toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other and smiled.

"Every day is Christmas for me here," said Geist, 10 years into retirement and working through the daylight hours seven days a week. "Every day has its gifts of knowledge, and in this kind of work you have to use those gifts wisely."

Geist is a fish farmer, primarily raising hybrid striped bass (rockfish) for market but also managing ponds and small lakes in Kent and Queen Anne's counties that, for a fee, can be fished for largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill, crappie and striped bass.

"You could say that it is like being Mother Nature," Geist said as we walked an earthen berm along a pond holding several thousand hybrid that soon will reach market size of 2 1/2 to three pounds. "To raise these fish you have to create the proper environment and maintain it.

"You first have to fill the pond, fertilize it to create plankton, introduce zooplankton and then, once you have started the food chain, you can put in the fingerlings, which are really no more than pair of eyes and a tail when we get them.

"Eventually, they grow to be like these -- and larger."

As we walked the berms and shorelines of many of the striper ponds, every third or fourth cast of a small, silver rattle-trap caught a healthy, 2- or 3-pound hybrid.

"But, my, the fishing is slow; I wish it were better," Geist said. "Water temperatures are still low and the fish aren't really out of dormancy yet.

"In another two weeks or so, when the water temperature hits about 50 degrees, every cast should catch a fish -- and that's what I like. I have to have action, activity, fish that swirl up beneath your lure, hit it hard and take some line off your reel."

While the majority of Goose Valley Fish Farms' 41 ponds are used to raise market fish for restaurants in the Mid-Atlantic states, Geist points proudly to an eight-acre lake in Kent County that has produced largemouth bass up to 9 pounds and regularly turns up 4- and 5-pounders -- and then adds that there is a trophy bass pond besides.

On the trophy pond, which can be fished only once every four pTC days, three of the first five casts caught largemouth between two and four pounds and, in the space of half an hour, six nice bass were hooked and released.

"I fully expect," said Geist, at 65 given neither to overstatement nor easy work, "that the state-record largemouth eventually will come out of this pond."

Geist and his partners, Floyd Price of Kennedyville and Paul Wilps of Pennsylvania, have spent six years digging aquaculture ponds and enhancing natural ponds. Geist raises all the fish on the properties, from golden shiners that are introduced as forage to the stripers and hefty largemouth bass that are at the top of the food chain.

"By raising our own," said Geist, "We can ensure that the quality of the fish and the fishing is what we want it to be."

Fishing for smallmouth and largemouth bass is catch-and-release only, and a fee of $2 per pound is charged for species that can be kept. Rates range from a $15-per-day entrance fee to $100 a day for guided trips.

Boat and tackle rentals also are available, and on one lake kids can fish from a dock especially constructed to keep them in the action and out of the water.

For information about the farm, call (410) 778-5300).

"There was one guy who came and thought he didn't get his money's worth, so I gave him his money back," Geist said. "One guy in all these years is not a bad ratio of customer satisfaction."

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