Delaware County resident Bob Grimm expected to join his father Earl as a veterinarian. He was in veterinary school when he took a tour of a fish farm run in Coshocton County, and his plans changed.

Delaware County resident Bob Grimm expected to join his father Earl as a veterinarian. He was in veterinary school when he took a tour of a fish farm run in Coshocton County, and his plans changed.

"I met Dennis Fender of Fender's Fish Farm and he helped me get into the business," Grimm said. "He helped me learn everything I know. I buy fish off him and I sell him fish if he needs something."

That was in 1999. Grimm then graduated with a degree in horticulture instead of veterinary medicine. Today he has more than 30 ponds on the family farm on Miller Paul Road, south of U.S. Route 36, where he operates Catch of the Day Fish Farm with some help from his brother, dad and a few part-time employees.

Grimm, 48, started the fish farm with the idea of selling perch as a food product, but he quickly decided it was too much work and too little profit.

"I started out trying to sell yellow perch for food, but I didn't see any way to make any money at that, to be successful at it," Grimm said.

His market niche was the result of residential growth and the number of private ponds in central Ohio.

"Basically what we do here is stock ponds," Grimm said. "Some people will buy them (the fish) for food. They'll buy some of the bigger catfish, maybe three catfish that weigh five or six pounds apiece, and we sell those by the pound.

"But mostly what we sell are smaller fish. Maybe someone has built a house out in the country and they've dug a pond. A lot of times they do that because they need the dirt to raise the property line, so your house isn't sitting in swamp. A lot of people just want a pond in their yard. We're a place where you can get fish to stock it with."

Stocked ponds can be regular customers, too, Grimm said, for maintenance fish that eat algae, and feeder fish such as minnows to help fish stock grow.

"We stock quite a few ponds every year, and a lot of our business is selling grass carp," Grimm said. "Once I stock a pond for somebody, it should take care of itself. But then we'll sell them the white amurs, which are also known as grass carp. They're algae eaters. And we sell a lot of feeder fish, the minnows. People want their fish to have plenty to eat."
Right now, Grimm's business is growing enough to satisfy him.
"We're really the only one that does this kind of thing in central Ohio," Grimm said.
"There are some koi dealers and people who raise things privately, but we're the only one in Delaware County who does it. You have Fender's, and Urbana Freshwater Farms in Urbana. They work a lot on shrimp and they sell a lot of trout, too, and that's something we don't sell. They're a little different than us. They do supply a lot of food fish, a lot of trout for grocery stores and I believe they sell (retail) from their farm."

Grimm keeps two large ponds where most of his fish are hatched, and smaller ponds where like species are kept.

"I think I've got 31 or 32 ponds now, mostly rearing ponds, they're not real big," Grimm said. "We have one pond that's about two acres with four-million gallons of water in it and a one-acre pond with half that much. We raise a lot of fish in those two ponds.

"The fish hatch out naturally, then we'll pull the fish out, split them out by species, and then separate them into smaller ponds. If somebody wants to buy 50 bass and 200 bluegill, just go to the pond with bass and the pond with bluegill.

"We don't keep fish out; when we get an order, we go to the ponds."

Despite his initial reaction to the retail fish market, Grimm is still considering whether to expand in that direction.

"We are starting to fool around with breeding tilapia, not selling, but breeding, to see if we can make a go of that," Grimm said. "They are a tropical fish, so they won't live through the winter. You have to keep them warm or they're done."

Another experiment is using plants to clean the pond water, to increase its capacity for raising fish.

"We fool around with aquaponics, where we're using the plants to filter the water, so we can raise more fish. The plants use up the ammonia and nitrites."

Even so, Grimm likes the pace of his farm as it is now.

Selling fish as food means feeding the fish and cultivating them at a pace to satisfy the demands of a restaurant or a grocery store. The farmer ends up dealing with middle men and cost pressures.

Pond stocking is a slower-paced business, he said.

"You deal with people more in my business," Grimm said. "You're hearing about their ponds. It's kind of a niche market we've filled. It's a fast-growing area and a lot of people are wanting to get out of the city."