Wilderness Springs Trout Farm

AgMRC Business Profile
July 2009

Wilderness Springs Trout Farm
Mike & Kathy Foster
N4923 Lange Drive
New London, WI  54961
(920) 982-2386

Prepared by Dan Burden

fishing troutLocated in the beautiful rolling hills of central Wisconsin, Wilderness Springs Trout Farm is nestled into the southerly-facing slope of a long ridge between the towns of Manawa and New London.  The farm’s motto “Finest Trout Year Round” reflects the operation’s attention to detail and product quality.
In the mid-1940s, the Reverend Wally Lange, an avid outdoorsmen & conservationist, purchased some marshland from farmers who  used the area to feed cattle during drought years.  His interest in the springs that trickled into the marshland resulted in the vision of what would become Wilderness Springs.  He was able to eventually purchase adjoining property and developed the springs for a trout-fishing operation in 1963.  Initially a hobby business where most of the fish were going free-of-charge to friends, fee fishing was soon adopted as a cost-recovery measure.  In 1968 Rev. Lange retired from the ministry and with his wife Helen, moved from their home in Seymour, Wisconsin, to New London to operate Wilderness Springs as a full-time seasonal venture.

Mike & Kathy Foster (Rev. Lange’s son-in-law & daughter) worked at the trout ponds for several years and had a passion for seeing Rev. Lange’s legacy continue and thrive. In 1974, they completely took over the operation and are the current owners and managers of the business.  Wilderness Springs is a family business comprised of Mike and Kathy and their four children and grandchildren. The trout operation is not the sole income stream for the farm.  Mike and Kathy also have outside jobs and other agricultural endeavors that include a relatively large-scale ginseng plantation.

trout nurseryWilderness Springs now comprises 30 ponds & concrete raceways; hatching 300,000 rainbow trout per year.  It is a trout-production operation with revenue generated more or less equally from public “fee” fishing and the production of fish for pond stocking and sport shows.  In 1984 the fee-fishing component of the operation was curtailed to concentrate on live hauling of trout for other markets, but within the last two years, the farm was re-opened to the public.  “We have really enjoyed seeing people come and fish.  Many relate stories of coming fishing when they were children, and now are bringing their children and grandchildren,” comments Kathy Foster.  “It appears the legacy of my father’s vision is now one that is also cherished by our children and grandchildren, much like the customers who have welcomed us back.”

The farm does not produce fish for restaurants.  “This would mean that additional permits and inspections would be necessary; and that the operation would have to be able to meet demand during the cold winter months when working with fish and water can be difficult.  Also, by not being in the “meat business,” there is no need for expensive product-liability insurance," said Mike Foster.

The farm’s pure-spring-water artesian-fed ponds are open for public fishing from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm four days of the week (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday) May through September.  All ages and skill levels of anglers are welcome, and the ponds are reasonably handicapped accessible.  Since this is a licensed hatchery/aquaculture operation, no State of Wisconsin Resident or Non-Resident Fishing License is required, and there are no bag limits.

Wilderness Springs has a spacious and picturesque picnic area where dogs are welcome, as long as they are kept tethered or on a leash.  Benches are provided for those wishing to take a break from fishing or where spectators or those supervising children can relax with a good book.  Waste containers are suited around the facility for convenient disposal of beverage bottles and other litter.  Clear and concise signage is provided on the cleaning/reception building immediately adjacent to the visitor parking area.

pamphletsBait and tackle are provided for the visiting casual tourist or family with small children; although no live bait is allowed since introduced fauna may serve as a disease vector; additionally, live bait usually is frowned upon for trout fishing, since the fish tend to inhale the bait, making release of the fish in good condition far more difficult, if not impossible.  Any fish hooked and landed at Wilderness Springs must be taken, since hooked and handled fish may die, and their removal ensures that only fish in peak condition are present in the ponds and for the next client.

Clients are charged by the overall (total) weight of the catch when they are ready to leave and not “by-the-fish.”  It should be noted that the ponds fished for this profile yielded rainbow trout in the ten to sixteen-inch range, and were caught on No.16 to No.22 dry flies on an 8 ½-foot fly rod.  Hooked fish were extremely fit and on that tackle provided a great deal of excitement and challenge to play prior to being landed.  The price-per-pound was reasonable for the quality and number of fish, sparkling-clean facilities and the beautiful surroundings.  The Fosters offer fish-cleaning services for a small fee; fish are packaged and iced at no charge.  In the cleaning/reception building, color brochures that include location maps for the business, business cards, a guest registration, and a very nice simply-produced six-page trout cookbook “The End of The Rainbow... --Recipes To Cook a Trout,” are on-hand for visitors.  

Wilderness Srings SignSince this is a trout-farm aquaculture operation, hooking a fish is a simple task and nothing like the challenging sport-fishing equivalent of natural-water trout fishing.  However, as a place to take children, the family, or beginning fly-fishers, this sort of fee-fishing operation is an outstanding value, and a wonderful personal bonding experience.  For example, with fly-fishing, the casting to and playing of fish on extremely light tackle is a highly-developed skill set oftentimes described as an art.  For a beginner to acquire these skills on natural waters with wild (or hatchery-released) fish, it could easily take several years and include many frustrating and perhaps fish-less experiences.  At an operation like Wilderness Springs, a great deal of valuable experience can be gained in a few hours in a safe and secure setting with none of the licensing and a minimum of the costly specialized gear necessary to take on a wild river.  Also, the beginner has the satisfaction of returning home with their catch; fresh ultra-high-quality fish with which to treat friends and family.