Rushing Waters Fisheries is Quite a Catch

Rushing Waters Fisheries is Quite a Catch
The smoked trout from Rushing Waters Fisheries is the genuine article.

Lately, we’ve been enjoying a particular brand of smoked trout, a food of which we’re fond to begin with. It’s a local product, from Rushing Waters Fisheries in Palmyra. We’re partial to the eight-ounce smoked rainbow trout fillets that the company says are “marinated in a savory brine of salt, brown sugar and spices before being hot-smoked on-site to golden perfection using all natural hickory and northern hardwoods.” The fillets contain no artificial flavors or chemical preservatives, which is important to us. But, in addition, the smoke isn’t as heavy as with some fish and the fillets are lighter and more delicate. That, and a connection we were reminded of recently, is what makes Rushing Waters the genuine article.

The connection is owner Bill Graham, or more directly, Jonathan Barry. Last summer we enjoyed dinner with some friends at Barry’s farm in the Town of Primrose. Coincidentally enough, Barry served trout from the stream on his farm. But more to the point Barry, who among other things has been Dane County Executive, UW Regent, owner of Tyrol Basin, deputy secretary of the state’s Department of Workforce Development and founder of the Dane County Farmers’ Market, was president of the WT Rodgers Company, the office products manufacturing business Graham started in 1949. By the time Graham sold the company in 1991, he (and Barry) had grown the operation to $50 million-plus in annual sales, with a workforce of three hundred.

Barry is an unabashed fan of Graham. “Bill is a completely honest man who insists that all who work for him or represent him in any way also conduct their business with complete honesty.” Two of Graham’s early ventures remain under his and his employees’ ownership today, the Agrecol Corporation and Rushing Waters Fisheries. Agrecol is the second-largest producer of prairie seed in the country. It’s located in Evansville, where Graham, now in his mid-eighties, lives and where his several hundred irrigated acres are in production. Its customers include state natural resource agencies, Pheasants Forever and numerous companies that repackage and re-sell his seeds.

Barry says Rushing Waters was purchased in 1994. It was operating as a trout farm but was in poor repair and losing money. “Bill’s team redeveloped the place and now there are some fifty ponds and a new processing and smoke house plant plus a great restaurant,” says Barry. He adds, “Rushing Waters is blessed by having artesian springs” that provide some three thousand gallons of cold water a minute to flow through the ponds where the trout are raised. The fishery now produces more fresh rainbow trout than all the other trout farms in the state combined, Barry tells us. “They sell directly to some fine restaurants and to many retail outlets and their product line has expanded beyond fresh trout to include several smoked trout recipes that are outstanding.”

We’ve not tried the trout spreads, preferring to make our own. But the scope of the business, including the restaurant in Palmyra, is in keeping with the man Barry knows and respects. “Bill has sometimes been underestimated as he has a down-home manner, is always gracious, fun-loving and a good listener,” says Barry. “He retains a bit of that back-country Southern mountain drawl that can fool a competitor into thinking that he can be taken advantage of. But that’s rarely the case, as his success shows.”

Honesty, treating customers with respect and delivering great value: Those qualities are true of Graham and Rushing Waters trout—and Barry, for that matter. And genuine articles.

Nancy Christy is the former owner of the Wilson Street Grill. She now runs the consulting firm Meaningful People, Places and Food. Neil Heinen is, among other things, her hungry husband.