Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Stock Market a Privately Owned Trout Hatchery in the Laurel Highlands Supplies Fun and Value

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Stock Market a Privately Owned Trout Hatchery in the Laurel Highlands Supplies Fun and Value

Article excerpt

Adam Pritts may have devised for himself the perfect job description. He's a trained accountant but he doesn't like desks, cubicles or working indoors.

Solution? Pritts counts trout.

Well, counting is crucial but Pritts does more than enumerate salmonids. As co-owner of Laurel Hill Trout Farm, tucked into a fold in Laurel Mountain along Route 31 between Jones Mills and Somerset, Pritts spawns, grades, coddles, feeds, sorts and sells what fishermen want most. These coming weeks, when scant patches of snow melt to boost mountain aquifers, are his busiest season.

"With the mild winter we've had, business is picking up early," Pritts said. "Fee lakes are already ordering trout. Their customers want to get out and fish."

Laurel Hill (www.laurelhilltroutfarm.com) produces and sells brook, brown, rainbow and golden rainbow trout from fingerling-size up to 2 feet long and beyond. Pritts collects and mixes eggs and sperm at his Somerset facility and another near Osterburg, Bedford County, and raises the hatched fry to fingerlings. Pritts then moves the Bedford County trout across the mountains to Somerset -- a better setup, he explained, for sorting and grading the various species and sizes for sale. Pritts' family has been raising and selling trout at several locations around the Laurel Highlands since 1964 when his grandfather Clair Bassett founded the business.

"This particular farm got started in 1985," Pritts said. "We are here because of the cold clean water. Cold water is everything to us. There are a number of good springs that come out of Laurel Mountain above us here, all within a mile. We also have an artesian well to complement the springs. The well gives us the advantage that it stays a constant 50 degrees year round. The springs do vary some, but up here they never get above 60 degrees, even in summer."

To traffic on Route 31, Pritts' tidy hatchery looks little different than other residences scattered across the ridge. A modest, one-room production building houses frosty glass cylinders of golden-hued eggs. Troughs stand across the room, a little bigger than bathtubs but they hold a third of a million fry. Everything gleams of clean chrome and scrubbed concrete, and visitors stand on fungicidal mats to quash imported disease. The cool air smells alive and exciting, like memories of fishing trips to the mountains.

Outside and down the slope, two parallel concrete raceways harbor dense pods of bigger trout by the thousands. Cold Laurel Mountain water gushes through it all, and hemlock trees and rhododendron shade the flow.

"Here, we're also at the center of our customer base," Pritts said. "We have customers across Western Pennsylvania, in Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia, all within a five-hour radius, with the bulk of them less than an hour's drive away. …

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