Fee-Fishing Preserves

- as an Ontario Tourist Attraction -

Part One - The Structure


This report is intended to provide fee-fishing operators and potential operators with useful information about how to market their operation as a tourist attraction


Fee-fishing, fish-out ponds, U-fish and fishing preserves are all the same and designate a place where one can go to angle for fish. For the most part, they are private businesses. And since they are privately owned and operate on private land, they may operate outside the jurisdiction of Ontario Waters (public water).

OMNR Regulations

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources' fishing licences and fishing regulations do not apply to the taking of fish from a fishing preserve; [a] no resident (or) non resident licence is required [b] no closed season restrictions [c] no limits on quantity of fish taken [d] no size limitations.

Conservation Officer

The pond operator will gladly provide a dated receipt noting the number of the fish taken from the fishing preserve. This receipt may be presented to a Conservation Office as a courtesy in explaining the origin of the fish.


Fee-fishing falls under the heading of aquaculture, a division of agriculture, it is the controlled cultivation of aquatic animals and plants.


While fee fishing has been practiced in Ontario for over a century, the Ministry of Natural Resources started regulating the practice about thirty years ago. Until recently fee-fishing operators could only be licenced to provide rainbow and brook trout (brook char) largemouth and smallmouth bass. The licence (by the OMNR) to operate a fishing preserve is now more flexable.

Current Species

In November 1995, the provincial government took the progressive step of legalizing the cultivation of an additional 24 species of food fish. Although rainbow trout will continue to be the mainstay of Ontario fee-fishing for the next few years, there is excellent potential for brown trout, perch, salmon, walleye, char, northern pike, catfish, crappie, and carp.

Private Clubs & Public Fee fishing

Most fee fishing establishments are open to the public. However, there are clubs that require membership. Club members establish and police their rules. This partnership leaves the facility owner as a landlord and a supplier of fish should he operate a grow-out farm.

Fishing for Food & Pleasure

Fishing is done for both food and pleasure. Some would describe fee-fishing as a form of pick-your-own produce. Nearly all pond operators expect their clients to keep all fish caught. This is important because catching a fish causes severe damage. All discussion on this topic is relegated to talking about the degree of this damage. It is, therefore, important that the pond operator inform their guests on acceptable methods of fishing and fish handling.

Fly Fishing

Most fee-fishing establishments encourage and allow fly fishing. The owner should set aside certain ponds or areas for fly fishing. Besides the danger of being hooked, fly fishermen do not take kindly to kids or adults interrupting their casting rhythm. Some clubs are exclusively for fly fishing. In the United States fly fishermen outnumber all other type of fisherman and generate billions in business revenues.

Catch and Release

Only skilled fly fishermen using barbless hooks should be allowed to release fish. This type of fishing will be in an area designated as such by the owner.

Rate Structures

Three sets of prices are possible in the normal public fee-fishing operation; entrance fees, cost of fish caught and fees for other services (e.g., cleaning or filleting ) Some growers do not charge an entrance fee, citing that they do not want to scare off potential customers. This lost admission revenue can usually be recovered by adjusting the unit rates for fish caught. Most operators charge by weight which is more equitable then charging by length. Some charge by the number of fish caught regardless of size. This system is used mostly in a club setting where so many dollars allow one to catch a certain number of fish. Most growers set their prices at the beginning of the season and do not adjust them until the next season.

Popularity Reasons

The paying public is becoming more sophisticated and knowledgable over the years. The following is a list of reasons that fee fishing is becoming more popular

[a] There is a shift of income and leisure times available to certain demographic groups. [b] There is a general increase in the demand for seafood and aquaculture products. [c] There is an awareness of the health benefits of fish consumption. In recent years, low fat levels and high percentage of omega -3 fatty acids in fish have been linked with a reduced incidence of heart disease. In addition, fish is high quality protein that supplies essential vitamins and minerals [d] There is a general declines in output from the wild harvest fishery and many people see aquaculture as the future source of most fish. [e] There are concerns of consumers about the quality and safety of wild harvested fish (toxicity) [f] There is a philosophy shift about private property rights versus public resource management. [g] Fee-fishing offers affordable family entertainments that is both fun and educational. [h] The patrons are free from government fishing regulations. [i] Finally, fee-fishing gives younger and disabled anglers a better chance of catching fish and practicing new techniques

Services Provided

Pond operators vary in the amount of services provided to customers. Most of the growers will clean, bag and ice the caught fish; some also fillet fish. Others offer additional services such as hatchery tours, nature trails, shore lunches, refreshments, and fish feeding demonstrations. They may also sell fish and fish feed or have a gift shop.


Adequate liability insurance is a must! Although the owner may feel that the liability insurance is adequate, he may be wise to; [a] take steps to ensure that personal property is separate from business property. Lawsuits are never predictable. [b] post all appropriate signage warning of danger. [c] disallow the use of alcoholic beverages [e ] look at the facility the way a judge might - "has the owner tried to protect his guests from harm"


Most fee-fishing operations are not open during the Winter months unless they have the sufficient cliental and a mechanical system for keeping the pond free of ice. Ice fishing is a possibility for the fee fishing operator but since the liability is so great, it may not be a wise venture. The peak period of sales for fee-fishing occurs during late April and May when "fishing fever" is at its peak and then continues during the tourist season of July and August.


Hours vary from farm to farm. Some are open only by "chance or appointment" Usually the small operator must restrict the hours because it would be all but impossible to serve the predawn and the twilight fisherman. Trout tend not to be very active on the brightest part of midday midsummer, so some operators may curtail activities during that part of the day. "If it is a great day for the beach then that's where you should be - because the trout will not be biting!"


Not all pond operators hatch their own fish; many choose to be able to purchase a variety of species and sizes from hatcheries. Likewise, not all hatcheries and grow-out operators have the inclination or available time to operate a fishing pond.

Part Two - Marketing


The first step to improved marketing of a fee-fishing enterprise is to understand the tourist's view of "fee-fishing." Fee-fishing is more than just inviting anglers to come to fish. A better, more thorough concept of a fee-fishing operation takes into account that the visitors, or guests, view fee-fishing in the larger context of a tourism experience, with the fishing of a stocked pond as only one component.

Tourism Experience

There are two important reasons to view fee-fishing as part of a larger tourism experience. [1] This approach treats customers as guests and therefore implies that they have other needs beyond fishing. [2] This perspective places the fishing within a larger context of why people visit a fee-fishing operation: they are looking for activities that are both fun and educational.

Promoting the Operation

To better market your fee-fishing operation, you should promote your operation and its products as part of an overall tourist experience. This means engaging in both on-farm and off-farm promotions to keep old customers and attract new ones. In tourism, word-of-mouth is the most effective means of advertisement. On-farm promotions are designed to encourage repeat visits from customers and to stimulate new business through word-of-mouth. To attract and keep customers (guests) for your fee-fishing operation, you need to provide:

1. A scenic, aesthetically beautiful setting. Because your guests are on vacation, they prefer to have a picturesque, relaxing environment when they fish. This includes shade trees, grass, well-maintained grounds, benches, tables and flowers.

2. A good quality product. Growers should make available to visitors a diversified line of products (species and sizes) that look nice, are nutritious, healthy and safe.

3. A friendly and helpful staff. Staff training is critical to ensure that guests are well treated. Visitors are more likely to return to a place where the staff is friendly and cooperative.

4. An adequate number of workers. Although your customers are on vacation (if only for the day), they don't enjoy waiting. To combat this, the operation needs a staff large enough to handle the volume of visitors.

5. Clearly marked prices. This eliminates confusion and avoids problems that would detract from the visitors' experience. Also, this allows visitors to decide what services they want to use.

6. Adequate facilities. It is important to minimize congestion for services and facilities offered (restrooms, and picnic facilities).

7. Other on-site activities. Activities other than fishing will enhance the visitors' tourism experience, including hatchery tours, fish feeding, a picnic area or lake activities (swimming and paddle boats). In deciding what activities to offer, keep in mind that all members of a travel party may not be interested in fishing. These other people may play a role in deciding whether to visit your business.

8. Souvenirs and memories. Have something for customers to take with them to encourage return visits and to encourage others to visit. Possibilities include a brochure about the fish farm, information on cleaning or preparing fish (a local recipe, if possible) and souvenirs (for example, sun visors, hats, T-shirts, coffee mugs, key chains or buttons).

9. Ensure product quality. It is important to ensure the quality of fish products. This can be done by: having healthy fish that bite well; carefully packaging the fish (ask about visitors' travel plans to suggest how to keep the fish fresh); and giving fish preparation and cooking suggestions. The fee-fishing's reputation is only as good as the on-farm experience and the quality of the fish (appearance, texture, freshness and taste) when it is prepared. Do whatever is possible to minimize quality reduction for travelers.

10. Information about other area activities. It is important to provide information (brochures or signs) about other area activities. A variety of activities in the area for tourists will help your business, not hurt it. In addition, this will build a feeling of community among operators of various recreational activities in the area.

Off-Farm Promotions

Off-farm promotions are designed to attract new customers to your operation. Growers with fee-fishing operations must direct their off-farm promotional efforts at both the local and regional levels. Each type of promotion should be directed toward different types of visitors and should use different methods.

Off-Farm - Regional

Some off-farm promotions should be directed at the regional level, including county or area tourist associations, newspapers in larger surrounding cities (for example, Toronto and London) and bus tour companies. The goal of these promotions is to influence travelers when they are deciding where to spend their vacations. Owners of local tourism attractions can organize to jointly promote the diversity of activities in their area. Regional promotion generally is too costly for a grower to tackle independently, so cooperation between growers and other tourist service businesses is required to develop an adequate promotion budget to address more distant markets. Local promotions (a 20-mile radius) should be directed toward contact points where area travelers might request information about the area's activities, including hotel operators, the Chamber of Commerce, gas stations, the tourist information office, the county Extension office and anywhere else that tourists may ask for advice about recreational activities. To build awareness of your operation, you might offer a free fishing experience to selected people who might recommend your business to tourists. These contact points are important because tourists already in the area ask them, "What are the fun things to do around here?" A good working relationship with these people will result in an overall stronger business environment for both you and other operations in your area.

Variety of Experiences

Visitors want to have a variety of experiences, possibly your fee-fishing operation can complement other area activities. In addition, local media, including newspapers, brochures and flyers, should be used in peak tourist periods to directly influence the tourism decisions of visitors in your area. Finally, your operation should be listed in both the telephone directory and travel guides. These are low cost ways of helping tourists more easily find your facility.


Pond operators who advertise do so in a variety of ways, including the traditional local newspapers, brochures, newsletters and road signs. Today, enterprising businessman networks via tourist associations, fishing trade shows, fishing magazines, and not least of all, the Internet.

Learn About Your Guests

Information about your guests is critical to promoting your business. For example, information on where they came from, how many people are in their group, the number of days they have spent in the area, how they learned about your operation and so on, is important to guide both your promotions.

3 ways you can acquire information about your guests are:

[1] Guest Registry - As visitors arrive, you could request that they write in your guest registry their names, where they came from, the number of people with them and so on. This is a non obtrusive way of having people leave information necessary for your promotional activities. The addresses of visitors are useful because you can then send them a flyer reminding them of future events and activities at your site and in your area. Remember, your best future business prospects are your past customers, and satisfied customers are your best form of advertising.

[2] Wall Maps - Another popular way of acquiring information about your visitors is to have a family member put a pin in a wall map to show where they are from. This is also fun and shows your guests the diversity of visitors that your operation attracts.

[3] Observation & Informal Discussions - The operator, or the staff member who greets the guests, could observe and informally question the guests to acquire the information you need to conduct your promotional activities. This is the least threatening method to get this information because it does not require guests to decide whether they want to write down certain information.

Make Improvements

It is also important to demonstrate that you are willing to improve the quality of the goods and services that you offer. This will generate good will only if you listen carefully and follow through with reasonable suggestions. It is important to remember that you are providing a service, and if your present guests are not satisfied, your future guests won't be, either.

Solicit Advice

Ask guests for any comments or suggestions they have about their visit to your farm, and record them later. It is important to remain positive and not be defensive as people give their comments. Remember, you asked them for suggestions! On the other hand, not all questions that you want answered will get asked, and people are less likely to make negative comments orally.

Suggestion Box

You could also have a small form (a note card or 1/2 page photocopy) for interested guests to complete. The card could either be blank or have some questions about what they liked and didn't like, and what additional goods and services they would like to have available. This method is useful because all questions you want answers to could be asked, and you will have a better chance of soliciting constructive (both positive and negative) comments from guests. Not everybody is willing to write down their comments, so you will get fewer responses and less detail per response, and you probably cannot ask questions to clarify their comments.


Only a small percentage of Ontario consumers have ever gone fee-fishing, most people are unaware of the opportunity. Therefore, more effort needs to be made to promote both on-farm and off-farm. The critical issue, though, is to recognize that fee-fishing is both an agricultural and a tourism activity. Promotional efforts have to include both the product and service sides of the fee-fishing operation. Few travelers go fee-fishing only to catch fish and leave. Most travelers want to have fun and learn something new. The challenge is to offer your guests a complete tourism experience that includes not only fishing, but also a variety of other activities and experiences. Capturing a tourist requires that he or she must first be attracted to rural Ontario then to your region and finally to your business. Thus, you should be willing to become involved in the full chain of tourism industry promotional activities.

Sources of Information

Huron County Tourism Association. Huron County Planning Dept. MSU Extension Ontario Aquaculture Association. Rainbow Trout Hatchery and Fish-Out Pond. University of Guelph, Aquastats.

Prepared by David Hedley ----Rainbow Trout Hatchery & Fish-Out Pond RR#1 Belgrave, Ont. N0G 1E0 --- ph / fax (519) 357-2329 --- E-mail ---- dave@hedley.ca

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