Still going strong: Historic fish farm celebrates 75 years

Laney Griffo
Tahoe Trout Farm in the 1950s. Provided

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Tucked away in a quiet corner in South Lake Tahoe, overlooking Trout Creek with mountains as the backdrop is the peaceful Tahoe Trout Farm.

This year marks 75 years of continuous operation for this hidden historic gem.

It opened its door in 1946 as Upton Ponds and has had four owners over the years. Current owners, Jim and Jackie Vallier, purchased the property in 2012, when Jim said it was in danger of disappearing. Since then, the couple has poured their heart and soul into the ponds.

Long before purchasing the property, both Jim and Jackie visited the ponds as customers in the 1950s. Since the 50’s, there have been a few minor upgrades, but for the most part, it looks exactly the same today as it did back then.

The ponds have stayed almost the same over the 75 years. Laney Griffo/ Tahoe Daily Tribune

The 1-acre property has two ponds fed by a deep well that are stocked with rainbow trout each summer.

While the farm serves customers of all ages and demographics, its main customers are kids who are dipping their toes in the waters of fishing for the first time.

“It’s a great introduction to trout fishing,” said Jim Vallier.

Vallier stocks the ponds with 2,000 to 2,500 pounds of trout every two weeks from May to October, so there is a good chance of catching something.

The trout come from Mt. Lassen aquaculture trout farm. Mt. Lassen uses sustainable spawning methods and aims to have a smaller carbon footprint than trout sourced from other places. They are also eco-certified from Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

The fish were dropped off Thursday in anticipation of opening day. Provided

The larger pond is full of “catchables,” or smaller fish. The smaller pond is filled with larger, trophy trout.

Entry is free and the Valliers’ provide complimentary bait, simplistic “Huck Finn” reel-less rods and fishing nets. The only cost is the price of what you catch, which is calculated by the inch.

The ponds use simple reel-less rods. Laney Griffo/ Tahoe Daily Tribune

Jim has a few very important rules, which include no jumping in the pond, no hooking each other and fish must be brought to shore in the net.

Jackie said while some kids have no problem handling the fish, some kids, and even parents, get a little squeamish.

There is no catch and release, so every fish caught must be taken. However, the Valliers’ have several recommendations on what to do with the fish.

For a small extra fee, the fish can be cleaned. The fish are packed on ice or placed in an air-tight bag.

The company’s website features several recipes to help enjoy the fish. The Valliers’ can also recommend several restaurants where people can take their fish to be prepared.

If you don’t want to eat the fish, they can be taken to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care to feed the bears or to Christmas Cheer to feed the homeless.

The Valliers had to put up an electric fence around the ponds because bears treat it like an all you can eat buffet.

“We would rather donate the fish to the bears than have them come help themselves,” Jim said.

Still, the Valliers’ see a lot of wildlife. They said they have osprey and eagles come help themselves to the fish. They put up a replica eagle to scare the birds off but the birds have figured out it isn’t a threat.

The bears still come to stare at the fish through the fence and there is a big shade tree near the property that they like to sleep under.

During the summer months, the trout farm is the Valliers’ whole life. They live on the property and work everyday from open to close. The only help they have is from their grandson, Jett, who comes to visit every summer and is a fish cleaner/ caretaker.

For hours everyday, Jim gives his spiel on the rules of fishing at the pond.

“My wife always tells me if talking was exercise, I’d be skinny,” Jim said.

Despite the time consumption, they love what they do. They have hundreds of pictures of themselves and their guests fishing from over the years and have thousands of stories to tell.

The ponds will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting Saturday, May 1. They are located at 1023 Blue Lake Ave.

The Valliers’ are being CDC compliant so they ask customers to socially distance and wear their masks.

For more information, visit

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.