The Minnow Man

By Ted Peck - October 1, 2011

A basket full of fish is icing on the cake for many folks trying to gain reprieve from life's stresses with a little time out on the water. There is much to be said for taking time to ponder obtuse concepts like cloud formations, migrating birds-or the inside of eyelids-on a crisp October afternoon.

On countless occasions over the past half-century I have given serious consideration to bait. When you have time to delve into this metaphysical discourse it usually means there is still plenty of room for prisoners in the fish basket. There have been many instances where speculation and wonder focused on where minnows come from, far beyond the obvious answer "minnow eggs". If this subject has been a source of frequent torment, rest easy.

The answer for just about everybody who is waiting for a bobber to bounce in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and a considerable portion of Arkansas is Dodgeville, Wi.

Dave Gollon and his brothers Tim and Mike are riding herd on millions of minnows at a sprawling compound south of town right now, the fifth generation of the Gollon family with a quiet mission of bringing smiles to fishermen and frowns to fish.

The Gollon Bait & Fish Farm covers over 800 acres on several properties with dozens of rearing ponds and several large buildings crammed with stainless steel tanks and all the accoutrements required to help bait thrive until you can make a serious attempt to drown it.

The Gollon's great-grandfather started this bait business during the Great Depression back in the 1930's. Some folks sold apples on street corners to survive. Gollon peddled shiners, suckers and fatheads seined from local creeks. Only in America could you dream about making millions off of minnows. The Gollon family doesn't have a Lear jet waiting to rush a gallon of rosy reds to Fond du Lac or Chemung. But this hard working family has a ready fleet of specially designed trucks with life support systems staged on the tarmac poised to send Chub Team 6 to interdict a bass terrorizing bluegills at a pond near you on a moment's notice.

If you don't have a big bad bass or malevolent muskie the Gollon family can provide these species too. "We carry a complete line of panfish and gamefish," Dave Gollon said. "Both state agencies and private consumers buy fish from us."

Gollon said all of the minnows, panfish and gamefish raised at his facility are tested for VHS and a number of other diseases, to a level above and beyond ever increasing government rules and regulations.

Tim Gollon handles the biological end of the business, Mike is in charge of deliveries and oldest brother Dave oversees the business operation. None of the Gollon brothers has a college degree to certify expertise. "We learned this business from our father and grandfather," Dave Gollon said. "This education included considerable focus on both common sense and American ingenuity. Applying these principles have worked out pretty well for the past 80 years. The biggest obstacle to serving our customers is an ever-growing bureaucracy which insists it knows more about the bait business than we do."

Stewardship for natural resources extends beyond the water in the Gollon family. The land which surrounds myriad rearing ponds is being transformed into productive wetlands, savannas and upland habitat-without one dime of government money or unsolicited advice. "Our Dad always said 'if you're buying land with no plan to make it better than you found it, use the money to improve the land you've already got'".

This philosophy is ingrained in the Gollon children, several of which have expressed interest in continuing the family business. The young Gollons are among the 15 full time fish farm employees.

A large walk-in cooler containing dozens of open-topped "flats" of nightcrawlers in one of the buildings is a ready lesson that mistakes will be paid for immediately and in full on the Gollon farm.

When asked what kept the 'crawlers from leaving all those boxes stacked five feet high and wriggling away on a mission of discovery Dave Gollon pointed at several fluorescent light fixtures overhead. "Their skin is sensitive to light. As long as the light is on the nightcrawlers will stay burrowed in their bedding," Gollon said.

"Has anybody ever turned out the light by mistake?" I asked. "More than once," Dave Gollon laughed, "More than once. Do you know how long it takes to count 10,000 nightcrawlers and return them to the appropriate containers? Turning off this light is a mistake you simply don't make twice."

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.