Although the pond fishing at Eldred was an instant success, Abplanalp realized it was not the sort of angling to attract the dry fly purist. Last spring Adirondack Fisheries opened a half-mile stretch of Halfway Brook, which flows through the preserve, for fly fishing only. Trout average more than a pound, and no more than 10 licensed fishermen a day are allowed on the stream. The charge is a flat $30 a day per angler with a limit of 10 fish.
Inasmuch as the Eldred hatchery can easily raise a quarter of a million trout a year, Abplanalp has plans to establish similar preserves elsewhere. He also has toyed with the idea of shipping live fish to markets and restaurants. "We cannot market frozen fish in competition with trout hatcheries in Denmark or Colorado," he says, "but we can compete delivering live fish. Live fish command a premium because people know they're fresh." For the past couple of years a truck has made a number of trial runs transporting live fish from the Catskills to Yonkers.
When the experiment began, Abplanalp thought about the possibilities of a one-piece aquarium unit to carry the fish. His thinking did not stop there. It so happens that Precision Valve has two subsidiaries, U.S. Thermo-Plastics and Tiros, which manufacture plastics that the corporation uses to make valves. These subsidiaries are headed by Dr. Hans Hafner, a nephew of Baessler and a scientist Abplanalp calls "one of the world's great polymer chemists." Perhaps Hafner and the subsidiaries could make aquariums not just for trout but for tropical marine fish as well. Regular aquarium tanks made of metal corrode when tilled with salt water. There was another problem. A saltwater aquarium, whether made of plastic or metal, is usually a chancy affair, primarily because the self-contained water can become polluted. The whole tankful then goes bad, and everything dies, from sea anemones to angelfish. As a result the market for tropical saltwater aquariums has never come near to realizing its potential.
Abplanalp thought the problems could be solved. While Hafner and the subsidiaries worked on the basic tank, Abplanalp hired a couple of marine biologists, Dr. Henry Feddern and John Sabol of the Institute of Marine Sciences (since renamed Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences) at the University of Miami, and put them to tinkering in a lab at the Precision Valve headquarters in Yonkers. They tested plastic filters and protein skimmers that would automatically remove the wastes. The experiments were a success, and Abplanalp plans to start manufacturing a complete saltwater aquarium unit next spring. All a hobbyist need do is plunk down his money for a unit (a 20-gallon aquarium should cost between $50 and $60), take it home, plug it in and stock it with fish to have instant Caribbean right in his living room.
When it became obvious that a foolproof saltwater unit could be built, Abplanalp still was not satisfied. "What good does it do to sell a unit like this if you don't have fish to put into it?" he asked. There, seemingly, was another problem: most saltwater tropicals have to be netted in the wild and shipped vast distances, with all sorts of attendant dangers, and they are usually expensive and beyond the purse of the average hobbyist, the very customer Abplanalp wants to reach. For instance, the blue angelfish, a common species in the Caribbean, sells for as much as $15 in the aquarium stores of New York City. Abplanalp told Feddern and Sabol to see if some species could be bred in captivity. After scoring a breakthrough in Yonkers with the neon goby, they have since moved down to Miami where Precision Valve is setting up a pilot hatchery.
Two years ago, when Abplanalp first thought of breeding tropical fish, he looked for a native setting where they could be raised in great numbers. He began buying islands in the northern Bahamas. Then he discovered that the islands he was acquiring were zoned against commercial use, and, moreover, the Bahamian government was skeptical of the whole venture, especially since Abplanalp had unknowingly hired a consultant who was wanted for taking protected fish from Bahama waters. To allay fears, Abplanalp discontinued the consultant's services and turned to scientists at the Institute of Marine Sciences for advice. As a result, Abplanalp was able to overcome the skepticism of the Bahamian government, and a new Precision Valve subsidiary bought nearby Walker's Cay, which was zoned for commercial use since it had been a game fishing resort for more than 30 years. "Walker's Cay will serve as the basic site of this whole concept of saltwater fish raising and breeding." Abplanalp says. "We'll be using our own breed stock. We're not going to rape the reefs or exploit the islands. I think this breeding will become a new industry for the Bahamas, and I like the idea of developing something new and different."
Werner Geiser, a former curator of fish at the Zurich Zoo, is in charge of the Bahamian breeding operations. It is coincidence that Geiser happens to be Swiss. Abplanalp simply hired the best man available and, in landlocked Zurich, Geiser demonstrated that he had a truly wet thumb by successfully breeding and raising two dozen different species of marine tropical fish for the first time anywhere. "Ya, I bred, yiiick, two dozen, ya, about two dozen," says Geiser, who is just learning English. "Puffer fish I breed first in der world. Den der spit-mouth puffer from Zamb�zia." If Abplanalp has any fears, it is that Geiser will not live to complete his work. An enthusiast of nature in the raw, Geiser is fond of chumming for sharks at night in the harbor at Walker's and then diving in to watch them feed.
When Abplanalp bought Walker's Cay, he was uncertain about what to do with the fishing camp. It had been run as a sort of "mom and pop" operation and was in need of repair. After thinking things over and doing a lot of fishing himself, he decided to enlarge the accommodations and make them plush. The camp will reopen on March 1, 1970, and the daily rates are $35 single and $45 double, European plan. A one-day sport-fisherman charter is $130, 22-foot inboards and outboards are $70 and Boston Whalers are $35 a day. Cost of all boats includes guide, tackle and bait.
Without question Walker's is a spectacular island. One hundred acres in size, it is 50 miles to the east of the Gulf Stream, and the weather is delightfully cool. Twelve world records have been set at Walker's, and some of the best fishing is to be had only five minutes away from the old hotel. An angler can wade nearby flats for bonefish, cast off the reefs for snappers, jig in the deeper holes for groupers or troll at sea for blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, dolphin, wahoo, bonito and bluefin tuna.
A year ago last summer, while trying to figure out what to do with the fishing camp, Abplanalp landed a 535-pound blue marlin. As pleasant as this was, his favorite fishing at Walker's is to troll live bait for wahoo or king mackerel. Just before the fish strikes, Abplanalp can see the bait squirm, moving the outrigger; when the fish does strike, it often leaps 25 feet into the air. ""Getting the slack out of the line and setting the hook then takes some doing," says Abplanalp. "I don't know of any fishing to beat it."