In 1956, Fender’s Fish Hatchery was started by Dennis and Janet Fender. Established in Coshocton County Ohio, we currently span about three counties of 200 acres of ponds and farmland, family operated with several hired help, and a fleet of trucks. With over 5,000 boxes of fish moving through the hatchery each year and almost 200 fish sales across Ohio, Fenders Fish Hatchery is one of the founding and prominent hatcheries in the state of Ohio.
Dennis Fender grew up on the same farm the hatchery is on today, and if you drive past the hatchery and down County Road 220, you will see the little log cabin that he was born and raised in. Behind the cabin runs a little creek where, when he was young. Dennis would play in the water to learn what the little critters were living in there. Many people would hear Dennis telling them that he went to “Creek College”, and that was where he learned about fish. He was born to Millcreek Township in 1929.
Dennis would grow up to marry Janet and go to the Army draft, serving in Korea with the Army Band. Upon returning, Dennis was looking for something to do. The fish hatchery started upon an accidental whim – Dennis built a pond and needed to stock it, and found that it was difficult to find fish back then around Ohio in the 1950’s. Dennis had a hatch and advertised and sold some bass. Dennis and Janet made about $100 on that batch of bass – doesn’t seem much now, but back in the 50’s, that was a decent amount of money, and fueled the fire for the business.
In the beginning, Dennis and Janet hauled fish around in milk cans around Ohio and the surrounding states. There weren’t many, if any, hatcheries around the area, so Dennis and Janet pioneered the fish business in Ohio – and it is no surprise the business continues to serve a customer base in all 88 counties and perform fish sales at 44 of those county’s Soil and Water Conservation offices.
Prevalent on the website and in the business is Dennis and Janet’s youngest son, Steve – he wrote the book on pond management and is featured in every video on the hatchery YouTube page. In 1983 when Steve graduated high school, he came back to work on the farm, starting at the bottom of the rails and slowly working his way up. Steve’s sister, Cheryl, and her husband John, moved across the hatchery into another house on the farm and continued to help working on the farm. John worked for the hatchery until he passed in 2015, and Cheryl continues to work there today as a primary partner in the business. Steve worked seining ponds, working with a crew of guys that included his brother in law John, and many dedicated employees over the course of the last 34 years, going on fish sales, managing inventory, taking care of ponds, and eventually working to run a majority of the hatchery’s business and relationships. Cheryl enjoys doing a lot of the work in the hatchery and on the fish sales, while you can often find Steve performing pond clinics and consultations, helping to educate people on pond management and fish stocking. Despite being “retired,” Janet is often found behind the scenes doing everything from book work, phone calls, dinner for the crew and even creating custom chocolate gift baskets for various SWCD offices around the holidays as a thanks for working with them.
Throughout the years, there have been many aspects to the business, such as the llama farm that Dennis and Janet ran for many years alongside their business. Llamas, not just being good for their wool, are also great as watch animals over sheep, and still today there is always a llama with the sheep when they are moved from behind Steve’s home to farmland four miles down the road, helping to keep an eye on them much like a sheepdog would and protecting them from harm. There is still a number of llamas you can see on the farm today even. Almost all of the grandchildren grew up showing llamas in the county and state fairs. It was quite the experience to be a family member on the hatchery farm.
Dennis and Janet spend a majority of their years not just selling fish, but cultivating an experience of dedication and passion to aquaculture. The State of Ohio has on several occasions, issued Dennis and Janet an award to their lifelong commitment to the advancement of aquaculture in and around Ohio, and The General Assembly of the State of Ohio Senate has issued them an Aquaculture excellence award. It isn’t just about selling fish for the Fender’s, it is also about education and advancement of their customers, showing them how to maximize the potential of their body of water and the animals that live in and around it.
Monday through Saturday when everyone is working, Janet prepares a dinnertime meal around noon for everyone around the farm working. Everyone comes in, boots off, washes their hands and sits down to a from scratch meal. On busy days everyone can start as early as 430AM, and on late nights, finish as late as ten. Early mornings can include loading up the fish trucks, preparing a group to head out to different counties for the day, counting inventory and making sure everyone is fueled up. On late nights, the guys (and girls) are often returning from a fish sale or other activity far away in a corner of Ohio, spending long hours on the road and returning to load off any remaining fish and make sure the trucks are all taken care of before everyone heads home for the evening.
Some of our help might tell you that working on the hatchery is like working at a resort, and that it’s the best job they’ve ever had – and the truth is, this is the kind of home grown, down to earth, hard labor that you don’t get to see as much anymore that still lives here in Middle America, where the tea is always sweet and corn comes straight from the fields. When you work with anyone here at Fenders, you will see a group of of people dedicated to helping you get the most out of your pond or lake and make sure you have the right fish, feed, aeration and chemistry to help ensure a long lasting, healthy body of water. As Dennis always put it, “Creek College” was the best place you could learn everything you needed to know. From growing up on the farm to the 35+ years of helping to run it, Steve and Cheryl embody the second generation of family that have spent years cultivating relationships with Ohio, and third generation granddaughter Jenna works to bring Fender’s into the 21st century, pairing the home grown feeling with international viewing on the web of all our resources and products available.
In 2016, Dennis Fender passed away, but the family continues to push on his legacy through the business.
We hope that you have enjoyed reading and learning about the hatchery and it’s history, and we look forward to seeing you visit us down on the farm. If the drive is a bit far for you, contact your county’s Soil and Water Conservation District to ask them about a bi-annual spring and fall fish sale, as we work in 44 of the 88 Ohio counties. We also do the occasional delivery and are more than happy to help accommodate you so that you can get all the help you need.
The purpose of this website is not just for sales, where you can find aeration options, chemistry, and more, but also to help educate you with Steve’s variety of YouTube videos, show you the inside of the hatchery and our customers with their fish on the gallery page, and to give you up to date information on what to know for the season, how to prepare your pond and keep it healthy, and a load of other tips, tricks and information. If you have any questions, feel free to give us a call. Hatchery: 740-622-0681 Steve’s cell: 740-502-5454