By: Tiffany Heath
(Vincennes, Indiana) Horton’s Fish Market, located at 2021 Washington Avenue, is now open and proudly sells fresh fish to the area. Horton’s Fish Market has been open for around 6 weeks now and ready for more business.
The owner’s, Jeff and Tammy Horton, opened this market to fulfill a lifelong dream that Jeff had. “It is something I have wanted to do forever. This part in my life I am allowed to do it. I’m going to try and make the best of it,” said Jeff. He got the idea to open a market because of the freedom of running the river and making money at something he really enjoys doing and has wanted to do so since the 1980’s. Jeff said, “I don’t want to get rich, I just want to be comfortable. I did my research before I started investing.”
This has been a long process for the Horton’s in getting the perfect place and location. They looked 5 years for a building where they could live upstairs and have a 2 car garage. “While on Christmas break from Toyota I drove by and saw a For Sale sign in the window, not by a realtor, just by the owner. I called them and they met me here and I called my wife to come look at it and said ‘This is the one’. We bought it with all the stuff in here. 17,000 books were in here and the upstairs was full of old antiques where rain water had leaked on it. We got it out of here in 17 days…we even sold the trash,” said Jeff.
A guy from a flea market came into the store when the Horton’s were about to take everything off to sell and they asked him to make an offer for everything in the place, but he then asked what they wanted to get for it. “And that means every bag of trash, that every rotten board laying around. When you’re done I want this place emptied clean out,” said Jeff. It was a good deal because the man took it all.
After purchasing the building on January 24, 2001, Jeff and Tammy had a lot of work ahead of them. The work took 22 months to complete and Jeff did all of the work himself. “The roof was leaking really bad, so we put a new roof on part of it, I had to jack this floor up like 6 inches. I tore the store room out and made a 2 car garage,” said Jeff. They weren’t initially going to use the space for a restaurant at all, but he wanted to sell the fish and the restaurant is there to let people taste how good the river fish really are and when it is cooked the right way how good the fish can be. “At 12-13 years old I sacked groceries in this building. This is the first place I ever had a job…now I own the building,” said Jeff. The building is almost like new since all new electrical, plumbling, and heating and cooling were put in. “It doesn’t even look like the same place,” said, his wife, Tammy.
Jeff has been a commercial fisherman since 1982 and used to live on the Wabash River for several years. He spends several hours out on the river daily and will be spending more hours out there soon. “Right now I haven’t got all my stuff out. We’re still new trying to get this lined out, but once I get all my stuff out I should be spending 5 to 6 hours a day on the river, and then coming back and spending 4 to 5 hours of cleaning,” said Jeff. You will most likely find Jeff out on the river every morning running nets, moving them and even fixing nets. Jeff said, “I have to run baited nets every 24 hours, my unbaited nets can go 48 hours, but I usually go everyday, even twice a day.” Jeff has had his share of mishaps on the river through the years. Jeff said while laughing, “Oh I tore motors off boats, had a motor flip off and hit me in the back because I hit a log, sunk a boat, fell in the water many times but the worse time was in the winter.” His daughter was always on the boat with him when she was younger and even drove the boat at times and may have been better than most men. The time the motor hit him he said, “My daughter was a little girl at this time and she always run with me and I got up that morning and said, ‘Amy, you want to go with Daddy?’ she said ‘No I want to stay with Mommy’ so I said ok and took off. If she would have been there is would have hurt her bad. So something was looking out.”
“Fish usually run in 3 to 4 day increments. If they catch good for about 3 days you know that the 4th day they aren’t going to catch good. Usually when you move to a new spot it may take a day or two before you start catching good,” said Jeff. A few different factors also effect how well a catch will be, like the river temperature and event the rise and fall of the river make a big difference.
Many people are cautious of eating fish from the Wabash River, but in recent years the state put into effect the Clean River Acts. “Wabash is the cleanest it’s ever been. If you look at a fish from the 80’s and a fish now, they look a lot cleaner now, their eyes are brighter,” said Jeff on eating the fish out of the Wabash River. If you were to go to a store and buy tuna at the store, it rates about 7 or 8 on the mercury scale. The catfish in the Wabash River, right now, are at a 3. Jeff has talked to the Fish Biologists on the river and they have said how clean things are and how it is all looking good. In the early 80’s they put a restriction on how much fish you could eat out of the Wabash River, and that was around 1 serving a month.
Since so much money has been put into the Clean River Acts you will get hefty fines if the DNR were to catch someone littering and throwing trash or other items into the river.
You won’t find many others commercial fishing on the Wabash, “It is a dying art. Years ago the rivers were full of pearl fisherman, muscle fisherman and a lot of people made their living this way. Going back in the past is what we are doing, that’s the way I look at it,” said Jeff. Jeff puts in around 14 hours a day. Friday and Saturday are the longest days, putting in well over 14 hours by starting at 5 a.m. and not quitting until after 11 p.m.
Since Horton’s is not open on Sunday and Monday, Jeff gets a little bit of relaxing time on the river running fish. Tammy said, “You got to plan to do a lot of work. You can’t be lazy and expect the fish to come to you. It’s a lot of work.
Horton’s Fish Market deli is open for you to take fresh fish home Tuesday thru Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday the deli closes at 6 p.m for the restaurant to be open during the hours of 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. “If it’s not pure white meat it won’t go in the deli case,” said Jeff about the fish he sells. Friday nights have been the biggest nights so far. They average around 98 dinners and anywhere from 60 to 70 sandwiches.
Channel Catfish and Perch are the high sellers in the deli. Jeff also has Buffalo and even has Buffalo Ribs, Buffalo Salad, which is somewhat like tuna salad, and even Buffalo Tacos. He learned the Buffalo Salad off of an old man on the river years ago. Many years before the older generations use to use carp when they learned it in the Depression and no part of the fish went unused. “I changed the carp with Buffalo and it has been really good for us,” said Jeff.
“We have catfish, perch, buffalo, shrimp, frog legs, crawfish, mud bugs…We’ve got hamburgers and tenderloins for everybody,” said Jeff. They also have a “Specials Board” with the weekend specials listed and they have specials every weekend. Jeff gets his frog legs or “hot legs” or “naked legs” from the Philippines and his Tiger Shrimp come from there as well. The crawfish are ordered from Louisiana. A Mud Bug is a term for a Cajun Crawfish. You will not get the fishy taste in the fish that Horton’s Fish Market sells or serves on dinner nights. Jeff is trying to get more people in to try the fresh fish and see how good it really is.
Taking a look around the restaurant you will see many pictures of different times Jeff has been out fishing and other memorable times. One that may catch your eye is a portrait of a man. This is a picture of the butcher that worked at that store for 30 years. “When I got done remodeling I hung him back up. I figured he needed to stay here,” said Jeff. Another neat thing is the “eat fish” sign. Those are letters off of the old Hostess building that he used to spell “eat fish”.
To date the biggest fish Jeff Horton has caught was a 57 pound flathead catfish from the Wabash River.
One word of advise that Jeff has is, “Keep the rivers clean, you know, respect them, they’re dangerous. pay attention to what you’re doing because that river don’t stop for nobody.”
For more information contact Horton’s Fish Market at 812-887-4138 or their Facebook page Horton’s Fish Market.