People & Places

Mohn Fish Market near Harpers Ferry catches Mississippi's bounty

Above: Vickie Jones grabs a catfish as they process fish at the Mohn Fish Market on the Driftless Area Scenic Byway in Harpers Ferry on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017.
Above: Vickie Jones grabs a catfish as they process fish at the Mohn Fish Market on the Driftless Area Scenic Byway in Harpers Ferry on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017.
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This article is published in Explore Magazine’s fall & winter 2018 issue, featuring Iowa’s scenic byways. This week, The Gazette will publish articles featuring one byway each day online. You can pick up a hard copy of the magazine at area businesses, convenience stores and grocery stores. You also can pick up a copy at The Gazette.

Running a fish market is no small feat.

“Some people say that looks hard, and, well, it is hard,” said Ralph Mohn, who deadpans he is 71 going on 100.

Mohn helps run Mohn Fish Market, a wholesale market that’s been in operation for 35 years on the Great River Road just north of Harpers Ferry. The market is located in an unassuming gray, one story, cinder block building.

Mohn is often among the fishermen out daily at 6:30 a.m. — 5 a.m. in the summer — trying to net catfish, sheepshead, carp, drum and other varieties on the Mississippi River.

The fishing crew returns daily with the catch — often 1,000 to 1,500 pounds at a time — to the market, where it is weighed, recorded and processed. A team filets and skins the burly fish one-by-one — leaving the heads on — with production-line swiftness.

The market is largely run by family. The processing line is worked by Ralph, his wife Diane, their adult daughter, Vickie Jones, and grandchildren.

“We don’t see a lot of turnover,” said Jones, who has worked there for 27 years.

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Some fish are sold in their raw state, while others are pickled in a salt water brine for 12 hours or are destined for a smoker behind the shop, which handles 600 pound batches at a time.

The processing and storage takes up the majority of the building. A small store front also exists for the occasional traveler who stops in.

A small stock of product, such as smoked and pickled fish, remain on site for resale, but it sells out quickly.

About 90 percent of their sales are to five Asian grocers in the Minneapolis area, while a smaller portion are sold to local restaurants and stores.

“We don’t even advertise, we are so busy,” Jones said.

WHAT: Mohn Fish Market

WHERE: 1144 Great River Road, Harpers Ferry

DETAILS: (563) 586-2269

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.