You will never see me near a Missouri trout park this time of year. Sure, I know it is a tradition and quite the party, but not for me. I love all four parks when everyone is turkey hunting or crappie fishing.
The heat of summer is a good time to visit too, and fall is perhaps the best time. But now there are too many other anglers. The March 1 opener was shoulder-to-shoulder fishermen, many braving bad weather to continue their tradition.
Once, I did go to Bennett Springs on opening day and watched two fistfights that proved to be the better part of that day; a wife yelling at her husband, that was good too; and a kid cast his jig and bobber over about 20 fishermen’s lines, causing quite an entanglement and ensuing arguments.
Come to think of it, that was entertaining. So maybe I do like to visit the trout parks in March, just not to fish.
But I know many of you have never tried Missouri trout fishing, especially my Kansas readers, so here are brief descriptions of Missouri’s favorite trout parks and fishing techniques:
Bennett Spring: Bennett Spring is the most popular of the four. Opening day is a circus in this park that is close to Kansas City and St. Louis.
“The best thing to do early in the season on Bennett Spring is to take cover,” said Ray Finke, a member of the Missouri Trout Fisherman's Association. “I fish deep with a wet fly during the opener because the crowd drives trout to the bottom.
“What you use depends on water clarity. When the water is clear, I use small nymphs, fur bugs or small maribu jigs. After a rain when the water is murky, I throw flies they can see like a glow worm, woolly worms with spinners and fur bugs. Clear water means using smaller hooks, too.”
Experienced anglers use 1- to 2-pound tapered leaders. Color of height of the water determines size. Lower, clearer water means using smaller leaders.
Bennett Spring is stocked from the state hatchery located in the park. Fishermen annually catch more than 400 rainbow trout that weigh 3 pounds or more. The park record is 15 pounds, 12 ounces. This popular hot spot is located close to Lebanon, Mo., in Laclede County.
Roaring River: Roaring River is the park for those who don’t like to wade. All fishing is done from the bank. Roaring River has a reputation built on lunker trout.
“I would suggest a fly rod with fast action, 4- to 5-sized fly line and a tapered leader,” said Jack Nickols, an experienced trout fisherman at Roaring River. “Early in the season I would us 18- to 20-sized nymphs unless we get some insect hatches. Then I would use dry flies like Royal Coachman, Adams, Quill Garden and Renegade.”
Fishermen at Roaring River depend on polarized sunglasses to help watch trout taking flies. Spin fishermen are advised to try a 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 lightweight rod and open-faced reel. Roostertail spinners are good for early fishing, then switch to jigs or small plastic worms worked slowly. Colors depend on water clarity and insect hatches.
Roaring River is stocked daily and is always a good possibility to set the hook on a tackle buster. The park record is 18.05 pounds. This popular park is located near Cassville, Mo., in Barry County.
Montauk State Park: One of the Civil War’s first battles was fought near Montauk, the battle of Salem. This historic area is probably best known these days for its trout fishing.
“Montauk is a small stream that runs into the Current River,” said the late Clarence Peasley, another member of the Missouri Trout Fisherman’s Association and one of our finest trout fishermen. “For these trout I prefer using woolly worms on top water. On opening day the crowd pushes trout deep and I use a ultra-light rod and tiny jigs. My favorites are black, olive green and brown. I prefer 4-pound test on my ultra-light.”
Fishermen historically have found that trout attack anything thrown at them during the first 20 minutes of opening day. Then, they get smart fast and are harder to catch. Peasley suggests finding a good pool and staying there. Let the trout come to you.
Peasley returns to his standard fishing tactics after the crowds have thinned out.
“I go back to fishing dry flies unless the trout are on the bottom,” he said. “Then I fish a weighted nymph or woolly worm. When dry fishing, I determine insects on the water and match flies. When there is not a good insect hatch, I go to a brown fly or brown jig to match the hatchery food. I, too, may use a brown woolly worm with gold spinner or a brown rooster tail. I prefer an 8-foot graphite fly rod with a slow to medium action.”
Montauk’s park record trout was a 15-pound, 11-ounce brown, and there may be bigger ones waiting in the depths. Montauk has a hatchery located at the park.
All parks feature a different form of fishing in certain spots. An area may be designated for catch and release trophies, while another is live bait only. Some are for artificials only with spinning tackle or fly tackle.
About bait fishing: Many argue over the best bait riggings in a trout stream. My success has come by using a tiny treble hook with a small split shot 18 inches above the bait. The tiny split shot holds a much larger sliding worm style sinker away from the bait. There will always be some drift in the heavy current, but the heavier sinker slows down the bait bouncing over the bottom. This is when the trout generally hit.
I prefer Velveeta Cheese, any type of power bait and Balls of Fire salmon eggs. I roll the cheese or power bait over the treble in a tight ball. A tiny, short shanked hook works best with the salmon eggs. Let the trout run for a second before setting the hook. You will likely lose bait while learning how to hook a smart rainbow trout.
The streams are sectioned for everybody to enjoy. A Missouri fishing license with state trout stamp is required. Then you must purchase a daily permit to fish the streams.
Make sure you make the morning sirens that signal the beginning of fishing. The first 20 minutes are generally the best. But the trout will bite all day, just not as quickly.
Information about trout fishing in Missouri is available in the following publications:
• Trout Brochure, Publication No. FIS257
• Missouri Trout Fishing Map, Publication No. FIS 210
• Trout Fishing Lake Taneycomo, Publication No. FIS141
• A Guide to Trout Stream Ethics, Publication No. FIS200
To request copies, write to Missouri Department of Conservation Publications, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can access trout fishing information online at www.mdc.mo.gov/fish/sport/trout/.
Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com