Sunday is the unofficial opening of the fishing season in Missouri.

Sunday is the unofficial opening of the fishing season in Missouri.
The annual March 1 opener at the four trout parks means hordes of anglers invade the parks armed with fly rods, ultra-light gear and even kids with Disney character decorated rods, all seeking a rainbow or brown trout.
Of course, fishing never stops in Missouri, but there’s something special about the trout opener.
This past week a visit to Bennett Spring painted a different picture than the one starting Sunday. The stream was void of anglers and the park store personnel were busy stocking shelves with everything from fishing gear to souvenirs. All the people we visited with were excited to see another season begin.
One store employee told me she was more than ready to see the flock of fishermen hit the water after a long winter.
“We get to see friends we have made over the years and see the smiles on their face as they get their tag for a day’s fishing,” she said. “All 14 of the employees look forward to opening day to get caught up on what many of the anglers have been doing since last year. They are almost like family to us.”
Gerald Henderson, a 27-year veteran state employee of opening days at Bennett, was busy feeding some of the smaller trout in the rearing pools.
“I have seen a lot of changes over the years at the park, but since this year’s opening day falls on a Sunday, there will be a lot of people here,” Henderson said. “The record attendance for an opening day was on a Sunday and with good weather, the record might be pushed this time around.”
Ed Simmons, the park store manager who has been taking care of fishermen’s needs for more than 25 years, said, “We are looking for a big crowd Sunday, although it doesn’t seem to matter what the day or what the weather, the anglers always show up.”
With a Sunday opening, you can be sure there will be plenty of anxious anglers waiting to make that first cast as soon as the siren sounds.
Jim West, from nearby Lebanon, was an early visitor last week at Bennett Spring. West said he had been to more than 30 opening days at the park.
“You always see something different each year, although it’s still the same scene,” West said. “I have seen guys slip into that cold water, watched a lot of tangled lines, seen many kids catch their first trout and watched anglers catch lunkers up to 8 pounds. It’s always a big event after a long winter. Today I thought I would visit the park while everything is quiet and just enjoy the beauty of nature without all the people. It won’t be like this again until November.”
Opening day isn’t just about the fishing, it is also reunion time for many anglers. At Bennett Spring, we see many of the same faces we have seen for more than 20 years. Tom Martin of Grandview and Fred Moore of West Plains met at Bennett more than 20 years ago while fishing the popular trout stream.
“We met back in 1985 when we both caught a lunker rainbow,” Martin said. “We were at the scales with our fish and struck up a conversation. We found we both had many things alike, including four kids and we both had fished Bennett on opening day for a long time. But this was the first opening day we caught a lunker.
“Since that opening day we have managed to meet at the store at 10 o’clock and go to the dining hall for breakfast to review the happenings over the last year. It’s something we both look forward on March 1.”
Although the trout season is open year-round at places like Lake Taneycomo, the fishing at the trout parks is still something special for the thousands of anglers.
“Anymore, when March 1 rolls around, I don’t even think about it. I just drive to Bennett no matter what the weather or what day of the week it is,” Martin said. “My boss doesn’t bother to ask if I want the day off, he just assumes that I will be fishing at Bennett on opening day. I guess it gets in your blood like opening day of the deer or turkey seasons.”
Many people only think of trout fishing in a fast-moving mountain stream in states like Colorado, but there is some great trout fishing in Missouri. Besides the four trout parks, there are more than 120 miles of spring-fed trout streams that are managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation, winter trout areas in the St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia, Kirksville and St. Joseph areas and, of course, there is Taneycomo.
This year there will be nearly 2 million trout produced at the Conservation Department’s hatcheries that will be stocked throughout the state. Trout fishing is no small thing in the state and opening day at the trout parks proves it.