The littlest known trout fishery in the Ozark hills would definitely be the small wild trout streams that lace southern Missouri. These streams get very little pressure, and they provide excellent fishing. But they aren’t for everyone. It takes a lot of work, and a bit of skill to take these stream-bred trout. If you like easy fishing for hatchery raised trout, chances are you’ll only be frustrated. If you enjoy being on a quiet, natural stream, and catching trout on their own terms, you’ll really enjoy this type of fishing.
Tactics are pretty universal for catching the wild rainbows that inhabit these small streams. In short, you want to imitate the natural food base. For that reason, if there’s a hatch, fly fisherman that are “matching the hatch”, will generally take more fish than others. When fish aren’t rising, spin fisherman, or fly anglers tossing streamers or nymphs will do quite well. In short, you have to know what the trout are feeding on at that particular moment to be successful.
Stealth may be an even more important element of success. If you spook the trout before you begin fishing, it won’t matter how enticing your offering is. When you come up on a likely run, wade quietly (i.e. do not step heavily or crunch gravel), and try to keep your profile down. Some even approach on their hands and knees. Also, do not allow your lure of fly to make a loud splash when it hits the water. The more educated fish will be put off their feed by this. If your fly fishing, keep your false casts to a minimum. For fly fisherman, 7x tippet is often necessary, and spin fisherman should use line no heavier than four pound test.
Only fish the productive water. There is no point in wasting your time on water that is unlikely to hold fish. In short, if there is little or no current, you won’t find many or any trout. Pools are a good place to fish, provided they have a decent current, and a defined channel. Riffles are arguably even more productive, especially on the larger creeks. Any thing over 10” deep can, and probably does hold trout from time to time.
Enjoy fishing, even if it’s slow. The biggest part of the fun in this type of fishing is just being out in nature on a wild stream. If that’s not enough for you to have a good day, these streams probably aren’t for you anyway. Also, enjoy every fish you catch. Any fish you catch in one of these streams is a trophy. You have taken it on its terms, in the wild. It doesn’t get any better.
Here’s a few short lists to help you get started. First, is a list of wild trout streams, and the prime water in each of them. Note that the “prime water” that I highlight usually isn’t the entire area of stream managed for wild trout, just the stretch you’re mostly to find good populations of wild trout. Also, on all streams listed, artificial lures and flies only are allowed. You can keep one fish over 18”, but we encourage you release each one you catch. Next, I’ll list some lures and flies that are very successful on just about all the wild trout streams in the region. This is just a very general list, and there are no doubt many more that will get the job done.
Wild Trout Streams
1. Barren Fork Creek
Prime Water- Twin Springs to mouth
Description: This stream has a pretty low population of wild trout. With that said, you can find a few in some of the better holes. This is not a destination stream, but if your in the area anyway, you may as well give it a try. Public access is from Twin Spring downstream for about ½ Mile.
Prime Water- Wilkin Spring to mouth
Description: This creek has a pretty respectable population of wild trout in the first few miles below Wilkin Spring. It’s not the stream it once was, but it’s definitely worth the trip if you like a good challenge. The MDC provides access below Wilkin Spring, and the Forest Service has an access on the stream’s lower reaches.
3. Spring Creek
Prime Water- Relfe Spring to mouth
Description: This creek has a decent trout population, and is very pretty. Also, it’s nearby several other trout streams, including Mill and Little Piney Creek. It’s definitely worth a few hours. There is public access on a nice stretch of stream toward the lower end.
4. Little Piney Creek
Prime Water- Highway 63 Bridge to CR 7460 Bridge (Vida Slab)
Description: This is an awesome creek, with a very good wild trout population. It used to be managed as a put and take fishery, but they stopped stocking it a few years ago, and instituted a length limit. Sure enough, the trout began spawning, and the Little Piney became one of the best wild trout streams in the Ozarks. Access is at the Highway 63 Bridge, Lane Spring Recreation area, and Vida Slab. There is a lot of quality water here, about seven miles in all.
5. Crane Creek
Prime Water- City of Crane to Quail Spur Road
Description: Home to one of the last pure populations of McCloud Rainbow trout, Crane Creek is an excellent fishery. Trout numbers are high, and this little stream is known around the country for its excellent fishing. Public access is found at the Crane City Park, and the Lower Wire Road Access. Unfortunately, some short-sighted folks are currently conspiring to dam it up, and form a lake. God forbid!
6. Blue Spring Creek
Prime Water- Blue Spring to mouth
Description: This tiny little creek is home to a tremendous population of wild rainbow trout. With 290 trout per mile, you won’t find a trout creek in Missouri with more fish. The catch is, they are very spooky, and difficult to catch. Also, this is a very tiny creek, and backcasting room is virtually non-existant. All except for the first few hundred yards of the creek are publicly owned. Access isn’t a problem.
Image via WikipediaFlies
2. Prince Nymph #14-18
3. Pheasant Tail Nymph #14-18
4. Copper John #18
5. Hare’s Ear Nymph #14-18
6. Elk Hair Caddis #14-18
7. Don’s Crawdad #10
1. Panther Martin Spinner 1/24-1/32 ounce
2. Rooster Tail Spinner 1/24-1/32 ounce
3. Mepp’s Spinner #0
4. Little Cleo 1/16 ounce
5. Rebel Crawdad crankbait