Thursday, January 31, 2013

Trout Fishing on Missouri’s Current River

By David and Paul Mann

Part Two In Missouri Trout Fishing Series - Part One

Current River Trout Fishing

Montauk State Park Fishing

Missouri Trout Fishing

Ozarks Hatch Charts 

Missouri has a nice surprise for those unfamiliar with either the beauty of Missouri’s Ozarks or the regionally outstanding trout fishing.  One of the several places where this all comes together to create something truly magic is the Current River.

The Current River starts like rivers in few places do: from its outset it flows from the confines of Montauk State Park near Licking and Salem with strength. It emanates from the first of many springs which give it life and the cold water necessary to sustain its brown trout and rainbow trout populations.  While most of the trout that inhabit this stream are stockers, some from the hatchery at Montauk State Park where the river begins, and some from Shepherd of the Hills near Taneycomo, there are a small number of wild trout.  

Learning to fish this stream requires first a short description of the sections of trout water available.
As mentioned, the stream begins in Montauk State Park and also hosts one of Missouri’s entertaining trout parks.  In the park a hatchery supplies rainbow trout while browns are brought in smaller numbers from Shepherd of the Hills.  The park is a really fun place to spend some time and a great place to learn a few things about trout fishing.  We will come back later to specifics on fishing the park section.

The moment you pass the cable overhanging the river designating the end of Montauk, you enter into the Blue Ribbon trout section of the Current River.  This section continues down to the Cedar Grove Access/Low-water Bridge/Campground.  All together, the Blue Ribbon portion of the Current River trout fishing is a bit les than ten miles.

From Cedar Grove to Akers Ferry, the regulations change to White Ribbon rules.  This stretch of water is approximately nine miles.
Each of these three sections has different regulations, but also requires slightly different tactics for the fly or spin fisherman.  We will spend the balance of our time discussing tactics to get you catching fish on any of them.

Trout Park – Montauk State Park

Fishing Montauk State Trout Park is a great place to get started in the sport and in some really beautiful country, albeit in a setting with plenty of company.  The park is stocked during the Catch-and-keep season daily based on the number of fishermen that have bought trout park tags.  The catch-and-keep season runs from March 1st through October 31st as is the case in all of Missouri’s trout parks.  The park is closed for a short period and the rest of the year is catch-and-release.  The winter catch-and-release season can be a great time to visit as crowds are greatly diminished.

There are three basic areas with three sets of regulations at the park.  There is a fly-fishing only area that is designated catch-and-release only all year round.  The second zone is fly-fishing only but subject to a four fish limit (any combination of rainbows and browns – no size restrictions).  The third section is open to any legal fishing methods, including bait fishing.  In this park, fly fishing also can include spin fishing but using single hook spinners and other artificial baits that do not include soft plastics or scented presentations.  Please review the regulations through the park when you buy your tag to make sure you are abiding by park rules.  Conservation officers are present at all times when fishing is permitted.

Fly fishermen have much success nymphing under an indicator on 6x monofilament or fluorocarbon leader.  Popular presentations include prince nymphs, pheasant tails, copper johns, egg patterns, scud patterns, and san juans (please be aware we know some of these are not in fact technically in the nymph category – but are fished in a similar fashion under an indicator and we are thus lumping them together).  The princes, pheasant tails, coppers, and scuds can be fished effectively in #16-18 sizes.  The woolies work nicely in the sizes of #8-#10 and should be beaded. The egg patterns should also be beaded.  If you had to pick two flies try orange egg patterns and olive woolies.  All of these patterns are available at the park store for a reasonable price.

If you want to go with dries, during the winter afternoons you can usually find a few fish rising to blue winged olives and midges.  Summer months usually find fisherman having success fishing tricos and caddis patterns.  Don’t hesitate during these times to use royal wullfs and coachman attractors.  Terrestrials such as ant patterns and hoppers can be a nice option during the warm months as well.

Spin fishermen typically use marabou jigs in the fly area.  You will occasionally observe fly fisherman throwing these as well.

Bait fishing is extremely effective in the bait area.  There are many commercially prepared baits available, with perhaps the Berkeley Power Baits being most popular.  The park store carries some other options that work very well.  Additionally, corn, and homemade prepared baits work very well.  Worms will even work.  The “Social Hole” at Montauk has become locally famous.  If you are not the type to turn up your nose at bait fishing, you can really have some fun meeting some interesting folks here.

Blue Ribbon Section to Cedar Grove Access

The fishing (and the atmosphere) changes dramatically in the mileage below Montauk State Park. While the Montauk water is stocked once a day with trout during the regular season, the eight mile Blue Ribbon stretch from the Montauk lower boundary to Cedar Grove is only stocked once a year with the notoriously wily brown trout (which supplement the rainbows that make their way down from the park.) This has two effects, one positive, and one negative; the positive being that it reduces the number of anglers greatly, the negative being that there are obviously a lot less fish, and the ones that are there are more difficult to catch. That said, trout remain incredibly plentiful; indeed, only compared to the insane numbers of trout which roam the park waters would the population seem slight.

The factors that really affect the fishing in this stretch have little to do with fish numbers. Still, nearly every cast will have your fly seen by a trout or two. The two most important differences are the bait restrictions and the more wild nature of the trout. Because this is a Blue Ribbon (otherwise known as ‘trophy trout’) section, the minimum length limit is high and only artificial lures and flies are allowed. This means the dough bait and worms which are so effective aren’t going to be an option. That’s okay though, because this section is best suited to fly fisherman anyway (though this is not to say that plenty of spin-fisherman don’t have success.) 

The quick, rocky riffles and deep pools are an inviting place for the fly angler. It seems that backcasting room abounds, and the nature of the current usually allows for easy drifts. Hatches occur almost daily, from the tricos of early summer mornings to the midge and blue-winged olive hatches on warm winter afternoons. This of course means that a healthy number of trout can be taken on dry flies just about the year-round. But don’t overlook nymphs and streamers; or more specifically, don’t overlook the egg pattern. Small egg patterns (or glo-bugs) account for a huge percentage of the trout taken here. I don’t know why supposedly selective resident trout are gullible to such ‘uncivilized’ fare, but they are, and why ask questions if a fly works? That said, a fair number of fly anglers can’t make themselves use egg patterns, and that’s okay too. Pheasant tail nymphs, Hare’s Ears, and even woolly buggers work quite well most of the time. A decent number of people do spin-fish here too, and small (1/32 ounce) spinners are usually great. The same is true with marabou jigs of the same weight.

The best two accesses to the Blue Ribbon stretch are at Tan Vat and Baptist Camp, each just down the road from Montauk Park. You’ll find a fair number of anglers around these accesses, but at least outside of the summer months, a short walk will get you to open, unfished water. Tan Vat tends to be a bit more crowded due to its (slightly) closer proximity to Montauk State Park.

Cedar Grove to Akers Ferry

The White Ribbon stretch (from Cedar Grove on down to Akers Ferry) doesn’t get a whole lot of press, and in some ways there is a reason for that. It’s stocked more often than the Blue Ribbon section, but unrestrictive regulations largely make up for that. The quantity of trout is just fine, but there aren’t a whole lot of lunkers here. Bait is allowed, and this is a great section to try Powerbait, worms, and even small minnows. The float from Cedar Grove to Akers Ferry is a bit long, but takes you through some awesome trout water, especially if you like to bait fish (and keep trout.) This is a wonderful place to catch some trout and eat them for a shore lunch with next to no regrets. These stocked rainbows allow for that.

The Current is a wonderful trout stream that takes many characters through its long stretch of trout water. From the crowded but trout-filled Montauk State Park, to the wild blue ribbon section, this is one of the true must-fish streams in Missouri. In our opinion, it’s the best trout stream in Missouri, although that can certainly be argued. But the ambience of this wild river mixed with the excellent trout fishing is always going to be tough to beat.