Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Missouri Trout Parks - Part IV of the Missouri Trout Fishing Series

I have fished for trout in quite a few places and must say that I really do not know anyplace that quite equates to a Missouri Trout Park.  Now I am not asserting that similar places do not exist- heck, I am not even asserting that Missouri Trout Parks are going to be everyone's cup of tea.  In fact, I have encountered quite a few people who find them down right reprehensible.  I get that sentiment, but I surely do not share it.

Missouri Trout Parks are something akin to going to one of those game farms where they put out some pheasants or whatever you are hunting and then you "hunt" them.  There are some major differences, and I am going to make a case that they serve a valuable purpose in Missouri and for fishermen from anywhere.  Let me tell you just a bit about the parks that Missouri plays host to, all south of I-70 and all but one south of I-44.

Maramec Springs
The Missouri Trout Parks include Maramec Springs, Montauk, Bennett Spring, and Roaring River.  They are spread out in such a way that fishermen from just about anywhere in Missouri, western Illinois, eastern Kansas, northern Arkansas, and northeastern Oklahoma are within reasonable driving range of at least one of them.  All of them are fed by the cold water springs that make some Ozark Missouri streams suitable as trout habitat.  They are stocked mainly with rainbows, but also to a lesser e3xtent with brown trout.  They have opportunities for bait fishermen, spin fishermen, and to fly fishermen.  These parks are for many regional trout fishermen their introduction to the sport of trout fishing.  They often serve as a launching pad for a lifetime of trout fishing not just in the parks, but across the Ozark region and beyond.  For other trout fishermen, the parks fulfill their trout fishing desires for a lifetime.  For a few fishermen, they cut their teeth at these parks, then later experience more traditional waters perhaps in the Rocky Mountain West which brings them around to a snobbish attitude towards the waters where they began.  My trout fishing life kind of worked in reverse of this phenomenon.

Yampa River in NW Colorado
I was born in Colorado and raised in Alaska.  I really learned the art of trout fishing on waters of Baranof Island in Southeast Alaska, followed by a stint fishing for salmon trout and grayling in the Copper River Valley of Alaska.  Later, we moved back to Colorado, where we fished the Yampa, Green, and White Rivers of northwest Colorado.  These were trout fishing paradises, and I took them for granted.  I never even contemplated living somewhere that these kinds of fisheries did not exist.  Somewhere along the way, life happened, and I ended up in central Missouri for reasons not of interest to anyone reading this.  I never even knew that trout fishing existed in Missouri for perhaps six months or a year after I arrived.

As a matter of fact, I was really feeling sorry for myself.  I had lost all the hunting, fishing, and outdoor opportunities to which I was accustomed.  One day, I made a resolution that I would stop complaining about the opportunities that did not exist and try to find the ones that did.  That simple resolution changed my life.

The way this fits into this discussion of Missouri Trout Parks is that the discovery of these places got me, as well as my two boys (at the time elementary age kids), starting to get out and experience what the Ozark region of Missouri had to offer.  Given the fact that I had thought there were no trout fishing options in Missouri, the last thing I was going to do was turn my nose up at these places.  Plus, with younger kids, they were a pretty nice place to be able to set a kid in the bait fishing area and have them enjoy a great opportunity to catch their four fish limit and pretty much always have some action going.

During the "catch-and-keep" seasons at the trout parks, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) essentially stocks fish based on the number of fishermen that visit the parks.  These are all hatchery fish, some from hatcheries on the premises and some from other hatcheries, primarily Shepherd of the Hills on Lake Taneycomo.  This is where I equate the trout parks to a game farm.  Of course they are not setting out specific trout with the idea that these trout are for you and those over their are for me.  The streams of the trout parks teem with fish and it's really kind of fun if you have the right attitude to do some site fishing and go after them.

Truthfully, the trout park fish are kind of naive.  They have been raised on hatchery food and are not exactly wise to the ways of the trout world.  Having said that, they do still retain a bit of their instincts to go after traditional trout offerings.  Fly fishermen probably use egg patterns ( a more common name for them in the trout parks is glow bugs or glow balls) more than anything else.  Other "flies" will work however - woollies, Adams, the locally known crackleback, Dave's hoppers, and many more.  One offering that bridges the gap between fly and spin fishermen is "mini-jigs" in white, reg, orange, black, pink, or some combination of these.  For bait fishermen in the parks, what you see used successfully most often is the prepared baits like Powerbait, or dough recipes made at home or purchased at one of the trout park stores.

Woolies are a great option
for fly fishermen in Missouri
Trout Parks
If you are fishing these parks in the summertime, you can get what you need to fish very cheaply.  The least expensive way to go is to get an ultralight with 4 lb test line, some tiny split shot sinkers and small treble hooks, and an assortment of colors of Powerbait pastes.  You will also need one of those nylon stringers that cost about a buck.  Throw in some tiny floats (bobbers) and an old pair of tennis shoes if you plan to "wet wade" and you are set.  Stop by the park store with your fishing license and you'll be set once you get your park tag for a just a few bucks (it's been $4 for as long as I can remember).  If you plan to bring home trout, bring a cooler too, but I recommend frying them or baking them the night you catch them at your campsite if you are making a camping trip out of it.

You can fish the parks in the winter too.  They are open limited days and hours for catch-and-release fishing. If you find the hustle and bustle of the parks a little to much during the regular trout park seasons, the winter season might be for you.  There are some additional regulations you must know during this time of the year, so make sure you visit the MDC site before you go.  Often, at this time of year, the park stores are not open to answer questions - but the parks are still patrolled by conservation areas and regulations enforced.

By: Larry R. Beckett
If you are a real adventurous soul, consider visiting a park on opening weekend.  The MDC stocks some real lunkers then and you will have the great honor to compete for them with thousands of other fishermen all around you.  It is not for everyone, myself included, but for some Missouri outdoorsmen, it is an annual tradition.

After getting familiar with the Missouri Trout Parks, we branched out to places like the Meramec River below Maramec Springs, the Current River below Montauk, and the Niangua below Bennett.  From there we have fished and learned the locations of dozens of other awesome streams across the Ozarks - some with their own unique strains of wild trout. These parks can be a lot of fun if approached with the right attitude.  They have served a great purpose in our outdoor lives and perhaps they can do the same for you.