To be honest, by this time of the year, I like catching fish more than I like fishing for fish and a lot more than I like cleaning fish. That’s one–but only one–of the reasons I try to visit Missouri’s four trout parks as often as possible between the second Friday in November and the second Monday in February.
Winter trout park fishing is strictly catch and release, which eliminates having to clean fish. Catching trout, on the other hand, is not only legal, but it’s also about as close to a sure thing as you’re apt to find in the outdoors. As if that weren’t inducement enough, no one who fishes any of the parks during the summer months would consider them to be “crowded” on a beautiful December Saturday, let alone on a January Monday when the water is 30 degrees warmer than the air.
Winter fishing in the trout parks is limited to “flies only,” but that’s not as constraining as it sounds. By legal definition, a fly is “a lure constructed on a single-point hook, of feathers, tinsel, chenille, yarn, fur, hair, silk, rayon or nylon thread or floss, with or without a spinner.”
Note, however, that the rules do not say “fly rods only.” Winter’s an unbeatable time for anyone from novices to experts to enjoy the artistry inherent in plying flowing, trout-filled water with a long rod, make no mistake about that. But be that as it may, winter’s an equally great time to learn how to use an ultralight spinning outfit to work wet flies suspended beneath a small float.
Anglers who would need a fishing permit to fish elsewhere in Missouri will need one to fish in the trout parks during the winter season. All anglers will need a Missouri trout permit. (This is the same trout permit that’s required to possess or transport trout outside of the parks throughout the year.)
Most winter anglers day-trip to the trout park closest to home. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but any of the four would make a worthwhile destination for an extended weekend. I submit the following thumbnail sketches of each park as proof of that contention.
Maramec Spring Park, located east of St. James on Highway 5, is owned by the James Foundation, but its trout fishery is provided and managed by the MDC. It’s open daily from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
The Maramec Spring Branch is the shortest of the four trout parks, but it includes some interesting and challenging water. A significant portion of the fishable portion of the branch is accessible from a concrete sidewalk. Moreover, while wading is an integral part of trout fishing for so-called “serious” anglers, it’s possible to do quite well at Maramec without waterproof footwear.
Maramec Spring empties into the Meramec River Red Ribbon Trout Management Area. Trout fishing here is limited to flies or artificial lures the year round. The creel limit is two trout with a 15-inch minimum length limit. Only flies and artificial lures may be used.
Montauk State Park is located southeast of Licking on Highway 119. Like the other state-owned parks, it’s open from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. from Friday through Monday.
The largest of the four parks in terms of fishable water, it begins near where Montauk Spring enters Pigeon Creek, continues down Pigeon Creek to its confluence with the Current River and then down the Current to the boundary of the Current River Trophy Trout Area.
While it’s possible to catch trout from the bank at Montauk, chest waders and a sense of adventure are needed to fully appreciate this stream. Some of the best water lies well away from the access roads and parking lots. An angler could spend four days here and never step in his own boot prints.
The Current River immediately downstream from the park is a Blue Ribbon Trout Management Area. It’s better suited to float fishing than to wading, but it’s possible to catch some good trout within hiking distance of the put-in points. The creel limit is one trout with an 18-inch minimum length limit. Only flies and artificial lures may be used.
Roaring River State Park is located south of Cassville on Highway 112. Wading or fishing from the bank is pretty much dealer’s choice here. I’d rank it second to Maramec for anglers with physical problems. Having said that, I wouldn’t dream of fishing the park portion of Roaring River without my waders.
The Roaring River sustains trout far beyond the boundaries of the state park. Fishing in this part of the river is subject to statewide regulations.
Bennett Spring State Park is located west of Lebanon on Highway 64. It’s the most popular of the four parks, so count on having company.
Whether your taste runs to riffles, smooth runs or deep holes, you’ll find what you like at Bennett Spring. Based on my own experience, Bennett’s trout are a little harder to fool than are those at the other parks, but that’s part of the fun.
The Niangua River White Ribbon Trout Management Area begins at the mouth of the Bennett Spring Branch. Statewide regulations apply.
If that’s not enough trout fishing to keep you busy until spring, check out the MDC’s web site. You’ll find more good possibilities.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]