By Spencer Turner
Although it wasn’t cold, new snow carpeted central Missouri, and the U.S. Forest Service parking lot on Mill Creek. Steam curled up from the warm water, only to freeze again on surrounding trees. The mid-morning sun reflected off the ice crystals.
As I assembled my 30-year-old, 7 1/2-foot Orvis 99 and tied on a beadhead Wooly Bugger, I flashed back 20 years to my first trout fishing trip in Missouri and the water that had run through my life connecting that time with now…
The road was trackless, the six-inch snowfall untouched by other vehicles or the rising sun and we eased down the hill to Montauk State Park, then through to Tan Vat crossing and the upper Current River. Cedar trees, bent low by new snow, lined the road. The river steamed as the 59-degree water released its warmth to the world, only to freeze again on trees lining the banks, creating a winter wonderland.
The air temperature on the bank at Salem had read 30 degrees when we passed through. Somehow it felt colder in the valley as we unloaded our canoes, assembled fly rods, and pushed off for a day’s float-fishing on the upper Current River. The date was January 1, 1970.
I don’t remember much about the day except watching a doe and a fawn eating watercress, watching us float past. Wild turkeys flew across the river (my first look at a wild turkey) and a covey of quail exploded from the bank when I stepped out of the boat to answer a call of nature And the trout. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I’d never caught as many trout. A 3-pound brown was the largest.
What an eye-opener for a Wisconsin boy, used to catching small brook trout and hanging up the fly rods come October as the lakes and rivers turned hard.
In 1970, Missouri had only four trout parks and twelve put-and-take trout streams. The only trout fishery worth bragging about was Lake Taneycomo, Missouri’s only tailwater trout fishery, where bragging trout had to weigh in at better then six pounds, three to five pounders were common. Stockings of &Mac186;catchable&Mac197; trout enhanced the fishery. The Current River had been stocked recently when I first visited.
Today, Missouri boasts some of the finest trophy brown and wild, stream-bred rainbow fishing found anywhere in the country. And fishing stays open year-round.
In the two decades following my first visit to the Current River, state biologists and the Missouri Department of Conservation have returned the fishery from one of put-and-take stocking–creating feast and famine fishing–to a balanced trout program where trout anglers, regardless of their expertise, can find super trout fishing. If you want to fish for large trophy brown trout; or hatchery fish released the day before; or test your skill against trout that see hundreds of flies annually in a popular catch-and-release fishery; Missouri’s trout program provides this opportunity.
Missouri’s four trout parks:Bennett Spring, Montauk, Roaring River and Maramec Springs’provide anglers the opportunity to fish for stocked rainbows during most of the year; however, now they reopen for weekend catch-and-release trout fishing from mid-November to mid-February. Many anglers report catching and releasing 100 trout or more during a day’s fishing. Biologists tell me the winter catch-and-release fishery at the trout parks is the fastest growing segment of the trout program.
TROPHY TROUT AREAS
Today the Current River is one of four streams that have special regulations restricting the harvesting of trout until they reach 15 inches in length. Those fisheries include the Meramec River from Highway 8 to Scott’s Ford access; Current River from Montauk State Park to Cedar Grove Access; North Fork of the White River from Blair Bridge to Dawt Mill; and Roubidoux Creek from Waynesville City Park to Gasconade River. Some of the rivers have bait restrictions, others do not. All provide some of the finest “big trout” stream fishing found anywhere in the Midwest. Anglers catch brown trout as large as 10 pounds regularly. Larger trout up to 15 pounds have been reported.
In addition to the stream fishing for trophy trout, anglers can fish for trophy browns in Lake Taneycomo, one of the finest tailwater trout fisheries in the nation. Brown trout must be 20 inches long before they can be harvested. All current state record brown trout (the record now is 23 pounds 3 ounces) have come from the tailwater, with larger trout, maybe even a new world record a future possibility. To help this prospect along, the upper four miles of the tailwater in 1997 will have special regulations on the catch and the use of bait.
WILD TROUT AREAS
Arguably, Missouri has some of the finest wild trout fishing found anywhere in the United States. Missouri has six streams:Mill Creek, Spring Creek, Blue Spring Creek, Eleven Point River from Greer Access to Turner’s Access; North Fork of the White River from Rainbow Spring to Blair Bridge; and the upper 6 miles for Crane Creek, managed for wild, self-sustaining, rainbow trout populations. These are the only such populations east of the Rocky Mountains or south of Minnesota. Regulations are strict. An 18-inch- length limit or catch and release and restrictions on the use of natural bait protects these unique populations.
NONE OF THE ABOVE
In addition to the trophy brown trout fishery, Lake Taneycomo supports excellent year-round fishing for stocked rainbow trout, as does Capps Creek, Little Piney River, Current River, Eleven and Roubidoux Creek outside special management areas. These are stocked eight to ten times each year and anglers can keep five trout daily with no restriction on bait. And finally, scattered throughout The Ozarks are private spring branches that support trout fishing opportunities.
Mill Creek yielded a dozen small rainbows up to ten inches. I fished slowly downstream through the “Canyon,” then around the corner. The sun warmed the quiet valley, and ice and snow dropped from the trees, creating a musical counterpoint to the quiet murmur of the creek. As I neared the end of my fishing, a large rainbow hammered my Wooly Bugger. I cranked the line back on my reel, the fish jumped once, twice, then a third time, then dashed downstream into a pool, where it sulked, shaking its head.
I slowly worked the great fish back, wishing I’d brought my landing net. My bamboo rod bent double and the fish ran back to the pool. I worked the fish back. Suddenly, a huge trout, far larger than my fish, flashed by, turned and swirled by again. Startled, I tightened my grip on the palming rim of the reel. The line went slack.
I sat down on the bank and waited for the adrenalin rush to fade. I don’t know how large the second trout was, maybe three pounds and about 20 inches. Large enough that I knew I’d be back. I walked back to my truck, remembering my first trout on the Current River 25 years earlier, and the water that flowed through those two points in time.
By Spencer Turner