Show Me Missouri's Top Trout Streams
September 30, 2010
These three streams take a back seat to no others when it comes to great trout fishing. Give them a try this summer -- it's a great way to beat the heat!
By Billie R. Cooper
World-renowned turkey-calling champion Walter Parrott unhooked his third chunky rainbow trout.
"Bill!" Walter yelled upstream. "Are you fishing yet?"
I didn't answer. Of course, I had been fishing all along. I just didn't expect Walter to be as good with an ultralight rod as he was with a turkey call. To make matters worse, we were fishing my secret trout stream. Walter had never been there.
I quickly reminded Walter that this place had long been my honeyhole, and that I had coached him all along the way about equipment to bring and the most productive lures to use.
"You know, Walter, the only man better than a good fisherman is his fishing coach!" I yelled back after a long silence.
"Hey, Bill - I've got a 16-inch rainbow on," was all he said.
Photo by Michael Skinner
As good coaches do, I watched for a weakness. Walter skipped a small hole where the clear water swept under a cutbank. A downed tree covered with wild grapevines hid that piece of fabulous trout habitat very well.
I moved into that spot, where I had caught nice rainbows on previous trips, with a smug grin on my face.
Four hefty rainbows shot out of the hide as my gray-and-white Rooster Tail drifted short of the deadfall. My next cast hit the mark. As soon as the 1/32-ounce lure drifted out of sight under the debris, my line went tight.
I feared the feisty fish would tangle my 2-pound Stren line in the treetop, but I managed to turn the brightly colored rainbow to shallow water. I repeated the process twice again in my next five casts.
"I guess you are not going to invite me down to the hole," Walter quipped.
"Come on over," I said. "Maybe we can manage a double so Charlene can capture it on film."
Walter no more than stepped into the run above my hotspot where we both hooked up. Walter roared with laughter when my fish got off.
Over the course of the next three hours, Walter and I waded downstream and caught fish at every hole we found. Small Rooster Tails and tiny marabou jigs, 1/80- and 1/100-ouncers in brown and olive worked like magic.
Walter and I both used 2-pound line on ultralight spinning gear. However, Walter had a definite advantage in the casting department. He used a 7-foot ultra-light spinning rod made by Bass Pro. He could cast the tiny lures much further than I could with my 5-foot rod.
As we paused to take a few photos and film a closing for the Outside Again TV series, we talked about what had taken place.
"Bill, this has been incredible," Walter said. "Now I know why you blindfolded me before you brought me in here. This is hard to believe. We are about an hour from millions of people in the St. Louis area, we have caught and released dozens of rainbows from 11 to 18 inches, and we did not see another person all day. That is incredible. What did you say is the name of this place?"
"Good try, Walter!" I replied. "It is time to put the blindfold back on. We've got to leave. You know, I don't remember you ever telling me the location of that fabulous turkey hunting spot you took me to a few months ago. And you made me wear a sack over my head!"
St. Louis-area trout fishermen are within an hour or two of some of the top trout streams in the state. Southeast Missouri offers a variety of settings where anglers can pursue both Rainbow and brown trout.
BLUE SPRINGS CREEK Blue Springs Creek is one of the Missouri Department of Conservation's Wild Trout Management Areas. Located just south of Bourbon, on Highway N, this area is within easy reach of St. Louisans.
Wild Trout Management Areas range from small creeks to large rivers. Blue Springs is one of the smallest streams in the system. WTMAs are not stocked, but depend on self-sustaining populations of rainbow trout. Therefore, these areas appeal particularly to those trout fishermen who hold wild fish and wild places in the highest regard.
Mike Kruse is the trout biologist for the MDC. "Our philosophy behind the WTMAs is to provide diversity in the state's trout fishing programs," he said. "Areas like Blue Springs provide anglers the opportunity to enjoy a natural experience. WTMAs are not stocked. Trout in those areas are wild fish, spawned and reared in a totally natural setting."
Kruse indicated that most trout caught at Blue Springs are caught and released. "The harvest must be conservative at Blue Springs if wild populations are to sustain themselves. Trout in some of our small stream have been doing so for over 100 years," he noted.
If you are a purist, Blue Springs is the place for you. The daily limit is one trout of 18 inches or longer. However, few purists ever reduce a trout to possession and that is exactly what has maintained superb trout fishing at Blue Springs.
Mark Van Patten is a well known Missouri flyfisherman. His work with Trout Unlimited has earned him many distinctions over the years. Blue Springs is one of his favorite places to pursue his beloved trout.
"To be successful at Blue Springs, you have to study the aquatic life," Van Patten asserted. "Matching the hatch may sound archaic, but it works here. In fact, it is necessary. Check the undersides of rocks for insects. Note the color and size of emerging stoneflies, mayflies and caddis flies."
Although I have never caught an 18-inch rainbow at Blue Springs, I revel in the experience every time I outsmart one of those wild fish. The tiny stream tumbles, twists, and turns until it empties into the Meramec River. It is wadable along its entire course, although I only step into the water to cross the stream. Wading only serves to spook fish.
I carry a variety of flies and nymphs. For fishing Blue Springs, I stick to number 16 and smaller offerings. Some of my favorites include the Gray Quill, Iron Blue Dun, Olive Dun, Light Hendrickson and the Royal Coachman, all in size 18. I also am fond of the Pale Even Dun and the Black Gnat in sizes 20 and 22.
Larry Graddy of Bourbon, who guides for Upland Wings Re
sort, grew up fishing Blue Springs. He swears by anything that imitates a small crayfish. Larry fishes ultralight spinning gear spooled with 2-pound line.
MERAMEC RIVER St. Louis area trout fishermen looking for bigger rivers on which to ply their skills need not look any further than the Meramec River near St. James. Eight miles of stream from the Highway 8 bridge just east of Maramec Spring Park to Scott's Ford is a designated Special Trout Management Area. However, trout fishing is available above and below the STMA.
Within the boundaries of the STMA anglers may harvest a combination of three rainbow and brown trout; these must measure at least 15 inches. Only artificial lures and flies are authorized in the STMA.
Trout may be pursued both above and below the STMA boundaries. In these areas there are no length limits or restrictions on baits and lures. Anglers may keep five trout. The six-mile float from Cedar Ford to Highway 8 and the six-mile float from Scott's Ford to Indian Springs are real sleepers for trout fishermen. Since these two stretches of the Meramec do not carry any special designation as trout waters, they receive very little publicity from the MDC.
The STMA area is the portion of the river that is used most by trout fishermen, and rightfully so. The vast majority of stocked fish and those that escape from Maramec Spring Park, a daily put-and-take trout operation, will remain within the boundaries of the STMA.
Mike Kruse said that MDC biologists stock the Meramec once a year, usually in the spring, with brown trout that average 8 to 10 inches. "By the time stocked browns reach the legal length limit of 15 inches, they are essentially wild fish," he pointed out. "A 15-inch fish has survived numerous predators and the catch and release program."
The MDC does not stock rainbows in the Meramec River, because plenty escape from the daily stockings during the put and take season at Maramec Spring Park. Too, there is some natural reproduction by rainbows in the river.
Artificial flies and lures are the ticket in the STMA. Kruse stated that one in four fish caught on baits is hooked deep enough that death occurs. Trout caught on artificial lures and flies experience a mortality rate of 5 per cent.
When fishing with spinning equipment, I upgrade to 4- to 6-pound line in this section of the river. There are lots of rocks and logs. Too, the stream doubles in size at the confluence of Maramec Spring branch. I normally use a 5-foot rod, but have decided to switch to a 7-foot rod after watching Walter Parrott's exhibition last summer. Longer rod, longer casts: That is important on the STMA waters of the Meramec.
The deep holes and runs from the confluence of Maramec Spring to Dry Fork Creek hold lots of trout. This stretch, also receives most of the fishing pressure. As a result, I find it necessary to downsize my lures here. Tiny spinners and jigs produce more fish for me.
Further downstream, below Dry Fork, I begin to increase the size of my lures. One of my favorites is a crayfish imitator made by the late, great fly-caster Hank Reifeiss of St. Louis. Hank's fly-fishing skills and rhetoric touting the virtues of Ozark smallmouths brought him recognition from far and wide.
The 3-inch lure is made of olive marabou with a touch of orange chenille. A long-shanked hook with a conical gold weight at the eye make this bottom-hugger a deadly offering for both smallmouths and rainbows. The lure does double duty as well, as I can either cast it easily on my ultralight spinning gear or flip it equally well on a 6-weight fly rod.
The variety of insect life on the Meramec is so extensive that I carry a half-dozen fly cases crammed with attractors, imitators, emergers, and nymphs. I roll rocks, check aquatic vegetation and sometimes just sit and observe to find out what trout are feeding on.
The sit-and-watch method is often one of most the most productive. Feeding trout can be spooky. I once rounded a bend and floated my canoe into a hole where white mayflies were emerging by the thousands. Only an occasional dimple rippled the surface. Puzzled, I beached the canoe and sat back from the stream and watched while I began rigging my fly rod. Within minutes the water began to boil with dozens of feeding rainbows. I tied on the perfect mayfly imitator, kept a very low profile, and enjoyed an hour of fly-fishing like I have never seen before or since.
The sampling survey performed by Kruse and crew on the Meramec in the fall of 2001 turned up more trout from 15 to 18 inches than ever before. This summer will be a good time to fish the Meramec.
CURRENT RIVER Current River country, south of Salem, has long been a favorite of trout fishermen. Montauk State Park, on the headwaters, is a favorite destination of summertime travelers. Put and take trout fishing is available in the park boundaries.
Along the course of the Current, trout anglers will find trout fishing to suit any taste. Put-and-take fishing is available inside park boundaries. The nine-mile stretch from the park boundary to Cedar Grove is a Special Trout Management Area. Downstream from Cedar Grove to Akers Ferry, seven and seven-tenths miles, exists a Trout Management Area.
The STMA, from Montauk to Cedar Grove, offers anglers the opportunity to catch trophy fish. Fish must be at least 15 inches to be reduced to possession; the limit is three. The area is restricted to artificial flies and lures.
Canoe traffic can be extremely heavy on the Current in the summer months, even during the week. Planning fishing excursions for daylight and dusk hours will produce more fish. However, many anglers have no choice but to fish when they can. The action is slower during the day, but fish can still be caught.
The gradient of the upper Current is steep, creating many fast runs. Wading is practical in some areas, but getting from one hole to another requires walking through heavy vegetation and rough terrain. Using a canoe is my favorite way to fish the Current. Stopping often is necessary to thoroughly cover the structure.
Spinners and jigs are popular on this upper stretch of the river. Favored fly patterns include large Woolly Buggers, stonefly and caddis fly nymphs. A No. 10 Prince Nymph and number 14 Elk Hair Caddis with a beadhead are two of my favorites.
Current River changes dramatically from Cedar Grove to Akers, especially after Welch Spring enters the river. This stretch is a Trout Management Area, with no restrictions on baits and lures and no length limit. Anglers may keep five trout.
Charlene and I have used a staggering variety of artificial, live and prepared baits to catch trout below Cedar Grove. Crayfish, minnows, leeches, and earthworms will insure catches. A favorite trick I learned from northern walleye fishermen is to impale a small crayfish on a floating jighead. The crayfish will float just above the rock
s and struggle to gain their cover. That is more than most trout can stand. This method works incredibly well at dusk.
Powerbait, corn, and cheese are good prepared bait choices, while spinners, plastic worms and jigs top the artificials list.
Kruse remarked that precipitation levels have been lower than normal for the last couple of years, causing a strain on rearing facilities and streams alike. "All fish and wildlife species are affected by cycles," he pointed out. "Rainfall is expected to return to normal patterns and the fish will respond. However, the drought conditions seemed to help conditions in the Meramec. Floods often flush stocked fish downstream. Too, trout are much more difficult to catch in lower water."
Kruse closed by saying that the MDC is reviewing all of its trout management programs; a draft report will be available in 2003 for the public. The MDC has also recently released a new trout fishing map that points out the trout fishing locations across the state and provides helpful hints. Copies may be obtained from regional offices or by calling the MDC at (573) 882-9880.
Equipped with these insights, any angler primed to tease trout should make plans now to head to the streams in June.
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