Follow guides Mark Dessieux and Walt Fulps on a nine-mile trip down the Upper Meramec's trophy trout water, where the tactics are open for debate, but the quality of the fishing certainly is not. (June 2009)
The Upper Meramec River's designated Red Ribbon trout management area begins at the Highway 8 bridge in Crawford County and extends downstream roughly nine miles.
Photo by Brian K. Strickland.
As it turns out, Missourians "agree to disagree on more than Major League Baseball.
While Show-Me State baseball fans argue for either the Cardinals or the Royals, our angling populace -- in many cases, the same folks -- can't seem to agree on much either, especially when it comes to catching trout. Fly tackle or spinning gear? Wading or floating? Summer, spring, fall or winter? The list of disagreements goes on.
Herein, we shine the light on two guides with very different philosophies and methodologies for catching trophy trout on the Meramec River, a stream that we feel confident is one that all Missouri anglers -- or at least most of them -- will agree is one of our best.
It should come as no surprise that one of our guides, Walt Fulps, is a flyfisherman; the other, Mark Dessieux, is a spinning gear enthusiast.
The upper Meramec River is designated as a Red Ribbon trout management area that begins at the Highway 8 bridge in Crawford County and boasts a healthy contingent of both rainbow and brown trout. The brown trout population gets a boost each year from an active stocking program by the Missouri Department of Conservation.
According to MDC fisheries specialist Jennifer Girondo, "Only brown trout are stocked in the Red Ribbon section of the Meramec. Rainbow trout are not actively stocked and, though we have seen limited evidence of natural rainbow and brown trout reproduction in the Red Ribbon section, most of the rainbows in this section are believed to be from Meramec Spring Park."
Wading The Red Ribbon Area
Mark Dessieux, who operates Adventure Outdoors Campground and canoe livery at Scott's Ford, guides both floating and wading anglers alike. Summer fishing presents a different set of circumstances.
"The Woodson K. Woods Access is a good area early in the spring," Dessieux began. "It's small water, really clear, but once the weather begins warming up, the water above the spring gets a little too warm for the trout.
Dessieux recommends starting two miles downriver at the confluence where the Meramec Spring empties into the Meramec River. Here, the river doubles in size due to the 100 million gallons of water produced daily by the spring. The cold spring water keeps the river cool -- cool enough for the trout to thrive. Dessieux claims that despite the cool water, this is the hotspot for the wading angler.
"There are lots of fish in this hole," he said. "However, it gets a lot of pressure from other anglers fishing the trout park. Many anglers gain access to this hotspot from the trout park."
Other hotspots in the river for the wading angler include an area known as Cardiac Hill Access and Suicide Hill Access. These areas are four and five miles downstream from the Highway 8 bridge. Both areas have parking off Besmer Road southeast of St. James. Anglers can gain access to the river from these parking areas.
Another spot where Dessieux guides his clients is near the Scott's Ford Bridge Access. Although this is the end of the Red Ribbon Area, Dessieux claims his biggest trout have come from the bridge at Scott's Ford. He cautioned, "This is wadable, but it also has some deep holes."
Floating The Red Ribbon Areas
According to Dessieux, Adventure Outdoors floats as many anglers as any outfitter in Missouri. He believes the draw is due to location. His business is located at the end of the Red Ribbon Area at Scott's Ford and the beginning of a trophy-managed smallmouth area that continues 15 miles down the Meramec River.
The accesses are somewhat limited for anglers wishing to float without the aid of an outfitter. Dessieux recommends the Woodson K. Woods Access and says Cardiac Hill Access and Suicide Hill Access are also possibilities, but anglers trekking these areas with a canoe in tow may find out why these names have been given to these remote accesses.
Another problem that often arises with do-it-yourself float trips here is anglers must have two vehicles -- one at the launch and one relatively close to the point where they want to end their day of fishing. Dessieux launches anglers in canoes at the Woodson K. Woods access area, where anglers can begin the nine-mile section of river. Dessieux claims this float will take about five and a half hours, but if an angler wants to fish this stretch hard, the float can last all day. The most popular option among Dessieux's clients is to pay an extra fee to launch anglers at the spring, which cuts two miles off the float and an hour from the float time.
Dessieux claims that, although brown trout are stocked in the river, his clients always catch many more rainbows than browns. "The browns are stocked usually in early May and that's a good time to catch a bunch of browns, but browns are generally harder to catch than the rainbows," says Dessieux.
Dessieux feels the upper Meramec is the best trout fishery in the state, claiming many of his guided outings produce 25-50 fish, with several 16-inch and larger fish being duped each season.
Dessieux claims his favorite time to fish is from March through June. Then, as the water close to Scott's Ford begins to warm, the trout fishing slows. "They are still there, but they get a little tougher to catch," says Dessieux.
Methods To Catch Meramec Trout
Dessieux guides both fly- and spin-anglers, yet he prefers to use spinning gear. His go-to lure is a countdown Rapala in gold or silver with a black back. Dessieux distinguishes his fishing from that of other anglers by an unorthodox method in which he fishes a pool.
While most anglers fish upstream, he fishes downstream. He casts the length of a pool and works the bait up through the pool against the current. "It's the complete opposite of how a fly-angler would fish, but it works very well for me. Fishing in this manner keeps the bait in the current and keeps the bait in the fish's face," says Dessieux.
Dessieux instructs his clients to look for blue water. The Meramec is pretty clear, but the blue water is a bit deeper, which gives it the blue tint. Dessieux focuses on these pools. He also focuses on the fi
rst pool after a riffle, "These transitional areas will have the fish stacked up in them," says Dessieux.
Dessieux also suggests not overlooking a tailout -- the long stretch before the next riffle. "The upper and lower ends of a pool are always the best fishing," adds Dessieux.
Dessieux's tackle box wouldn't be complete without a few 1/8-ounce Little Cleo lures in gold or silver; white rooster tail spinners; and both minnow- and crayfish-pattern crankbaits like the Rebel Wee Crawfish.
One void in a trout angler's tackle box on this stretch of the Meramec River is soft-plastic lures, such as trout worms and natural or live bait. Only artificial baits are permitted, and no soft plastic is allowed. The Meramec Red Ribbon Area also has a creel limit of two fish, which must be 15 inches or larger.
The Guide's Equipment List
Dessieux prefers spinning gear utilizing a medium-action Shimano rod and reel spooled with 6- to 8-pound-test line. He prefers Berkley Trilene XT to the more popular fluorocarbon.
"Many guys use the fluorocarbon, but I see a lot of them break their line with it. It doesn't seem to be as abrasion-resistant as monofilament," says Dessieux.
The Meramec is not a place to try new equipment. Dessieux's gear is battle-tested and proven. As for rod length, Dessieux claims a longer rod will give an angler more precise casts and the ability to hit the spot they want to fish better than a short rod. A longer rod helps when fighting fish by providing more leverage. However, Dessieux prefers a shorter rod while fishing from canoes.
Dessieux claims any structure in the river will hold fish rootwads, tree laydowns, boulders and the tailouts of a ripple. His advice on catching these wary river trout is to make a good cast. "Keep it close to structure, but not so close you get hung up all the time," states Dessieux.
The Best Time To Fish
Dessieux contends that through the week, fishing pressure is light, even on Saturdays. However, anglers will have to share the water with the many floaters in both canoes and tubes as they make their way down the river. To date, Dessieux claims he has not experienced much conflict, either personally or with any of the floaters and anglers sharing the same stretch of water.
Dessieux says his most productive time to fish is when the water is high. "If the water is up and has some color to it, I can almost promise you a good day fishing," says Dessieux. Under these conditions he likes throwing a rooster tail -- something that puts out some flash and vibration.
Though many anglers proclaim falling water is difficult for catching fish Dessieux claims that his clients "slay the trout" after floods, while the water is falling. He believes that the fish aren't actively feeding during the flooding. However, as the water levels begin to fall and the water clears, the fish become more active and begin feeding aggressively.
To contact Mark Dessieux, you can reach him at (636) 399-1122.
ON THE FLY
Taxidermist, avid angler and guide Walt Fulps spends a lot of his time on the water watching others catch fish, and much of this catching takes place in the Red Ribbon area of the Meramec. Fulps considers June a transitional month for trout. Early spring finds the trout busy with their spawning rituals. Soon they will become aggressive, and in a crowded environment, these fish will grab anything an angler throws at them.
However, as the water and weather temperatures rise, hormones go down and the trout once again spread out downstream. Fulps says the fish are active this time of year and can be spotted swimming up into the riffles down to the tailouts.
Where The Fish Are
Fulps breaks the red ribbon area into several sections:
- €‚The Park to the Piles: This is where the Meramec Spring Park empties into the river. Roughly a mile long, this stretch can be rough. So-called "piles" created by laydowns provide both cover and hunting grounds for hungry trout. Fulps points out that these laydowns make for tough fishing conditions, and an angler has to read not just the surface of the water, but what the obstructions are doing to the water current and how this relates to the bottom or the hole just below it. Many of his clients find the "piles" frustrating due to the many hazards and hangups they present.
- €‚The Piles to Cardiac Hill: Along this section of the river, Fulps points out Cabin Hole and, of course, Cardiac Hill. This stretch of water runs for nearly four miles below the Highway 8 bridge "The water is a little more open, though they do receive pressure," Fulps said. "There are plenty of fish to be caught in these holes."
- €‚Cardiac Hill to Suicide Hill: Along this stretch, the big right-hand bend in the river is popular and produces fish for Fulps and his clients. Suicide Hill is approximately five miles below the Highway 8 bridge.</li?
Guide's Gear List<br?Fulps likes a fast-action 6-weight, 9-foot rod. He contends this gives a fly-angler plenty of reach to make a long cast and makes casting heavier flies a bit easier.
Fulps prefers a floating line with a combined leader and tippet length of 12 feet.
The bread-and-butter fly, according to Fulps, is a high-quality olive scud, which imitates the most prevalent food source of the trout. In warmer months, Fulps adds larger flies like the stonefly patterns. Also good are Copper Johns, Pheasant Tails and Hare's Ears. Fulps' favorite flies in the warmer months are hoppers in a size eight or 10.
Fulps claims the Meramec doesn't get enough pressure to make fly selection especially important.
Because Fulps is on the river so often, he is able to keep close tabs on what the fish are doing. For those not as familiar with the river, he recommends using a method he calls his "problem-solving mode." Tie on a gaudy fly like a yellow Glo-bug and tandem rig it with something more natural like a scud. After hooking a few fish, Fulps has a better idea of how they are feeding. If they hit the Glo-bug, that tells him that the fish aren't picky and will hit virtually anything thrown. Conversely, if the fish hit the scud, he knows the fish are not being "stupid" but are still actively feeding and he will throw more natural fly patterns.
In the summer months, Fulps claims that as the sun gets higher in the sky, the fish will back out of the pools and head into the tailouts. Fulps says sight-fishing is a great technique to catch these fish.
"The clients who struggle when I'm guiding them are the ones that either can't make the cast or can make the cast, but can't mend their line," Fulps said. "Practice casting and thinking how to properly mend your line."
Fulps explains the importance of properly mending your line: "If the trout sees the fly coming, it will align itself so the fly will come right to it. But if the line gets caught by the current the trout is where it is supposed to be, but the fly has been throw
n off course by the current grabbing the line. A fish usually won't go out of its way to forgive a poor mend."
To book a guided trip with Walt Fulps, contact him at (573) 426-3300 or (573) 578-2222 or at his Web site, www.missouritrouthunter.com.
Agreeing to disagree isn't easy, but there is one thing that Missouri trout anglers can agree on -- the Red Ribbon section of the Meramec River holds enough trout for anglers using spinning gear and those using fly tackle. Even though techniques differ a little, time spent on this section of river is sure to produce one more disagreement -- who caught the biggest trout!