Much ado will be made in the coming days about the opening of trout fishing season at four parks in southern Missouri, and rightfully so. The places will pack thousands of tourists and family fun-seekers along streams and holes where traditions and trophies have abounded for years.
There is much more to the trout story in our state, and we’ll get to it momentarily. But first a shoutout to the Bennett Spring, Maramec Spring, Montauk and Roaring River parks. When the whistle blows on the morning of March 1, memories will be made as many anglers try to land a lunker or a limit.
The opening of the parks takes on a holiday atmosphere, but the four facilities are not the only spots for quality trout fishing. Other locations don't have to wait for a special day, and they are always much less crowded.
Missouri has designated areas of several cold-water streams with special trout fishing regulations. While the catching may not be as fast and furious as the first minutes of opening morning, the limits and lunkers are still available.
Blue Ribbon Trout Areas in the state provide high enough quality habitat on smaller streams to support successful spawning by rainbow trout. Harvest is limited to maintain the population of breeding-size adult trout, and to provide great opportunities for catch-and-release fishing.
In addition to the natural reproduction, the Blue Ribbon areas also receive supplemental stocking from the same hatcheries that fill the trout parks daily. The North Fork of the White and Current rivers are stocked with brown trout. The Eleven Point River gets rainbows provided periodically.
Six smaller tributary streams also have Blue Ribbon regulations, including Barren Fork, Blue Springs, Crane, Little Piney, Mill and Spring creeks. Anglers may only keep one fish daily, and it must be at least 18 inches long. Lure types are restricted flies and other artificial offerings. Live or manufactured soft plastic or scented baits are prohibited to reduce the potential for mortality on those that are caught and returned.
Only three streams are designated as Red Ribbon Trout Areas. On the Meramec River and its Dry Fork Creek tributary, anglers may only use artificial lures. On the seven-mile segment of the North Fork of the White River before it enters Norfork Lake, all bait or lures are allowed. The daily limit is two fish that must be at least 15 inches. The areas provide quality habitat, and the hatchery stock they receive is mostly brown trout.
The White Ribbon Trout Areas are streams with water cold enough for trout to survive all year long. The periodic stockings add mostly rainbow trout, but some brown trout are included. There is no minimum length requirement for rainbow trout, but browns must be at least 15 inches long. Anglers may keep up to four fish daily. The areas have no bait restrictions.
The streams with segments designated as White Ribbon areas are Capps, Hickory, Little Piney and Roubidoux creeks, the Current, Eleven Point, Niangua and Roaring rivers, and Stone Mill Spring, which has a catch-and-release only season from Nov. 1 through Feb. 28.
As of Feb. 1, all of the lakes that host winter trout fishing areas are now available for catch-and- keep anglers to harvest up to four fish daily. The recent run of frigid temperatures is likely to have most of those opportunities frozen solid.
Regardless of how cold it might be on March 1, hearty anglers will crowd into the four trout parks and enjoy the catching and camaraderie that have made those places famous. For those looking for quieter encounters, several streams provide a variety of options.
John Winkelman is Marketing Director for Liguori Publications near Barnhart, Mo., and the Associate Editor for Outdoor Guide Magazine. If you have story ideas to share for the Leader outdoor news page, e-mail email@example.com, and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.