The second weekend of March, the weather broke just enough for me and a couple of family members to get out on a spring-fed creek (called Spring Creek, actually) and catch several pounds of trout while fly-fishing in southern Missouri, near Rockbridge.
I was skeptical at the outset, to say the least. My wife has been going down to this particular place for years, and she assured me I’d love it.
My skepticism was rooted more in hatchery fishing in general than any lack of trust I have in her outdoor pursuits. I’ve watched Gwen put myself and another guy (I’ll let him remain nameless) to shame dropping dove out of the southeast Kansas morning sky.
But with hatchery fishing, I’ve travelled several times down to Cassville, Missouri, and fished the Roaring River. I’ve also travelled further east and south, down near Alton, Missouri, to fish the Eleven Points River, which boasts the largest number of native trout in Missouri.
But I can’t think of a more discouraging feeling in all of my fly fishing and trout fishing experience – not getting skunked on the Arkansas River in Colorado, the Deschutes in Oregon, or the Yellow Breeches Creek in Pennsylvania; not watching a fisherman just down stream hauling them in; not even breaking the tip off my fly rod – than the times at Cassville on the Roaring River when I’ve hooked up with a fish, and as I’m playing it out, there’s four or five other guys shuffling in and casting into the hole I’m pulling the fish out of.
It’s the only thing – combat fishing – that can make me truly mad while I’m fishing, because it doesn’t feel like fishing at all. It displays a total lack of respect for each other and for fishing in general that goes against how I choose to interact with nature.
Don’t get me wrong, Spring Creek was no Rocky Mountains river, where you might not see another fisherman for several hours, but it was about as good as I can imagine for hatchery fishing. There was plenty of good fishing for the amount of people on the river.
With trout averaging over 3 pounds apiece, the fishing was good and the trout fought hard; try to just horse them to the bank, and your leader snapped before you got them even a foot (especially the 2-pound-test I was using). Most of the fish I caught ended up making two good runs, sometimes three. I ended up with just over 19 pounds of trout in my cooler – gutted and gilled – which cost me about $82 ($4.30 per pound, then trout tag and fees on top, plus a homemade cinnamon roll for my wife, it came to about $97).
My brother did about the same, and my father-in-law absolutely killed it (of course). Although his tactics were a little unorthodox – fishing woolybuggers downstream and pulling them back up against the current, like a streamer – he knew the creek and fished it well. Late in the first day, Paul ventured on down the creek and again came back with his second stringer full of fish. He was improvising, catching fish by bringing the woolybugger across the current, making it look like it was swimming, which I’d never seen before but it was effective nonetheless.
Before that, 2 hours into the first morning, I’d missed on a couple, and that was it. Meanwhile, Paul had found a feeder creek just shouting distance downstream from me, and I noticed him pulling them in. I also noticed the group of fish he was accumulating on his stringer when he went to put another one on.
I may have muttered a couple of syllables out of mild frustration, but I was alright, I knew I’d get ‘em. After I noticed another bent pole of his and his net extend to envelop another rainbow trout, I hollered something like, “Thattaboy, Paul!”
I heard Paul shout and looked his way to see him motioning for me to come down and join him. Another cast or two, and I decided to swallow my pride and go at least watch what he was doing differently than I. When I got down to him, Paul said he’d reached his limit, and to take over the hole.
I’m glad I did. It was fun fishing and before long I had five trout on my stringer that weighed around 16 pounds.
The next morning, my brother and I walked back down to that same feeder creek and it was the same thing, it felt like every cast was going to be a fish.
After we got home, I received a text from my brother that said, “Sure doesn’t look like $100 worth of trout in my freezer.” I shared his sentiment, but at the same time, it was such fun fishing with such good guys that it was totally worth it in my (check)book.
It had been about six years since I’d fly fished (at least for trout), and I’ll never let myself go that long again. While it wasn’t the big mountains and big waters of the West, this fishing trip to a Missouri hatchery was one of the best fishing trips of my life. My favorite was fishing the Arkansas in Colorado the first time I ever fly fished (I caught two wild trout that trip), with my dad and two of my brothers. This was cool in its own way for the three of us, and the best fishing experience I've ever had on a trout hatchery.
I’ll keep you posted on how the smoked trout experience works out, and I might even try and poach some to make a dill-trout cracker spread. Stay tuned.
Caleb Regan and his wife, Gwen, live in rural Douglas County, Kansas, where they enjoy hunting, fishing, and raising and growing as much of their own food as they can. Caleb can’t imagine a better scenario than getting to work on a rural lifestyle magazine as a profession, and then living that same lifestyle right in the heartland of America. Connect with him on Google+.