March 1st is always a day on the calendar that I put an asterisk by and has been for as many years as I can remember. For most folks it's just another day , and if you're from my neck of the woods there's a good chance the weather will be shitty and cold , not exactly what most people look forward to. But for a couple thousand deranged individuals in Missouri March 1st ushers in an event big enough to trump even the nastiest winter weather , the opening day of trout fishing at the four trout parks. I'm sure some of you reading this are asking yourself "What's a trout park?". Just imagine an amusement park atmosphere (minus the corn dogs and funnel cakes) where the kids and their families are replaced by hordes of anglers brimming with excitement over the thought of catching a limit of rainbow trout. For many this is a day of firsts for the year...first fishing trip , first campfire , first drunken poker game with buddies. All of those things that you've put on hold during the long winter are officially back in play come March 1st.
For me March 1st is all about traditions. I started attending the opening day festivities with my father and a group of his buddies when I was just a teenager , more years ago than I care to mention. My first trout came on one of these trips , as well as my first fish on a flyrod. There are a lot of good memories that creep back into my head every time I think back on the years of opening days that I've been a part of. There was a time when the opening day trip was all about the fishing , I was too young to give a hoot about the lasting memories I was making with family and friends. I had trout on the brain in a bad way and March 1st was usually my first opportunity of the year to get on the water.
Somehow over the years , the core group of guys has kept the tradition going. These days there's a little less fishing and a lot more time spent eating , drinking and socializing. The crowds and combat fishing that goes on inside the park definitely aren't my cup of tea (I havn't fished inside the park for three years running now) but there are plenty of other waters close by where I can get away for a few hours and soak my boots in solitude , and besides this trip isn't about the fishing.
This year March 1st fell on a Friday which meant I was pulling out of the driveway Thursday morning and headed South with enough food for a small army. Being one of the "young guys" I took on most of the trip responsibilities several years back to make life easier on the "old farts". This includes securing our lodging and preparing a menu for four days and then doing the grocery shopping for six guys. Although I consider March the official end to winter , you couldn't have proved it by the scenery on my drive down. The previous week Mother Nature had covered the area with up to a foot of fresh snow but luckily for me at least the main roads were clear.
I pulled into the park and our accomodations for the next four nights , a four-plex within walking distance of the stream, just after 10:00. A couple of the guys were already there and had assumed the preferred position of the weekend , prone on the couch with a cold drink in hand. We made short work of the unloading process and after a quick snack for lunch I was anxious to get down and take a look at the river that I planned to spend most of my free time fishing. I knew it was up a couple of feet from the recent rains and snow runoff but after the drought we've been experiencing lately the extra water flow was a welcome sight. Unfortunately a couple of small creeks upstream were turning the normally clear spring fed river into what looked like watered down chocolate milk. The section of river where the main spring dumps in out of the park still had some decent clarity to it for about a mile until it all mixed together so I decided to put the pontoon on and do a short float to see what kind of action I could drum up.
Even though tomorrow folks would be lined up shoulder to shoulder in the park I had the river to myself except for a couple of guys fishing at the mouth of the Spring. Being a White Ribbon water the rainbows are stocked periodically , in concept at least , faster than they go home in five gallon buckets. It didn't take long for me to start catching small rainbows that probably hadn't been in the river for more than a few days. They had the battle scars and missing fins to show for their time spent in a raceway at the hatchery. I was content to just be catching fish , a light snow was falling and the river seemed to be cloaked in a low overcast which made the float all the more peaceful. Considering the conditions I considered myself pretty lucky with the days results.
Friday morning was the "Big Day" everyone was anticipating. Out of the six guys I was the only one who didn't get up at an ungodly hour to go stand along the stream and wait for the official start of opening day. I slept in and then after a cup or two of coffee decided to go drive around the park and do a little people watching. It really is an interesting event and it always amazes me at the numbers of people that show up to catch a trout in a state where other bodies of water are open to fishing all year round. After taking in the sights I stopped by the local flyshop to kill some time before heading back to the cabin for breakfast.
I didn't make it back down to the river until early afternoon (downing 3000 calories worth of breakfast isn't an easy task and often requires a short siesta before returning to any physical activity!) and after finding the water still heavily discolored decided to float the same mile and a half of water that I had the previous day. As expected the results were similar , good numbers of "truckers" but nothing that looked as though it had been in the river for more than a few days. I knew from previous trips that there were some good holdover fish swimming around but you couldn't keep your fly away from the little freshly stocked fish long enough to give them a chance. I took my time and spent the entire afternoon fishing that short section of water , stopping off on a couple of mid-river islands to stretch my legs and enjoy an adult beverage or three.
I finished the day with cold hands and a smile on my face , the fishing wasn't anything special but at the time I couldn't imagine a better place to be. That night we cooked up some dino sized ribeyes on the grill and spent the remainder of the evening just kicking back and enjoying the company.
Saturday I had made plans to meet up with a good friend , Kevin , and fish one of the small Blue Ribbon wild trout streams that was within an hours drive. I hadn't been on this particular creek since early last Spring due to the drought and extremely low water these creeks have been experiencing. Upon arrival the water looked good and I was anxious to see how the trout had fared over the last nine months of low water.
The first hole we came to I answered that question by doing business with a plump little wild rainbow. Kevin and I took turns fishing likely looking holes as we worked our way upstream. The trout were consistently where you would expect them to be and we caught fish out of most of the holes we stopped at.
The biggest fish was just under twelve inches long but full of fight. On the two weight I was fishing these small wild fish gave a valiant battle and judging from their physical appearance they had been eating well.
The only tracks we saw in the snow along the creek were those of raccoons , deer and turkey meaning that it had been at least four or five days since anyone else had fished the creek. Luckily these small streams and small fish just don't have the draw for fishermen that our larger waters do ,which suits me just fine. We fished until around 3:30 and then headed back to the vehicles to call it a day. Another great time on one of Missouri's small creeks.
Sunday I had to pack up to head home but managed to sneak in a couple of hours wade fishing before breakfast. I fished a popular access and was only able to bring one small fish to hand but still enjoyed watching the sun cresting the surrounding hills as I worked my way downstream.
After another artery clogging breakfast I loaded up the truck , said my good-byes and hit the road for the trip home. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't already looking forward to that asterisk on the calendar next year.