Sedalia’s Liberty Park Pond is one of 27 similar bodies of water across the state that the Missouri Department of Conservation stocks with trout between November 1 and January 31. During this period, the pond’s are open to catch and release fishing, and anglers must use artificial lures.
Beginning on February 1 — today if you’re reading this in the Sedalia Democrat — and continuing until either anglers or warming water temperatures have eliminated them, anglers with trout permits may keep up to four trout of any size and may use either lures or bait. The prospect of being able to catch and keep trout without leaving the city limits definitely increases interest in the sport, but only rarely are there enough people at the pond at any one time to constitute a crowd, even by my extremely conservative standards.
When I checked out the Liberty Park Pond last Thursday morning, there was some ice-free water around the east aerator and the west aerator was keeping a much larger area open. The ice covering the rest of the pond looked rotten, so it’s possible there will be more open water today. Of course, it’s also possible it will be snowing, but you’ve got to be tough if you want to go fishing in February.
If you go, keep in mind that your quarry has the advantage of having been given a three-month free education by catch-and-release anglers. They’re catch-able to be sure, but don’t underestimate them.
Many trout anglers have a strong preference for artificial lures, and it’s by no means necessary to lay that bias aside. In fact, purists can do quite well with a variety of wet flies, in-line spinners, jigs and tiny crankbaits.
That said, for all but the most skilled anglers, success rates using artificial lures drop off rapidly after the first week. Many people believe this is due to the fact that fewer trout remain in the pond with each passing day. I don’t argue with that, but I also believe trout with an eat-anything attitude are the first to go. This skews the number of available fish toward those that will only strike objects that not only look edible, but that are edible.
Fortunately, trout have a long list of items they think are edible. Some of these goodies, Berkeley Power Bait is a prime example, aren’t found in nature. . Presumably, trout mistake a ball of Power Bait molded around a #10 or smaller treble hook for a salmon egg. This is a good thing from the angler’s perspective, because all rainbow trout love salmon eggs, despite the fact that no hatchery-bred trout has ever seen one.
Velveeta cheese is another super trout bait. I have no idea what a trout thinks a hook baited with cheese is–they may well it’s a hook baited with cheese–but I do know they find it irresistible. Cheese also has the advantage of being not only a very inexpensive trout bait, but also one that the angler can eat at the end of the day.
For reasons known only to themselves, trout are very fond of both whole kernel canned corn and dough balls made from corn flakes. Slightly more ambitious fans of dough balls can make an exceptionally deadly trout bait out by mixing ground dry dog food kibbles with corn syrup or some other bonding agent.
As effective as the baits I’ve just mentioned can be, whenever the fishing gets tough, I turn to honest-to-goodness natural baits. Earth worms, wax worms, meal worms and the larvae found in mud-dauber wasp nest are all good bets. There are times when shrimp or fresh liver will outperform anything else.
The best pond trout terminal tackle rig I’ve ever used with bait is essentially what bass anglers call a “Carolina rig.” Thread a sixteenth-ounce sliding sinker onto the main line and attach a small barrel swivel. Tie a 2- to 3-foot piece of 4-pound test monofilament to the other end of the swivel and add an appropriate size and stye hook. To use it, simply cast your offering into a likely spot, let it sink to the bottom and wait for a hungry trout to find it.
An alternate method is to use a slip bobber rig with a BB-size split shot about a foot above the hook. Begin by setting the float about two-thirds of the water depth. Raise or lower the bait if necessary.
It’s legal to continue fishing after you’ve kept your fourth trout, but use artificial lures and be extremely cautious if you choose to do so. If you should happen to catch a trout that’s hooked to deeply to be released alive, you’re going to find yourself over the legal limit, because it’s also illegal to cull a live trout you caught earlier and replace it with the injured one.