Honesty demands I admit that before I tried fishing in any of Missouri’s four trout parks, I was sure I wouldn’t like it. And why should I? Isn’t trout park fishing like, to quote myself, “Standing in a crowd, while shooting fish in a barrel,”?
When I’m wrong, I’m really wrong. If you visit one of the parks on March 1–opening day of the catch and keep season–you will indeed find yourself jostling for position in a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. On the flip side, I have fond memories of a snowy March 18 when, by noon, I was the only angler in Zone 1 at Bennett Spring.
Some days, especially during the first 15 minutes after the whistle blows, catching trout is almost–and I stress almost–too easy. That said, there are days and times when the trout are so finicky they leave even the most experienced anglers scratching their heads. In other words, trout park fishing is just like fishing everywhere else.
Regulations at all four parks are the same. All anglers must have and display a daily permit available onsite. Anglers who would need a fishing permit elsewhere need one to fish in the parks. Anglers do not need a trout permit inside the parks. That said, all four empty into excellent trout streams where a permit is required. The statewide four-trout daily limit applies, and trout caught within the parks are not additional to trout caught elsewhere.
Now without further ado, here’s a thumbnail sketch of what to expect at each park.
Roaring River State Park. Located south of Cassville on Missouri highway 112, Roaring River’s amenities include a motel, cabins, a campground, a restaurant and a store. Reservations for the motel are required and are suggested for the cabins and campground.
Trout fishing begins just downstream from a large spring that forms the headwaters of the Roaring River. There is a zone in which only flies and artificial lures are legal, a zone in which only flies may be used and a zone in which anything goes within the 1.7 miles of stream where daily permits are required. There is an additional 1.8 miles of river within the park boundaries in which statewide angling rules apply but trout park hours and dates apply. Outside of the park, the river runs approximately 4.5 miles before reaching Table Rock Lake. This stretch is open year round, and White Ribbon trout stream rules apply.
Montauk state park. Located southeast of Licking on Missouri highway 119, Montauk’s amenities also include a motel, cabins, a campground, a restaurant and a store. Reservations aren’t required but are highly recommended.
There are approximately three miles of trout water within the park’s boundaries, and a daily permit is required on all of it. There is a flies-only zone and an artificial lures or live bait zone. Beyond the park’s boundaries, the Current River is a Blue Ribbon stream downstream to Cedar Grove.
Bennett Spring State Park. Located west of Lebanon on Missouri highway 64, Bennett Spring has all the amenities found in the other two state parks plus a swimming pool and a canoe rental. Lodging reservations are a virtual necessity on weekends during the summer months.
Approximately one and a half miles of trout-filled water flow between the spring and the Niangua River. Fishing methods on the spring branch are restricted to one zone for flies only, one zone for flies and artificial lures and one zone for bait only. The Niangua River is a White Ribbon trout stream.
Maramec Spring. Located southeast of St. James on Missouri highway 8, Maramec Spring has the distinction of being privately owned by a foundation created by a direct descendent of the property’s original owner. Standard amenities are limited to a campground, a small store and a café, but there’s also a museum and other attractions relative to early to mid 19th century iron mining in the area.
At only .6 mile, the Maramec spring branch is by far the smallest of the four. Anglers may use flies, lures or bait anywhere along it. The spring empties into the Meramec River–the spelling difference is the result of conflicting information supplied to the area’s earliest map makers–which is a Red Ribbon trout fishery downstream to Scott’s Ford.
I’ve fished all four of the trout parks. Each of them presents its own set of challenges and rewards, and I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite. But that’s just one more good reason to visit them all.
Gerald Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org