Elbow to elbow

Missouri trout opener photo gallery

SALEM, Mo. — When catch-and-keep fishing season opens at Missouri's four trout parks Sunday, anglers will have some new things and some old ones to celebrate.

March 1 always marks the start of the fishing year for thousands of anglers. This year's turnout is likely to be heavy because the opener falls on a Sunday, but snow on Saturday and a high in the upper 30s on Sunday could keep some away.

"Historically, Sunday openers have been our biggest days," said Hatchery Systems Manager James Civiello, with the Missouri Department of Conservation. "We have opening-day attendance records going back 50 years, and turnouts always are bigger when opening day falls on a weekend."

Weekend or not, weather also plays an important role in determining crowd size on opening day. The trout park attendance record occurred in 1992, when 14,947 anglers descended on the parks for a Sunday opener with beautiful weather.

"With good weather, I would expect to see upwards of 11,000 anglers at the four parks on opening day," said Civiello. "On the other hand, if it turns cold and rainy, that could hold down attendance."

Three of Missouri's trout parks (Bennett Spring, near Lebanon; Montauk, near Salem; and Roaring River, near Cassville) are state parks, owned by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The fourth — Maramec Spring Park, near St. James — is owned by the James Foundation. The Conservation Department operates trout hatcheries at all four.

Roaring River celebrates an anniversary this year. The trout hatchery, located a few miles south of Cassville, became a state park in 1928, when its owner donated it to the Missouri Game and Fish Department — the Conservation Department's predecessor. The Civilian Conservation Corps helped build a new hatchery that went into service in 1939, just in time to replace the original, which was destroyed by a flood.

Roaring River's attendance record of 3,504 anglers occurred in 1981, another Sunday opener. Hatchery Manager Jerry Dean said the park's stream will contain approximately three fish for each of the 3,300 anglers expected to visit the park on opening day this year. That stocking rate applies at the other three parks as well.

Roaring River Hatchery will have approximately 280 fish per hole in the tag-fishing area for its 70th anniversary. That number will include at least 50 "lunkers," hatchery brood fish weighing upwards of 3 pounds.

Crews have removed gravel washed into the Roaring River spring branch by floods, and they have cut vegetation to further improve fishing conditions.

Junior and Clarice Stephens, of Olathe, Kan., will be honored with the first and second tags of the year at Roaring River in recognition of their contributions to the park. The couple has been fishing and mentoring young anglers at Roaring River since 1974. They will have the honor of firing the pistol that marks the start of the 2009 season at 6:30 a.m. March 1.

Bennett Spring became the state's first trout hatchery a few years before Roaring River. Hatchery Manager Mike Mitchell says he is preparing for approximately 3,200 anglers on opening day.

Anglers at Bennett Spring will find a brand new fishing platform across from the Suzy Hole in Zone 3. Park officials hope to have the platform completed for opening day.

Long-time businessman Larry Peace will have the honor of sounding the opening siren at Bennett Spring March 1. His parents were concessionaires in the 1940s and 1950s, and he and his wife carried the family tradition through the 1950s and into the 1960s as concessionaires at Montauk State Park. After that he operated Larry's Sporting Goods inside the park.

"The Peace family has provided approximately 60 years of service to trout fishermen at Bennett Spring and Montauk," said Mitchell.

Montauk Hatchery Manager Tom Whelan is preparing for opening-day attendance of 3,200 anglers.

Maramec Spring Hatchery Manager Paul Spurgeon expects around 2,300 anglers on opening day. They will help Maramec Spring Park celebrate over 50 years of trout fishing, which began there in 1958.

Those who buy daily fishing tags that day will receive commemorative fly boxes and copies of the Conservation Department's Conservation Heritage Calendars, while supplies last. State Rep. Dan Brown (R-Rolla) will sound the opening bell at Maramec Spring Park.

The St. James Chamber of Commerce will continue its long-standing tradition of serving coffee and doughnuts to anglers and sponsoring a variety of fishing contests. One-hundred fish stocked for the season opener will carry tags good for prizes.

Anglers need a daily trout tag to fish in Missouri's trout parks. Those age 16 through 64 need a fishing permit in addition to the daily tag.

Trout parks are only one option for Show-Me State anglers. For more about the state's extensive system of trout streams and winter trout fishing, visit www.mdc.mo.gov/7248.