Crawford Co., Mo.— Conservation makes Missouri a great place to fish. And for those who love to pursue brown trout in the Meramec River, it's getting greater yet. That's because there are now even larger fish out there for anglers to catch. And it's all thanks to experiments to control a parasite.
The Meramec Red Ribbon Trout Area (RRTA) has long been known for quality brown trout fishing since the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) began managing it in the 1980s. This area starts at Maramec Spring Park at the Highway 8 Bridge and extends to Scott's Ford. Anglers may also know the area by its former designations of Trophy Trout Area or Special Trout Management Area.
A combination of put-grow-and-take brown trout stocking, and restrictive harvest and bait regulations have maintained this unique river fishing opportunity.
MDC stocks brown trout in the Meramec RRTA reared at its Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery near Branson at lengths of 8" to 12", typically once per year. But a recent experiment using brown trout at Maramec Spring Hatchery has led to a one-time supply of browns for the RRTA that are up to 15 inches in length.
Parasitic crustaceans called copepods are found on rainbow trout at Maramec Spring Park in St. James. Studies show brown trout significantly reduce copepods when used as a bio-filter at the head of the raceway system at Maramec Spring Hatchery. The crustaceans attach to the brown trout but do not complete their life cycle as they do when attached to rainbow trout, resulting in fewer crustaceans in Maramec's raceway system. Brown trout that were used in the parasite-reduction experiments were held for a longer than normal period, given extra time to grow larger than the normal 8" to 12" stocking size.
"The experiments using brown trout to reduce these parasites were a success," said Fisheries Management Biologist Jen Girondo, "so it's likely that Maramec Spring Hatchery will continue to raise a limited number of brown trout to reduce copepods in the park's rainbow trout."
Girondo said in the future brown trout will be held until they are 10 to 12 inches long, and then be used to stock the Meramec RRTA.
Traditionally, brown trout were stocked one time in the spring to be there for anglers during peak fishing months, and to reduce transport needs from Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery.
"Now, with Maramec Spring Hatchery supplying a limited number of brown trout, fish will be stocked in smaller increments, but at multiple times in the fall," Girondo explained. "This will be done to maintain the appropriate number of brown trout needed in the hatchery raceways to keep the parasites in check."
MDC will closely monitor stocking numbers to ensure that they stay within the carrying capacity for the RRTA. Anglers can expect future brown trout supplied by Maramec Spring Hatchery to be slightly larger in size than what has traditionally been stocked.
Stocking multiple times in the fall and into winter should also prevent most of a single stocking of fish from being wiped out by a major flood event. In the past this has happened several years in a row and left the RRTA with few brown trout.
As an added benefit, brown trout reared in Maramec Spring Hatchery should be better suited to the river conditions in the Meramec RRTA. Similar water chemistry and temperatures between rearing and stocking locations help lessen fish stress caused by adjusting to a new water body. Missouri anglers should benefit by seeing more consistent numbers of brown trout in the Meramec River RRTA.
Anglers who fish Maramec Spring Park and the RRTA should note that brown trout need to be a minimum of 15 inches before they can be harvested. Artificial lures and flies must be used. These measures will ensure the quality fishing experience trout anglers have come to appreciate will continue in the future.
More about Missouri trout fishing can be found at mdc.mo.gov/node/5603.