Four of a Kind

By Tom Cwynar | February 3, 2003
From Missouri Conservationist: Feb 2003

People who like to catch trout can find plenty of places to go in Missouri. Thanks to cool-water springs, about 350 miles of Missouri streams can support trout. The Conservation Department manages about 150 miles of these streams for public trout fishing.

The most popular trout waters in Missouri are the state's four trout parks. These are fun places that offer great fishing and easy access. The scenery at the trout parks is wonderful and, no matter how many people you have around you, the flowing water has the ability to wash away worldly cares.

Missouri's four-of-a-kind are Bennett Spring, Montauk and Roaring River trout parks and Maramec Spring Park. The first three are on state parks, administered by the Department of Natural Resources, bearing the same names. Maramec Spring Park is on property managed by the James Foundation. The three state park trout parks have been operating since the 1920s and 1930s. Maramec Spring Park became a trout park in the 1950s.

The Department of Conservation manages the fisheries in all of the trout parks. The trout grow in hatcheries operated by the Conservation Department, and fisheries workers release new fish daily, based upon the number of anglers expected to fish. The stocked fish average between 11 and 12 inches long. The workers also occasionally release some lunkers, fish large enough to make the bragging board.

Taking the bite out of fishing

Trout parks don't make fishing easy, but they make it easier. When first released, trout park fish are somewhat naive, which is almost the same as easy-to-catch. The day before, the trout you are fishing for may have been racing one another to eat food pellets you dropped into the hatchery raceways.

Once in the river, however, the fish seem to wise up fast. Even an inexperienced angler has a good chance of catching fish early, but catching them later in the day usually requires a little savvy. Trout parks cater to all levels of fishing. They are a good place to start fishing and, when your talents improve with practice, you can challenge yourself by fishing the flies-only portions of some of the trout parks, or by targeting those lunkers. If you you're looking for fun, group fish one of the "road holes" or easily accessible pools with friends or family. The most popular and best-producing fishing spots usually have a parking area nearby. Maramec Spring Park has sidewalks along much of the trout water. Some anglers even sit in lawn chairs while they wait for the fish to bite.

Timing is the key to gaining solitude on the waters. Anglers are much less dense (crowded together) on weekdays than weekends, after 9 a.m., in late afternoon and in early evening, before the siren sounds for anglers to quit for the day. The worse the weather, the fewer the anglers, although you'll be surprised how many people are willing to brave cold or wet conditions for the chance to catch trout. Even during peak hours, however, it's usually possible to get off by yourself, especially in areas where wading is allowed.

You don't need a lot of equipment to fish the trout parks. Hip boots or waders are helpful, but not necessary--you can always find a place to sit or stand on the bank. Most anglers use light or ultra-light spinning tackle. The light lines help catch fish that are rapidly becoming smarter, and they make fighting fish more fun.

The most popular bait at the trout parks is a prepared bait that comes in a bottle. It smells a little like bubble gum and looks a lot like marshmallows, but it is not for human snacking! Where allowed, the bait lures a lot of trout.

Anglers also have reported having good luck with worms, minnows, waxworms and even crickets, but over the long run, prepared baits tend to outperform "natural" baits.

Another option is to toss hardware. A number of anglers use only tiny, or "micro," jigs that they cast upstream or across stream and retrieve in short hops along the bottom. On the other hand, a kid with an early limit of fish said a small white Roostertail is the only lure worth having at a trout park.

Three of the parks have "flies-only" waters where anglers can stretch out their lines to tempt fish. The best fly patterns tend to be small, but visit the park store or local tackle shops to determine what works best at each park. The legal definition of a fly allows small jigs, which some anglers use with spinning tackle in the flies-only zone.

Trout Park Tips

  • You'll seldom have a stretch of water by yourself. It's usually a good idea to stake out a place early, before the siren sounds, but expect and admit company.
  • Especially in pools, trout may not be feeding on the bottom. Use a small bobber (strike indicator for fly fishers) to keep your bait or lure at the level of the fish. v If fish are visibly ignoring or moving away from your bait or lure, try a different color, lure or action.
  • Don't ignore the middle of the day. If the fish haven't been pressured recently, the action can be as good as it is early in the morning.
  • You can watch fish almost as well as you can in the hatchery by hiking quietly along the stream or looking into the water from bridges.
  • The more you fish a trout park, the more success you will enjoy.
  • The fishing action in trout parks starts and stops with sirens. Because the best fishing usually occurs early in the day, many people try to be on the river when the morning siren sounds. Fishing pressure drops off after an hour or two, as many anglers leave with their daily limit, or the fishing slows.
Trout Fishing Hours
MonthBeginning TimeEnding Time
March6:30 a.m.6 p.m.
April6 a.m./ 7 a.m.6:30 p.m./ 7:30 p.m.
May6:30 a.m.8:15 p.m.
June and July6:30 a.m.8:30 p.m.
August7 a.m.8 p.m.
September7:30 a.m.7:15 p.m.
October6:30 a.m./ 7:30 a.m.5:30 p.m./ 6:30 p.m.
November through February8 a.m.4 p.m.

*Central Standard Time

*Central Daylight Time

Another Lure

Trout may be the primary hook for most visitors, but even if you don't fish, you'll find the parks alluring. Each of them has well-maintained camping areas, or you can rent a room or, in some cases, a cabin. You can eat at the park restaurant and pick up supplies at the park store.

Trout parks have so much to do that it's easy to persuade nonanglers to accompany you there. Because the trout parks are in the beautiful Ozarks, you'll find numerous scenic and tourist attractions nearby. Because they are on rivers, you'll be only a short drive from a float trip. Because they are parks, you'll find a variety of places to go and things to see. You'll also find hiking trails, interpretive displays and guided nature tours. Most visitors to a trout park find time to visit the on-site hatchery, where they can watch trout and learn how they are raised.

The trout parks open for the traditional season on March 1. The season runs through October 31. Lots of folks plan their spring vacation around the opening day of the trout season. Last year, nearly 8,000 anglers purchased permits to fish on March 1.

Anglers are required to have a Missouri fishing license, along with a daily tag, which costs $3 for adults and $2 for kids age 15 and under. Anglers have to display their daily tags, which can only be purchased at the trout park.

Anyone can fish the trout parks without a state license or daily permit during Free Fishing Days, which are the first Saturday and Sunday following the first Monday of June. Children can fish for free on the Saturday following Mother's Day.

Daily limits for anglers are five fish,The possession limit is 10. In addition to the general regulations, each park has specific regulations dealing with the types of bait or lures allowed and the size and species of fish that may be included in the daily bag. Rules are clearly posted at the trout parks, but it's a good idea to pick up a printed copy of the fishing regulations when you buy your daily tag.

The trout parks are open to fishing in the winter, too, although anglers are not allowed to keep trout during this catch-and-release season, and only flies may be used. This winter season runs from the second Friday of November through the second Sunday of February. Fishing hours are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, and fishing is allowed only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Anglers don't need a daily tag to fish, but they must have both a Missouri fishing license and a trout permit.

A good way to learn more about trout park fishing is to observe or consult with trout park regulars. They'll usually go out of their way to help. If you want to perform research at home, an Internet search for the trout park you are interested in will lead you to many interesting and valuable web sites.

Montauk Trout Park

Montauk has three separate fishing zones: one for fly fishing; another for catch-and-release fishing; and the third allowing artificial lures, natural bait and fly fishing methods. With its deep pools, fast runs and abundant rock and log structure, the water would look like it harbored trout, even if they didn't stock it regularly. Most of the trout caught are rainbows, but an occasional brown trout appears on the bragging board. Anglers purchased 2,089 daily tags for opening day of the 2002 season.

For more information, call (573) 548-2585 or (417) 256-7167.

Roaring River Trout Park

The park is divided into a no-wading zone in which only flies, artificial lures, and soft plastic bait may be used. Another zone allows the use of flies only and part of it, the only portion of the zone where wading is allowed, is catch-and-release only. The remaining zone allows artificial lures, soft plastic bait, and natural bait, as well as wading. This zone can be fished legally with either a trout permit or a daily fishing tag, in addition to a state fishing permit. 1,964 anglers bought daily tags here for opening day 2002.

For more information, call (417) 847-2430.

Bennett Spring Trout Park

Bennett Spring has three zones, flies only, selected artificial lures only and an area in which only natural baits and the artificial lures prohibited in other zones may be used. The daily limit is five fish, but only one can be a brown trout, and that fish must be 18 inches or longer. Bennett Spring attracts more anglers than any of the other trout parks. In 2002, more than 179,000 daily permits were sold through the season. 2,419 anglers bought permits for opening day.

For more information, call (417) 532-4418 or (417) 532-7612.

Maramec Spring Park

Maramec Spring has no separate fishing zones. You can fish with natural and artificial lures, as well as flies, throughout the park. Fishing becomes especially interesting in the fall when large brown and rainbow trout from the Meramec River migrate upstream into park waters. A $3 parking fee must be paid for each vehicle to enter the park. Frequent visitors can purchase a $15 annual parking pass. Maramec Spring Park sold 1,372 permits for the March 1 opening of the 2002 season.

For more information, call (573) 265-7801.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Circulation - Laura Scheuler