Missouri Trout Fishing: It’s Easy to Get Hooked

By Wes Swee and Tom Whelan, photographs by David Stonner | February 18, 2014
From Missouri Conservationist: Mar 2014

If you have never fished for trout, Missouri might not be the first place that comes to mind when someone mentions the sport. Many people visualize a mountain stream with someone fly fishing in the morning mist. Well, Missouri may not have the mountain streams, but the rest is a spot-on description.

Stocking trout is one of the oldest conservation efforts in Missouri. The trout program began in 1878 when the Missouri Fish Commission purchased eggs from the United States Fish Commission. Once the eggs hatched, the fry were stocked in our streams. A variety of species were stocked in many different waters until 1937 when the Missouri Department of Conservation was established. At that time, trout stocking was restricted to cold streams in three state parks and five other trout management areas open to public fishing.

Missouri’s current trout program consists of four trout parks, nine Blue Ribbon trout management areas, three Red Ribbon trout management areas, nine White Ribbon trout management areas, Lake Taneycomo, and 28 Winter Trout Fishing Areas. For more information on all Missouri trout fishing locations go to mdc.mo.gov/ node/5603. The trout program has inspired a tradition for many anglers that accounts for about 15 percent of all angling statewide. That is pretty remarkable considering that only 1 percent of the entire stream habitat in the state is suitable for trout. To keep the trout program thriving, the Department of Conservation operates five trout hatcheries: Shepherd of the Hills, Bennett Spring, Mon-tauk, Roaring River, and Maramec Spring, which produce 1.4 to 1.5 million catchable size trout annually for stocking in these waters.

A Good Place to Start

Trout parks are a great place for be-ginners to be introduced to trout fishing. Families have fished the trout parks for several generations (up to five) with certain individuals who have been angling at a particular park for more than 50 years. The four trout parks are managed with the intent of improving angling success. Bennett Spring, Montauk, and Roaring River are state parks that are operated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Maramec Spring is operated by The James Foundation, a not-for-profit, private organization. The Missouri Department of Conservation has teamed up with the Department of Natural Resources and The James Foundation to manage the fisheries within the trout parks. These pleas-ant settings offer even the novice angler a good chance to catch a trout with minimal equipment.

The hatcheries located at each of the parks stock fish every night during the trout season (March1 to Oct. 31) to increase the odds of a successful fishing experience. The fish are stocked at an average size of 12 inches and at a rate of 2.0–2.25 fish per anticipated angler. The parks provide a variety of fishing experiences with stream segments man-aged for fly-fishing only, bait-fishing only, catch-and-release fishing only, and areas open to fishing with all legal methods. Before fishing at a particular park, be sure to familiarize yourself with the regulations for that park. Fishing at a trout park is a social activity, and on busy days (such as March1 and weekends) it can be shoulder to shoulder along a popular fishing hole. Usually the best fishing spots will have others nearby, and catching someone else’s line is not uncommon. A simple apology and courtesy go a long way in these situations. Many anglers use the trout parks to hone their fishing skills before moving on to more challenging methods such as fly fishing or fishing on one of our Blue Ribbon or Wild Trout Management areas.

Gearing Up and Fishing Methods

Some people think trout fishing involves a huge investment in equipment and that fly fishing is the only method to use. That’s just not the case. Beginning anglers only need a few modestly priced items to get started.

The purchase of an ultra-light rod and reel combo, a small tackle box with a modest assortment of small hooks, sinkers, and floats, a stringer, dip net, a pair of hemostats, and your choice of natural or artificial bait will get you started. Some anglers prefer a vest over a tackle box. The vest acts as a trout angler’s hands-free tackle box. Most of them come with enough pockets for all the fishing gear one would need on the stream. All of the trout parks have areas that can be fished from the bank, so waders are not necessary, but they allow the angler to enter the water and access more areas of the stream. To get the full trout fishing experience, a pair of nonporous-soled waders and vest will make you feel right at home with seasoned trout anglers.

The fishing tackle used to catch trout is very similar to fishing for bluegill and crappie except every-thing is scaled down in size. Trout are sight feeders and are very picky, so the hooks, bobbers, line, and sinkers are reduced to avoid detection. The most common mistake a novice trout angler will make is the fishing line. Missouri spring water is normally crystal clear, and the trout are spooked if they can see the line, so we recommend 2- to 4-pound-test line. The light line is also the reason for using a net to land the fish. Lifting the trout out of the water without a net will usually break the line. Caution — do not attempt to lip a trout like a bass or catfish in lieu of a net, they have sharp teeth!

The last few feet of landing a fish is also a common time for the line to snap. With the adrenaline rush and excitement of catching your first rainbow, it’s hard to remember to be patient and slowly net the fish when it wears out. Often, as the angler is trying to land the trout, it will make one last attempt to free itself by rolling, jumping, and thrashing, so make sure that your drag is set lightly. Let it make a couple runs, and enjoy the fight. Eventually you will have your payoff on the end of a stringer. Every trout angler in the park probably has a different special technique that they have cultivated over the years. It may be a special bait, line size, hooks, jigging action, Missouri has a thriving trout program — about 15 percent of all angling statewide is for trout. Although only 1 percent of the entire stream habitat in the state is suitable for trout. or rod and reel combination, but basically they all boil down to a handful of methods.

Tight lining or bottom fishing in slow-moving, shallow water is one of four simple but effective methods for first-time trout anglers. Some anglers also like to use polarized glasses to help spot trout in slow-moving water. Dough bait, salmon eggs, rubber worms, and grubs are some of the more common baits used when tight lining. Using a small treble hook, place a split shot 12 to 24 inches above the hook; pinch the dough bait around the hook to form a ball about the size of a baby marshmallow (which is also good bait). Cast your line upstream from the fish and let the bait settle and slowly drift along the bottom. Reel up the slack in your line and wait for a strike. Periodically check your bait and re-bait as needed. Trout are very finicky so if you feel a slight tug, or your line makes any sudden movement, you have a strike. Use a quick jerk to set the hook. The timing takes some get-ting used to because trout will quickly spit out the bait if they are not interested. Don’t get discouraged if you miss a few, even the regulars who fish the park day in and day out have days where they leave empty handed. There are many different bait sizes, colors, depths, and rigging combinations that can be used. Finding the combination that catches a fish is the real challenge of fishing.

Drift fishing is a common fly-fishing method used to catch trout, but it can be adapted to basic fishing equipment. The concept is that you want your bait to flow with the water current without any restrictions. Trout are very efficient, and they try to expend very little energy while feeding. They will position them-selves in such a way that food floats within a few inches of their mouth. The stream will provide them with an unlimited buffet of food choices; your job is to convince them your bait is the best on the menu. When done correctly, you can cover a lot of area and present your bait to several feeding trout. Cast your bait upstream and allow the bait to drift freely in the water current. Depending on water conditions, you may need to add weight to keep your bait lower in the water column. When you begin to feel tension on the line downstream, it is time to recast and try again.

Float fishing is similar to drift fishing except you are using a float or bobber. A small slender float seems to work the best. Adjust the float according to depth of the water or where the trout are. Watch the float and set the hook when the float makes a sudden movement.

Jig fishing is for the angler who wants a more active role in the fishing method. Instead of waiting for the trout to take the bait, you add a little action to the lure to entice the fish to strike. During the retrieve, the lure is jigged by bouncing the rod tip up and down. It may look and feel silly shaking the rod vigorously on the retrieve, but it works. Reel speed is also a variable, so experiment with speed and pauses. Eventually you find the right speed and jig action that trout can’t resist. Trout prefer very small jigs (1/16 ounce to 1/25 ounce), so light line and an ultra-light rod are a must for jigging. You will only be able to cast a short distance if you don’t have the right jig weight and rod combination. Popular jig colors change with water clarity, but olive, white, yellow, and black are usually effective. Again, set the hook quickly when you feel a strike. For more information on fishing techniques, visit our Trout Fishing page at mdc.mo.gov/node/5596.

Trout parks are only the beginning for Missouri trout fishing opportunities. The Department of Conservation’s winter trout stocking program supports our 28 Winter Trout Fishing Areas and is another great opportunity to get your feet wet when a trip out to the park is not an option. These fish are hatchery stock and are a little easier to catch compared with the state’s wild trout. However, people usually catch on quickly to which fishing techniques best fill a stringer, and then they want more of a challenge. The Blue, Red, and White Ribbon trout areas offer this challenge. They are stocked less often, if at all. Some of the state’s Blue Ribbon areas even have self-sustaining or wild populations of trout. Lures allowed in these areas are restricted to help protect these populations. Be sure and check the local regulations and the 2014 Summary of Missouri Fishing Regulations, also available online, at mdc.mo.gov/node/3104 for more information on trout fishing areas. The Missouri trout program is designed to provide all types of angling experiences and to spread the harvest of trout as much as possible.

Missouri’s trout hatcheries

Missouri’s trout hatcheries are located at each of Missouri’s four trout parks and on Lake Taneycomo. They provide high-quality trout fishing on cold-water streams in Missouri.

  1. Bennett Spring State Park
  2. Montauk State Park
  3. Roaring River State Park
  4. Maramec Spring
  5. Shepherd of the Hills (Lake Taneycomo)

Help Stop Didymo

Didymo, or “rock snot,” algae quickly blanket cold-water streams, reducing habitat for aquatic organisms and degrading water quality. Although didymo is thought to be native to North America, it is expanding its ecological range and tolerance throughout the world. Currently didymo exists in 19 states and occurs as close as northern Arkansas. Humans are believed to be the primary vector for spreading didymo. Anglers can unknowingly spread these microscopic algae on fishing gear, waders, and especially in any porous materials on wader soles. Please remember to check, clean, and dry your fishing gear and waders when moving between waters.


Remove all visible clumps of algae and plant material from fishing gear, waders, water shoes and sandals, canoes and kayaks, and anything else that has been in the water.


Clean your gear in a 2-percent household bleach solution (1/3 cup per gallon of water), 5-percent saltwater solution (1 cup per gallon of water), or dishwashing detergent. Scrub boats and other “hard” items thoroughly. Completely soak equipment, felt-soled waders, personal flotation devices, and other “soft” material for at least 20 minutes.


Allow any item that has been in contact with the water to completely dry; the item should be exposed to sun-light and left to dry for at least 48 hours.

To keep didymo at bay, in 2012 the Department banned porous-soled waders at all four trout parks and in certain trout streams (visit mdc.mo.gov/ node/16930 for specific locations). All stretches of those streams — not just portions managed by the Conservation Department — fall under this rule.

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This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - vacant
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer/Editor - Brett Dufur
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler