Fishing at trout parks not washed out by flooding

News from the region
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – What doesn't happen rarely makes headlines, but in regards to how flooding has affected fishing at Missouri's trout parks this summer, no news is big news.

Roaring River State Park in Barry County is the latest site where flooding failed to curtail trout production of the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) hatchery at the area. This seems hard to believe in light of a July 7 deluge so severe that pictures and video of how it swamped the park made national media outlets. However, "not a single fish lost from the hatchery" was Roaring River Hatchery Manager Paul Spurgeon's damage report. After two days of park closure, people were at stream-side on July 9, reeling in rainbow trout from the site's well-known waters.

Similar stories of trout fishing non-disruption occurred in earlier weeks when flooding hit Maramec Spring Park in Phelps County, Bennett Spring State Park on the Laclede-Dallas County line and Montauk State Park in Dent County.

"We are able to keep things running smoothly because of the diligent work that our staff provides by constantly monitoring changing conditions at the hatchery," said Bennett Spring Assistant Hatchery Manager Mike Perry. Though Perry was speaking about Bennett Spring Hatchery, his words apply to all MDC trout-rearing facilities. The ways each hatchery handled their high-water events are great testimonials to the effectiveness of MDC's trout hatcheries' flood-response procedures.

Roaring River State Park: Heavy rains on the morning of July 7 caused Roaring River to rise four feet in 10 minutes. More rain followed, which made a bad situation worse for the 314,000 trout at the hatchery. A series of flood gates regulates the spring's flow into the hatchery's pools. The flow into these pools must remain constant to ensure trout survival. During the period when the flood-swollen spring was gushing forth more than 100 million gallons per day (normal flow is 20 million gallons daily), this was a challenge. Other concerns were keeping oxygen levels constant and preventing silt and mud from washing into pools and raceways.

"In an event of this magnitude, our staff is here until things stabilize," Spurgeon said. "Some got temporarily stranded here as roads and bridges got washed out. Lots of long hours are put in and staff stays wet and muddy pretty much the whole time. Plus, some of the things our staff must do can be dangerous."

Spurgeon said many of the trout that had already been released in the stream fared better than people might think.

"Trout tend to hunker on the bottom when they can and many will stay in the stream, though they do get moved around a bit by the swift water" Spurgeon said. "A lot of the fish that were already in the stream got washed out into the surrounding areas and got stuck there. Our crews collected fish from these flooded areas and released them back into the stream."

While MDC hatchery staff were tending to trout, MDC heavy equipment operators were pulling debris out of the stream and clearing it away from banks and bridges, filling washouts along the stream and repairing roads During the week, MDC crews moved 1,400 tons of rock and gravel and hauled away more than 20 loads of debris.

In nearby Cassville, MDC conservation agents were involved with flood-related emergency response duties. On July 7, conservation agents were able to rescue two elderly individuals from flooded areas of the community and helped out elsewhere as needed.

Maramec Spring Park: Eight inches of rain in a two-day period caused a significant rise in the Meramec River (the stream flowing through the park) on June 19 and submerged much of the park under several feet of water for a brief time.

"It rose and fell in a matter of hours," Maramec Spring Assistant Hatchery Manager Ben Havens said. "It did not cause any damage to the park, just a lot of mud and soggy areas." This flood did not threaten Maramec Hatchery's trout-raising area, but Havens said when high-water problems loom, hatchery staff are ready.

"We keep a close eye on precipitation that has fallen and river gauges upstream of our park as well as downstream," he said. "When we feel water levels could possibly rise high enough to reach our fish, we have special aluminum cages that fit over our raceways that keep fish from getting out of the pools. They don't keep the swollen water from getting to the fish, but they keep fish safe from escaping out of the pools. Our staff may have to work late or come in early if we anticipate a high-water event."

Bennett Spring State Park: Bennett Spring's flooding on June 17, like that at Maramec Spring, was the result of residual rains from Tropical Storm Bill. As is the case at other hatcheries, battling rising water at Bennett was an around-the-clock job.

"Much of the work we do during times like this is very repetitive," Perry said. "It is very hard physically to do the same thing over and over for hours at a time."

Problems stemming from this flood caused the hatchery to lose approximately 4,000 fish. This number sounds large, but because Bennett Spring Hatchery contains between 600,000 and 700,000 trout of varying sizes at this time of year, it was nothing more than a small dent in the hatchery's overall rainbow population

"This (4,000 trout) sounds like a lot of fish," Perry said, "but Bennett has plenty of fish on hand so that we can continue stocking catchable fish with no problems."

Montauk State Park: Though Montauk was not hit with water levels as high as what soaked other trout parks, Hatchery Manager Tom Whelan said the site has had three "high-water events" in the past two months. During these times, there was no fish loss at the hatchery and, despite damage to roads used by the stocking trucks, all of the daily trout stockings into the stream took place as scheduled.

Whenever high water rushes through a trout park, phones start ringing at hatchery offices from inquiring anglers. Spurgeon said those are calls all MDC hatchery managers appreciate getting.

"We do get a lot of calls from people who are genuinely worried about the fish and are worried that fishing will be affected adversely," he said. "It's a good reminder that people do really care about our hatcheries and the trout we raise."