March 1 is take-a-trout-to-lunch day in Missouri

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JEFFERSON CITY–If Missouri is the state “Where the Rivers Run,” hatcheries at Missouri trout parks are the confluence of spiritual health and financial wealth.

More than 1.7 million visitors from Missouri and beyond flock to the Show-Me State’s four trout parks each year. They come to leave their troubles behind and to lose themselves in the beauty of nature and the pursuit of rainbow trout. Along the way, they also leave more than $100 million, which supports thousands of jobs and sustains local economies.

Three of Missouri’s trout parks–Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon, Montauk State Park near Licking and Roaring River State Park near Cassville–are owned by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Maramec Spring Park near St. James belongs to the James Foundation. These destinations, with campgrounds, hiking trails, historic buildings and other amenities, are wonderful destinations in their own rights. But trout provided by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) are the main attraction.

March 1 marks the start of the catch-and-keep fishing season at trout parks, and thousands of anglers have been making the pilgrimage to Missouri’s trout temples on that date for more than 70 years. The number of anglers present on opening day depends partly on weather, but just as important is the day of the week on which March 1 falls. Total attendance at all four parks has topped 14,000 in years when the weather was good and the season opener fell on a weekend. This year’s Thursday opener promises a moderate turnout, even with good weather.

Bennett Spring, Montauk and Roaring River expect approximately 2,000 anglers each. Maramec Spring expects to host as many as 1,000 anglers. Gov. Jeremiah “Jay” Nixon plans to launch the 2012 catch-and-keep season by firing the opening gun at Roaring River. Retired science teacher Berry Reynolds, of Licking, will fire the opening gun at Montauk. He has fished every opening day at Montauk since 1973.

Hatchery managers use these estimates to determine how many trout to stock each day. Throughout most of the season, they stock 2.25 fish per expected angler. On opening day, however, they put three fish in the water for every angler they expect to attend. These fish average around 12 inches long. However, MDC also stocks dozens of “lunkers,” surplus hatchery brood fish weighing upwards of 3 pounds. A few tip the scales at more than 10 pounds.

This year, opening-day anglers will get more than a chance to catch big fish. They will receive lapel buttons designed to raise awareness of didymo, an invasive algae also known as “rock snot,” thanks to its unsavory appearance. Didymo blankets the beds of cold-water streams with unattractive mats that choke out native plants, degrading fish habitat. It reduces natural food sources and fouls hooks, making fishing nearly impossible.

In an attempt to keep didymo out of Missouri, the Conservation Commission has banned the use of felt- or other porous-soled waders, which can harbor didymo cells. More information on the ban and instructions for converting porous-soled waders for legal use is available at

Didymo can hitch a ride to new waters even without the help of porous soles, however. So, as a further precaution, MDC has installed wader-washing stations to disinfect waders at all four trout parks, and at Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery near Branson.

MDC also urges anglers to keep didymo out of Missouri with the following precautions.

• Check all fishing gear and equipment and remove any visible algae. Dispose of algae by placing it in the trash, not by putting it down a drain or into bodies of water.

• Then Clean all gear and equipment with a solution of 2-percent bleach, 5-percent saltwater, or dishwashing detergent. Allow all equipment to stay in contact with the solution for at least three minutes. Soak all soft items, such as felt-soled waders and wader boot cuffs, neoprene waders and life jackets, in the solution for at least 20 minutes.

• Or Dry all gear and equipment for at least 48 hours by exposing it to sunlight.

Anglers need a daily trout tag to fish in Missouri’s trout parks. Missouri residents 16 through 64 need a fishing permit in addition to the daily tag. Nonresidents 16 and older also need a fishing permit. Anglers who are exempt from permit requirements due to age or other circumstances must carry documentation to verify their exempt status.

For more information about trout-park fishing, call 417-532-4418 for Bennett Spring, 573-265-7801 for Maramec, 573-548-2585 for Montauk or 417-847-2430 for Roaring River.

-Jim Low-