MDC fishing program wins governor’s award for innovation

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) staff at Roaring River Fish Hatchery near Cassville were given the Governor’s Award for Quality and Productivity today for a unique fishing initiative called the First Hole Program.

On Jan. 9 at the Missouri State Capitol, the Office of Administration awarded winning teams from state agencies in three major categories: Customer Service, Efficiency and Process Improvement, and Innovation. The First Hole Program won in the Innovation category.

Roaring River staff started the First Hole Program to give veterans, children, the elderly, and those with disabilities a chance to discover nature through fishing. Staff wanted to provide an opportunity for those who don’t typically fish the chance to do so. Roaring River is the only facility in Missouri to offer such a program.

“Our Roaring River team helps thousands of new anglers discover nature each year through this special and unique offering,” said MDC Roaring River Hatchery Manager Paul Spurgeon.

Participants are taught fishing basics at the first of 33 fishing holes that comprise Roaring River State Park’s trout fishing area.

“The ‘First Hole’ is located immediately below the fish hatchery, so it’s an ideal place to fish for first-time anglers because the trout congregate in the pool of water,” explained Spurgeon. “The hole also features a ramped fishing pier, making it accessible for a wide variety of anglers. And hatchery staff and volunteers are readily available and eager to teach groups about trout fishing.”

The daily trout tag and fishing permits for First Hole Program participants are waived. All equipment, including poles, bait, and nets, are provided free of charge. Participants can work on casting, line tying, baiting, and safe fish handling with the instruction of Roaring River staff and volunteers. Anglers can even keep up to four trout they catch.

“I am so proud of this MDC team for their innovation in connecting people of all ages and abilities with the outdoors,” said MDC Director Sara Parker Pauley. “This is the heart of our conservation story and success in Missouri – that we are all on the same team working together to push conservation forward and connect people with nature.”

The First Hole Program has reached more than 4,000 people annually. Participants as far away as Kansas City, St. Louis, and Springfield travel to Cassville to wet a line and discover the joy of trout fishing.

For more information on the program, visit