JEFFERSON CITY – You can’t see it now, but a trout-fishing tide is rising. Missourians are rummaging around in basements and garages, patching waders, tying flies and checking fishing reels and lines. The wave will continue to swell throughout the remainder of February. When it broke this morning, Missouri’s four trout parks were awash in anglers, and the anglers will be up to their bellybuttons in rainbow trout.
For more than 70 years, Missourians have made the late-winter pilgrimage to trout parks, where the Missouri Department of Conservation stocks rainbow trout at spring branches at Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon, Montauk near Licking, Roaring River near Cassville and Maramec Spring Park near St. James.
The number of anglers present on opening day depends partly on weather, but it takes a major winter storm to make much of a dent in the throng at any of these destinations. The most important factor is what day of the week March 1 falls on in a particular year. Total attendance at all four parks has topped 14,000 in years past when the weather was good and the season opener fell on Saturday or Sunday.
MDC hatchery managers have 50 years of data on which to base predictions of angler turnout on any day throughout the catch-and-keep season March 1 through Oct. 31. This year, with a Tuesday opener, hatchery managers expect throngs of approximately 2,200 anglers at Bennett Spring, 2,000 at Montauk, 1,800 at Roaring River and 1,600 at Maramec Spring. If the March 1 weather forecast is unusually good, total attendance could top 8,400.
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,” hatchery brood fish weighing upwards of 3 pounds. A few tip the scales at more than 10 pounds.
Three of Missouri’s trout parks-Bennett Spring, Montauk, and Roaring River-are owned by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Maramec Spring Park is owned by the James Foundation. The Conservation Department operates trout hatcheries at all four. For more information about Montauk call 573-548-2585.
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.
One new feature at all four parks this year is the availability of wader-wash stations. These are baths with a 5-percent salt solution for boots and fishing gear. They are designed to kill the aquatic invasive species, Didymosphenia geminata. commonly known as Didymo. It’s less appetizing nickname, “rock snot,” captures its slimy experience and general undesirability.
Didymo is an invasive alga that forms dense mats on stream bottoms. It can become so thick that it disrupts natural food chains, making fishing impossible. Its arrival in trout streams around the globe probably is the result of its ability to cling to the porous surface of felt-soled fishing waders. Didymo is known to infest streams in 19 states. The infested stream nearest to Missouri is in northern Arkansas.
“We strongly encourage anglers to make use of the wader-wash stations to clean not only waders, but any fishing equipment that has been used in other states,” said MDC Hatchery Systems Manager James Civiello. “Anglers can unknowingly spread the microscopic alga on fishing gear, waders, and especially in any porous materials on wader soles.”
Civiello said anglers can help prevent the spread of rock snot by cleaning fishing gear and waders and drying them in the sun for 48 hours when moving between waters. They also can help by replacing felt-soled waders with rubber-soled ones.
A survey conducted in 2001 showed that trout anglers spent more per day on their sport than anglers pursuing any other species. Trout anglers’ expenditures that year totaled about $115.6 million.
These expenditures generated more than $240 million of business activity, supporting 2,078 jobs and creating nearly $52 million dollars in wages. This produced more than $5.5 million in state sales taxes, $2 million in state income taxes and more than $8 million in federal income taxes.
Thirty percent of Missouri’s trout anglers come from other states, so a substantial portion of trout fishing expenditures is “new money” for the state’s economy.
For more information on state parks and historic sites, calltoll free at 800-334-6946 or visit mostateparks.com.