Missouri Trout Odyssey (Day 2) — 5 More Missouri Trout Streams

The alarm went off in Hotel Durango at 5am this morning, and I quickly rose out of the rig to take a leak campground style (with nothing more than my underwear, t-shirt, and sandals using the world as my urinal). A quick tap on Brian’s tent and we were breaking down camp and loading up the rig. We were extremely close to Blue Spring Creek and probably could have grabbed another hour of sleep — but we were anxious to get on another one of Missouri’s wild trout streams.

Blue Spring Creek is the closest publicly accessible trout stream to St. Louis and it offers the chance for anglers to fish for a self-reproducing wild trout population. The stream isn’t for the faint of heart, and fishing is often done in close quarters with very little casting being done and wading is always kept to a minimum. This is one of the streams that I was most excited about getting on, and we had chosen to fish a stretch that I had fished several times in the past and had done quite well drifting v-rib midges and tan/ginger mohair leeches. So we were walking into the woods near the stream just as the sun was coming up, with a faint turkey gobble heard in the background. Today was going to be a good day, you could just feel it.

Because Blue Spring Creek is a smaller stream, Brian and I took turns fishing the first run. The stream had changed since I was last on it (more than a year ago), but not that much. I was suddenly reminded why I should have brought the 7ft fly rod with me, that I have fished it with in years past, as the confines are tight here. We fished our way upstream with little more than one missed take, when Brian yells at me to not take another step and to look down. We were standing near a sprung trap that a trapper had left. Which normally isn’t a big deal, but this trap location wasn’t marked which led us to thinking how many more were not marked and perhaps not tripped. We made the conscious decision to fish the remaining run from the water — which generally proves to be useless — and it held to tradition and once the feet were in the water, we were not afforded any takes. We had probably spent too much time here this morning, before we decided to leave, but it was pushing 9am and we had 4 more trout streams to fish, so we hiked back to the rig.

Next on our list was Maremac Trout Park and the Meramec River which we had hoped to knock off our list very quickly. We had already seen some terrific trout water on this trip, and we were quickly reminded why we preferred our previous stops over the trout parks. The stream was crowded, and manners were at a minimum. This is the stream that I learned how to fly fish on, but other than fishing near the top of the park, i realized that I hadn’t missed fishing this stream in some time. As I set up at the top of one of the pools and Brian set up just below it, we were greeted with the Meramac Spring Dance as illustrated by a guy wearing rubber footed boots trying to cross water he shouldn’t have (he did earlier and had his clothes out on the handrail to dry, prior to him crossing back over). It was funny, but the guy acted like it was no big deal. There wasn’t much to write about the trout park, it is trout park fishing, and we didn’t hook up with or catch any pigs so there isn’t anything to write about here. We fised our way down to below the bridge, where Brian eased down the bank and quickly picked up a rainbow just outside of the park to add a Meramac River fish to the list. We hiked the far bank back to the car (whic was parked at the top of the park) and were both relieved to get the northern leg of our trip in the books.

With little to eat, other than a granola bar and bottle of PowerAid, we stopped off at the Jack-In-The-Box in St. James, where Brian was a hit with the drive-thru lady. She really wasn’t much of a looker, but I think if Brian would have asked her to be camp whore for the weekend…..she would have been down with it (literally). He does have that sort of way with the women drive-thru workers. I don’t know what we were thinking but after a breakfast that consisted of tacos, egg rolls, jalapeño poppers, supreme croissant (spelled “sprm crosnt” on the drive through display), and a breakfast burrito along with 2 large sodas we felt really good and the waders would hold in the smell nicely for the remaining part of the day.

With 3 streams down, we headed down I-44 to finish up the day with the Niangua River and Bennett Springs. We rolled into the Bennet Spring Access on the Niangua River around 1:30pm, where I quickly found the nearest toilet and disbursed with the breakfast pleasantries of the morning. The Niangua was a bigger river than either Brian or I had expected and both of us quickly determined that we will be floating this river in our drift boats in the near future. We talked down the bank and started fishing in the first run at the access. I was throwing a tungsten bh copperhead under a yarn indicator. I picked up the first fish with a nice little rainbow. Brian headed off downstream to another section of water and was rewarded with his first Niangua rainbow. With numerous fish out of the way and only an hour or so left before the whistle blows to stop fishing at Bennett Spring, we reluctantly reeled up and headed in to Bennett Spring State Park.

We settled into an area of “sexy” water and Brian quickly put a beating on some fish with a nymph setup. I was struggling on this section of water and we both hopped in the rig to check out the rest of Bennett Spring since neither of us had ever fished it, and I had never been here before. We rolled up to the headwaters in time to see a man and woman dive team taking thier gear off in the parking lot (they must have dived the spring earlier). By this time it had started to rain just a little bit, off an on, so we headed back and found a parking lot to get a little bit more time in the water. This time, I fished while Brian rolled the camera. It wasn’t pretty, but right at 4pm I was rewarded with what would be the best brown trout of the trip a nice 16″ fish that was fairly fat. Both Brian and I were pretty pumped by the success we had had today, and there was still some daylight left, so we headed back to the Bennett Spring Access on the Niangua River and both of us fished in the cold rain until dark and continued the success we had had earlier in the day on this stream. It is safe to assume that the Niangua has earned a special place in the minds of both Brian and I and more people should experience this stream and neither of us can wait to put our drift boats on it.

I won’t lie, after 12+ hours in waders, we were both looking forward to a little road time after fishing 5 streams today. And road time was definitely what we were going to get — in the dropping temps, rain, freezing rain, and snow — as we drove towards Cassville, Missouri.

Because of the drive time, we opted to stop at Cracker Barrel in Springfield, Missouri for dinner and to get something to warm us up from the cold day of fishing. It was as we were slowly sinking into our warm chairs after dinner listening to the wind and rain, that we both decided we were going to opt for a cheap motel room somewhere near Cassville.

We settled on a fairly new Super8 in Cassville and got checked in to the our room just as the snow started to dust the parking lot. The night attendant, Walt, was checking his maps for mileage between Houston and Cassville, simply because there wasn’t anything better to do on a cold night. We set up the laptop and got the video and photos transfered to our external drives and finally hit the sack around midnight or a little after. 12 trout streams down and 8 to go.

Missouri Trout Odyssey (Day 1) — 7 Missouri Trout Streams

After a night of getting gear organized, rods rigged, and things generally ready to go for the 1000+ mile road trip to Missouri’s trout streams, the alarm went off at 5am. Winter camping at Montauk State Park is always relaxing and quiet as there were only a handful of other campers there and there were no RV generators to contend with combined with only a couple of locals driving through the campground at night.

4:45am. I crawled out of my bag and exited the Hotel Durango to go wake Brian up in his tent and begin the morning process of breaking camp. We were stowed away and ready to go alot quicker than I would have thought we were, and soon we found ourselves driving towards the TanVat Access on the Current River in the dark.

The logistics of this trip were pretty important. We needed to keep daylight driving to a minimum and maximize fishing time and the number of streams that we could fish. We identified Montauk State Park as a good starting point for the trip and laid out our plan of attack for the 7 streams we were going to fish today. We simply need to fish the Current River before the fishing hours within Montauk State Park to make this work.

The Current River is a great river. Sure it receives quite a bit of fishing pressure, but the pressure it receives is worth it because the fishing can be that good. We rolled into the TanVat Access around 6am to find two guys already unloading from their truck and rigging up. Brian and I kind of stalled and waited to see which direction these guys would head before taking off. They promptly headed downstream, so Wise and I headed upstream to the high bank and the first run just above the parking area. A Psycho Prince nymph under a yarn indicator was all the was needed to put the first fish on the board for both Brian and I. Brian was on the board with the first fish, as I was up-top shooting photos / videos, but after he hooked up we traded spots and I promptly hooked up and lost a fish (indicator, tippet, and fly) only to hook the same fish again about 20 minutes later and get back my previously lost Pyscho Prince, indicator, and tippet. We both had a laugh over that and decided we needed to move on to the next stream as this was also our first taste of running the video camera and fishing at the same time. This proved to be something that is very time consuming and requires constant coordination between the guy at the camera and the guy fishing.

The headwaters of the Current River at Montauk State Park were next on our list, and we promptly headed to the C&R area where we were both rewarded with quick hook-ups. As Brian and I separated a bit and fished different water, I heard the call for “net” only to hurry downstream to see the tippit break on a nice fish Brian was trying to land (it took a globug egg). We fished our way to towards the Hatchery Office and our vehicle and I was rewarded with a nice rainbow on a Black BH Crystal Bugger in the big pool just above from the Hatchery Office.

We loaded up and started the trek towards the Barren Fork Creek. This was one of many highlights of the trip, as the drive from Montauk State Park to the Barren Fork Creek is one of the most scenic drives I have ever been on in Missouri. We drove past Akers Ferry and got to see the ferry still in operation across the Current River, then we were rewarded with hellacious views from atop the Ozark foothills that rival those I have seen in the Smoky Mountains. Simply gorgeous. On hindsight, I wish we would have pulled over to take a few still photos from this area — but we had fish on the mind. This is a trip that I will be going back on (but ensure you have plenty of gas in the tank, because there is not much out there).

I had only loosely GPS’d the access points using my computer, and since neither one of us had been to the stream before we really didn’t know what to expect or where we were going. To put it simply, the Barren Fork Creek is in the middle of NOWHERE. We didn’t know how remote it was until we were getting ready to leave, but more on that later. The Barren Fork is a small super clear stream that rivals the other wild trout streams in terms of scenery. We fished the access close to a Church and near the headwaters with the spring and struggled our short time on this stream. We didn’t spot a fish or see much holding water. We were walking out with our tails between our legs when a truck pulls in and blocks the Durango in. Much to our surprise (bars of Dueling Banjos were playing in my head) it was the Shannon County MDC Officer that had come to check on us. After quick hellos and checks of our coolers we got to talking and he was telling us about the vast public land that Shannon County has (over 135,000 acres of public land to hunt/fish on and only 8,000 residents in the entire county) he let it slip about some stream improvements that were done on the stream several years ago. At my asking, he did better than tell us about the stream improvements, he offered to lead us on the 1/4 mile hike down stream to these undercut banks that they built on the stream. By far, this was the best trout holding water we saw on this stream. As I shot photos and talked to the Agent, Brian tried his look at fishing the water where he was promptly rewarded with a strong take. But alas no hook-up or fish landed. The Agent wanted to check out the status of the stream bank improvements and we needed to move on to our next stream, so after he was done looking at the stream we hiked back out and we were on our way. That was my first enounter with an MDC Agent while fly fishing in Missouri and I was impressed with his professionalism, knowledge of the area, and willingness to just hang out and talk with Brian and I. The residents of Shannon County are very lucky to have him fighting for them.

We pulled out of Barren Fork Creek and headed towards the town of Salem, Missouri which would provide us with fuel and lunch for the rest of the day. As we barreled through a Burger King drive-thru (our only nourishment thus far) and towards the Mill Dam Hollow Access on the Little Piney we threw out the possibility of knocking off the remaining 4 streams today in less than 5 hours of drive time.

We rolled into the access on the Little Piney around 2:00pm and after saying hello to two spin fisherman that were heading downstream, we were on the water. It wasn’t long and the Pyscho Prince delivered again on a new river, for Brian. I had opted to fish the water nearest the access and was picking up fish with a Tungsten BH Copperhead midge under a yarn indicator. I think both of us could have finished the day out on the Little Piney, but we had to hit 3 more streams before the day was over so we headed back to the rig and on to Mill Creek we went.

GPS’s are a funny thing. It seems that if it was ever a public road, Garmin calls it a road and the drive from the Little Piney to Mill Creek, I am quite sure, could have been done without setting tire on pavement. Mill Creek is a small spring fed stream that meanders through typical Ozark bottom land and is home to a wild population of some of the most colorful rainbows that Missouri has to offer. At 3:30pm we were pulling into the new Bohigan Conservation Area access on Mill Creek. This was the Friday after Thanksgiving and both Brian and I were surprised at the number of people fishing Mill Creek. There were vehicles parked in several locations. We chose to check out the area nearest one of the springs and headed in to the stream. As has been my experience with this stream in the past, we were stood up with little more than a wet fly and wet waders to show for it. Realizing that we were going to struggle this afternoon on this river and that daylight was dwindling, we reeled up and headed towards Spring Creek.

Brian and I had fished Spring Creek once before in 2006 just after a period of extremely high water and did not fair very well with only 1 fish between the two of us. We were ready for a rematch and were on the water fishing by 4:30pm. We had previously learned that former Senator Jack Danforth owns property upstream of the access that we were fishing and had rumors of his family being fly fisherman and private stream improvements on his property — so we held up hope that this stream yields a healthy population of wild fish. However, our trip on this stream was cut short when a father and son rolled through the stream crossing and into the access we were fishing to “empty” their muzzleloaders from their afternoon road hunt (they were out of the woods way too early to be doing anything but road hunting). As the son set up a plastic bottle in the direction we were fishing, Briand and I decided it was time to reel up and head back to the vehicle. Just as we made it back to the vehicle and had our packs off, the first gunshot was heard and there was nothing but a dirt hill between us and his target. So we left Spring Creek with only 1 take and zero fish landed — but the belief that fish can be had here with the proper amount to time (we were hear for less than 45 minutes).

As we rolled out towards I-44, it was almost a joke that we were going to fish the Roubidoux at night. Neither of us had held out hope for fishing the Roubidoux and neither knew much about the stream as I had only briefly fished it once before. We rolled into the Waynesville City Park at dark (6:30pm) and quickly went to work throwing streamers off of the handicap fishing platform. This was probably our most feeble attempt at catching a fish that we threw up in the 4 days of fishing. The Roubidoux is a put-and-take fishery and from reports that we had heard the locals line up when the stocking truck arrives and there are hold-over trout in the stream but getting to them requires knowledge of the stream and access away from the access points. The Roubidoux offered little more than casting practice to us on this day and after about an hour of casting blindly in the dark we decided to call it a night and head back towards the Meramac River valley and wherever we decided to place our camp for then night.

With nothing more than a Whopper & fries for nourishment for the day, we opted to stop at a Mexican restaurant that is right off I-44 in Rolla (it is behind the Mobile station near Fast-Food row). The food was warm, and good (but to be honest warm dog piss might have been good about this time) and afforded us the chance to talk about where we were going to camp for the evening and our assault for tomorrow. We settled on camping at Onodaga State Park as it was close to our first stop in the morning, Blue Spring Creek.

There is something to be said for sitting around a camp fire after a long day in the car and on the river. It afforded us the chance to sit back and relax in the pitch dark (other than the campground hosts, we were the only campers that we could see) and just appreciate the Ozark winter. I think I finally crawled into Hotel Durango around 12am or so; looking forward to tomorrow.