2009 Missouri Trout Odyssey — Day 3 (6 Streams)

The alarm seemed to go off a little earlier this morning, largely because we weren’t sure where we were headed.  We knew we were fishing Crane Creek, but we didn’t know exactly where we were going to fish the creek.  Last year, we decided to try our luck at the Crane City Park and other than spooking some sizeable fish, we only had one hook-up.  This is the one creek, which we wanted to definitely catch something on and we weren’t going to leave until that happened.  We rolled into the access, and followed the trail (in the dark) down to the stream and decided to try and walk a pretty good length until it was light enough to really fish effectively as well as to put some distance between us and anyone else that might have wanted to fish on such a stellar morning.  Crane Creek is a really neat place, although having seen the topography and the characteristics of the stream side…I can assure you that any rumors you heard about cottonmouths and copperheads on this stream must be true.  Some places look fishy….this stream simply looked “snakey”.  Brian was up first on the stream and after a little scouting was able to put eyes on some fish, and it was game on.  Shortly there-after, Brian had landed his first McCloud Rainbow out of Crane Creek.  What the fish lacked in size, it made up for in color and was a fine specimen.  During the excitement, we moved further upstream and as I was rolling tape Brian started to geek out at a nicer fish in the water.  I peered over the edge and laid eyes on a nice 18″ rainbow with a deep red band; but like that, it was gone.  Brian did pick up another fish on the hike out and then we traded places and it was my turn to hook-up on the stream.  I didn’t want to cheapen what Brian had done earlier in the morning, but I whacked two fish in about 5 minutes and like that we were off to Capps Creek.

Capps Creek is a put-and-take fishery, but as put-and-take fisheries go….Jolly Mill Park ranks really high up on the list of places for cool fishing shots.  As a fishery, I still don’t know what to expect from the stream; having only ever fished it at Jolly Mill.  From the looks of it (it flows through private land), it looks like it could hold some nicer fish and might be worth more exploring.  At any rate, we rolled into Jolly Mill and I grabbed a rod and hit the water.  Drifting / Swinging a streamer was the ticket and I was rewarded with a quick hook-up (while watching an even bigger rainbow rise on a feeding lane 30ft away).  I don’t know if I actually landed said fish or not, we were trying to remember that on the drive back; because I hooked up and lost two more fish.  All in all, Capps Creek produced exactly like we thought it would.  And with that, we were off to Hickory Creek, near Neosho, Missouri.

Hickory Creek is a shit hole.  I won’t even begin to sugar-coat it.  There are no fish in that stream, unless the hatchery truck comes and dumps them in there.  And when that happens, all the “trout fisherman” come out of the hills to load up the freezer and as quickly as the fish were stocked they are gone.  In two trips, we never even so much as saw a fish (although I think Wise got a take there last year).  To be super blunt, I don’t really care if I ever lay eye on the town of Neosho, Missouri.  It is just too damn hard to get to, and there isn’t much trout fishing to be had there.  In short, Hickory Creek ranks up there with the Urban Trout Program in my book.  Nothing more than a stream grocery store.  And with that we turned our backs on Hickory Creek and headed toward Roaring River State Park.

As Missouri Trout Parks go, Roaring River State Park is the mac daddy of trout parks.  Your chances of catching a “pig” within this section of water are greater than any of the three other trout parks (don’t believe me, check out some of the photos that Tim’s Fly Shop has of the pigs caught down there).  Both Brian and I were pretty excited to be headed down there again, the problem was that the weather was phenomenal and what should have been a nice quiet afternoon on the water turned out to be a really crowded hour or so spent at Roaring River Trout Park.  We quickly found a section of water, and I grabbed the rod and after a bit of time had picked up my first fish on an egg.  After that, we headed to a different section of the park to see if we could spot any of the larger fish….but we came up short.  With limited light left in the day, we hopped in the rig and headed to Roaring River Conservation Area to tackle the river outside of the park.

We rolled into the parking lot at Roaring River Conservation Area around 4pm, just as a fisherman was walking out.  He was an older gentleman that was severely out of breath.  We struck up a conversation about the fishing in this area (as neither of us had tried this section of stream before) and the old man called us over to his truck as he was stowing away his gear.  He told us the hike to the river was a “pretty good walk” and convinced us not to follow the trail, only to “turn left at the scared up tree”……i don’t know what concerned me more, the fact the guy was carrying a pistol, the fact that the stream was on our right as we descended and not our left, or the fact that he told us to rub our flies in powerbait before using them.  After grabbing a flashlight and Garmin, we headed down the trail and found the river after a “pretty good walk”.  Brian was up and he quickly laid eyes on fish, but they were a bit skittish and in the half hour or so we had before dark he didn’t bring one to hand.  We walked the stream up to where we thought the car was and bushwacked out to the rig.  This section of stream left us both wanting to explore a bit more of it, had there been more light and I think it would offer a good place to get away from the crowds if the people are too much at the state park.

After stowing some gear, he hit the road towards Lake Taneycomo.  It was going to be the second year in a row that we had planned to fish Taney after dark.  We rolled into the Outlet # 1 parking lot and I strung up a 7wt sinktip rod and put on a new streamer that IdleWylde flies had sent to FeatherCraft to test and after a few casts, the horn blew and i suddenly was sourrounded by other wade fisherman….at night…..what a croc.  Brian was messing around with painting photos with a flash light while I fished, and was rewarded with a nice strike about 30 minutes into fishing.  It felt alot bigger than it actualy was…maybe a 16″ rainbow.  We were starting to get crowded out by guys fishing at night with thier headlamps on…….so we de-wadered and headed into Branson to grab dinner and decided our plan of attack for tomorrow.

Gear Review — LL Bean Waterproof Sling Pack

In an effort to find the perfect fly-fishing and photography bag, I was intrigued to learn of the new “waterproof” offering by LL Bean.  The LL Bean Waterproof Sling Bag seemed to be the perfect offering.  The bag offers a large main compartment, a smaller outer compartment with an organizer in it, and an even smaller outer compartment; all of which are stated to be “waterproof”.  The bag even featured two zippers on each of the larger compartments so you can open the bag from either side, when you swing it around in true “sling bag” style.  All in all, I was excited to order the bag and waited like a fat kid waiting on the ice cream man for it to arrive last week.

When I unwrapped the box and examined the bag, I was surprised how “cheap” the material felt.  What I considered “cheap” was simply flexibility in the material (which was nice).  I was a little set back by the fact that the bag attaches to a harness and that the straps do not fit connect to the bag directly.  However, I was pleasantly surprised that I found a bag that actually fit my “husky fat man style” and I could wear the bag as designed (at 6ft 3″ and well over 300lbs that isn’t always easy to do).

And with that, I used the bag during my trip last weekend to Dry Run Creek (report coming in a day or so) with my 7yo daughter.  I used a domke insert from another photobag that I had and was able to fit my D200 w/ wide angle lens and a JVC camcorder and Joby tripod in the larger compartment (along with an extra jacket for my daughter) and the second compartment carried two large CF waterproof fly boxes (it could have held probably two more) and some other assorted stuff).  The call was for 1″ to 2″ of rain on Saturday, but we were fortunate in the 4 hours we were on stream and didn’t see a drop.  The bag fit nice and freed up my hands for helping my daughter wade and carrying the net (coincidentally, I think the space between the harness and the bag would make a killer spot as a net holder for the right sized net….but I use a big patagonia net).  I found myself laying the bag down on the ground when we would get to a spot that we were going to fish (this is more out of habit than anything, as I am not used to fishing with a pack), but could have easily fished while wearing the pack.  In the short test, I thought that that bag served its purpose rather well.  I would have liked to seen a small pocket on the front of the sling strap as well as maybe a water bottle holder and some lashing straps on the back of the pack; but that is just wishful thinking.

I was still however concerned about the “waterproofness” of the pack.  I had some issues with a previous “waterproof” claim from another manufacturer and really wanted to test out this piece of gear in the confines of my home.  Armed with 3 rolls of toilet paper, a full bath tub, and a shower I was set.  The bag held up extremely well in the shower test.  Under direct stream in the shower for 5 minutes, the content of the bag stayed completely dry in all of the compartments.  I then took the bag over to the bath tub and placed two 3lb weights in the large compartment and through the bag in the tub.  The bag floated and I could push it around the water with ease (that is a good sign, I thought).  Then I forced the bag underwater with my hands, and that is where the bubbles started.  The bag began to leak at the zippers on the two large compartments.  Suddenly the entire contents of the bag were wet.  Bathtub submersion test = failed.

And therein lies the difference between waterproof and submersible.  Just because a bag claims to be waterproof doesn’t make it submersible (which is a shame).  The bag held up to the shower test and there is no doubt in my mind that this bag would hold up on a fishing trip in the pouring down rain keeping gear dry.  But take a trip in a stream you are wading waist deep in and then maybe your gear gets wet.  In the end, I am most likely going to return the LL Bean Waterproof Sling Pack and will continue the search for the perfect bag for the fly-fishing photography bum.

–Matt Tucker

2009 Missouri Trout Odyssey — Day 2 (6 Streams)

Day Two of the this year’s trout odyssey began at 5:30am with a wake-up call, a quick cup of gas station coffee and some blueberry muffins as we drove to the TanVat Access on the Current River.  I was up, after being skunked twice yesterday, and I thought the Current would hold good things for me.  The weather was COLD, as we dropped into the river just above the TanVat access to fish the first run.  There was already a truck in the parking lot when we arrived, so we were not the first group on the stream.  I was rigged with a Psycho Prince Nymph under a thingamabobber indicator and proceeded to nymph the run to no avail, I switched to an egg, and then to a San Juan Worm to no avail — but I knew there was fish to be had there.  In a last ditch effort, I drifted a mohair leech through the run with no love what-so-ever.  I still had the skunk…..and it was beginning to stink…..really bad.  With the sound of the whistle ringing through the valley, telling all that it was “ok” to fish the C&R season the trout park, we retreated to the rig with my tail tucked between my legs as we drove toward Montauk State Park.

Needing to get the skunk off me in the worse sort of way, and the new Sage VT2 4wt that I had for this trip, we headed straight to the dirtiest place I knew to fish Montauk State Park, the ditch.  It isn’t pretty, and it isn’t tough but I quickly got the skunk off of me by catching a dink rainbow and proceeded to put PETA to its knees by wiping the skunk off of me by getting a little fish slime on the face……finally a fish.  I felt like a dirty whore standing there drifting egg after egg into the ditch with hook-up after hook-up and I new it was bad (kind of like going hogging…..it is fun, but only if know one sees you doing it).  Here I was shin-deep in the ditch and Brian Wise videotaping the whole damn thing, so I had to change that and summoned him into the dirty.  I am pretty sure he needed to shower after catching dinks on a neon orange w/ neon green tungsten beaded san juan worm, but we had a good laugh at each others’ expense and decided we needed to head out as we had some driving to do today.

We left Montauk and headed down Highway 19, one of the most scenic drives in the Ozarks as we were driving towards the Barren Fork Creek.  The Barren Fork Creek stomped us last year, but with the help of the Shannon County Conservation Agent we felt better prepared to tackle the beautiful wild trout stream.  We parked the rig near Sinking Creek and hiked downstream to the location of some stream bank improvements.  The river definitely has trout holding habitat, but the bluebird skies and the warmer weather made it a tough stream for us again this year.  Brian was up and fished a mohair leech through anything that looked like it would hold trout to no avail.  Despearate to prove that this stream held fish, we stayed here a bit longer than we should have, to no avail.  The river is tough to fish, but is a hidden Ozark jewel if you are willing to take the drive.

The next stop on our trip was the Roubidoux River.  The Roubidoux is a river that has not been historically good to me in the past, because of my previous experiences we blew it off last year with a little night fishing excursion, but this year when we rolled into the parking lot we got a few pointers from some guys that were finished up in the parking lot at the Waynesville City Park and we headed downstream following thier directions.  I was up for this stream, after my “stellar” whoring at the trout park I needed some redemption and was rewarded quickly with a rainbow while swinging a black wooly bugger with an egg dropper (he took the egg).  After a release, I hooked up again, and as it was getting later in the afternoon and with a good drive ahead, we headed back to the rig and headed towards Lebannon, Missouri.  But before we headed out, we needed to grab a photo of the MDC trout sign, and it was there that my waders met their demise…..a barbed wire fence that I tugged against leaving a pretty good tear in them.  My waders were no more, but there is no crying in trout fishing so we hit the rig and headed on down the road (secretly wondering if I remembered to pack a spare pair of waders).

When tackling 21 streams in 4 1/2 days, minimizing drive time is a big task, and today was going to put it to the test with a long trek which took us from the Barren Fork Creek all the way to Bennett Spring and the Niangua River.  Because daylight was dwindling and our time was limited, we drove into Bennett Spring State Park and headed to the hatchery outflow for a quick pick-up of fish.  The weather was unseasonably warm, and we were quickly reminded why trout parks are some of our least favorite places to fish in the fall / winter when the weather is nice as the park was PACKED with people.  I know alot of people look down upon people fishing eggs or san juan worms, but when fishing a new stream or needing to pick up a fish quickly they are great patterns to use in the Ozarks (and most anywhere).  I dropped down to the stream, and was quickly rewarded with a bunch of dinks.  The water was clear and also provided us a place to try out the homemade underwater housing that Brian Wise made for my HD Video Camera.  It held up and really did a nice job, even if Brian froze his hands holding it underwater.  With the whistle blowing, signaling another day of trout park fishing has come to a close, we headed towards the Niangua River, right outside the park.

The Niangua River fished really well for us during the 2008 Trout Odyssey, and we were looking forward to fishing it again.  We had both wanted to float the river last year, but schedules didn’t pan out before the party float season began, so this was our first time back on the stream.  Brian was up this time, and was quickly into fish at the public access.  Fishing was a bit slower this year, but we opted to swing wooly buggers this year and pick up fish.  The day quickly faded and it provided me with a chance to shoot some longer exposure shots on the water (something I have been dying to do for awhile now).  It is amazing how much color you can extract from an image that is shot at dark.  The colors are much more vivid.  After playing with the cameras a bit longer, we had had a long day and headed back to the rig.  All in all the Niangua delivered again this year.

We finished the day by eating at Senor Peppers Grill & Catina in Lebanon, Missouri.  It will be the last time that either of us ever eat there, what smelled really good outside was a damn nightmare on a plate when we got inside.  I ordered fajitas and was “rewarded” with grilled chicken strips and vegetables that were coated “generously” with the chef’s favorite store bought barbecue sauce.  It was horrid, and i have now met the first fajita I didn’t like (after all, it is hard to f ‘ up a fajita….just not in Lebanon, Missouri).  We had a good laugh, were left with heartburn as we headed out the door towards our destination near Crane, Missouri and Crane Creek.

The rest of the photos from Day 2 are below, enjoy.