Meramec River…First Descent….

2013-02-07pic038original800pxThe Meramec River is a river that haunts many of the fly fisherman that live in and around St. Louis.  It is one of the closest trout fisheries to St. Louis, the fishing isn’t always great, and you can’t just roll up to the stream hop out of your car and start fishing.  With declining fish count numbers and stream accesses with names like “Suicide” and “Cardiac Hill”, the Meramec River is for the committed.  Over the years I have heard the old timers at Hargroves Fly Shop talk of the white fly hatch and seen pictures from some of the guys at Feather-Craft of the glory days, and if you take a close look at some of the canoe outfitters that run floats on the trout waters, there are hidden photos of extremely large brown trout taken from the river back in the 90’s and early 2000’s.  With so much alure, and not much fishing pressure, I have been bound and determined to drift it in my drift boat…..if the flows hit the right level and I found the right group of guys to help get through anything we encounter.

After watching the water levels, Dan Ritter, Bob Weber, and I hatched a plan to float the river on February 7, 2013.  It was a solid plan, we packed the come-a-long hand winch, 300ft of rope, a chainsaw, bow saw, and a few other odds and ends we might need along the way, in addition to all our fishing gear.  With that, we launched the boat at the Hwy 8 bridge and set off on the float.  What an absolutely scenic river.  With the river flowing at 475cfs at Steelville, we had plenty of water to float and didn’t have to push the boat through any shoals.  That isn’t to say we didn’t run in to any problems.  Our first major issue was just before Dry Fork Creek, where two large trees were completely across the water.  Thankfully with the chainsaw, some tools, and some rope, we were able to drop the trees about 3ft and push and pull the boat over the hazard.  A little further down stream, we ran into a section of river that we lined the boat through — it looked alot gnarlier than it was, and on second through I could have tried to row it, but pussed out as we drifted up on it.  The fishing was tough, as the river has become.  Dan Ritter landed one rainbow in the section above the park, and then landed a brown near the cardiac hill walk-in access.  We threw big nasty streamers, and did get a few more follows and did see a few trout in the river as we floated.  Later, I inquired with the MDC Biologist for the river and learned that the brown trout population for the river is less than 11 fish per mile, so we were definitely pleased with the results of fishing for the day.  It was a great day, and if the river levels are right, we will be back on it again.  It is definitely a river that haunts me and needs our help.  I would encourage everyone to contact the MDC and tell them you are interested in helping the Meramec River trout fishery.  Here are the photos from our first trip down it.

Missouri Trout Odyssey III – Day 1

2012-12-06pic014800pxThe Missouri Trout Odyssey is a trip that Brian Wise and I dreamed up more than 4 years ago.  It originally started with each of us trying to bluff the other one into a “megatrip in the ozarks”, then it morphed in to how many streams can we fish and how fast can we fish them.  What has resulted is a helluva appreciation for all the trout water Missouri has to offer and a great time in the process, with lots of stories, pics, and videos along the way.  Each MTO is something that really can be explained in words — photos and video do it best.  But the best way to experience it is to get out there and do it yourself…..besides it is only 1200+ miles and 21 trout streams over 4 days.  As the years go on, less and less planning go into this trip, but we finish every trip telling each other that this is the last year we do it…..only to come back a year or two later and do it again.

Day 1 included the Current River, Barren Fork Creek, Maramec Spring, Meramac River, and Blue Spring Creek.  5 Streams down.  Here are the photos from Day I.



2009 Missouri Trout Odyssey — Day 1 (6 Streams)


(click on “HD” for best quality)

What started as an idea to fish the trout streams along Hwy 63 in southern Missouri during early 2008, transformed to the 2008 Missouri Trout Odyssey where Brian Wise and I fished 20 of Missouri’s 21 public trout streams (we would have fished all 21 of them last year, except the stream that flows through Fort Leonard Wood requires a class prior to access…..and we had too many streams and too little time).  With last year’s trip over Thanksgiving weekend under our belt, it wasn’t a question if we could pull off such a feat again in 2009, it was more of a question what we could do different, as there were several streams last year we would have liked to have fished harder but didn’t and with that, in September 2009 the plan was hatched to do the trip again, only this time we would switch out fishing and photography/video duties so that only one guy is fishing at a time.  Last year, we were so immersed in the fishing the other stuff kind of fell to the wayside.

After waking early on Thanksgiving morning to cook breakfast for my wife and kids, my sister and her family, and one of my uncles prior to thier trip to the St. Louis Thanksgiving Day Parade (Biscuits & Gravy, Hasbrowns, Eggs, Belgian Waffles, and Biscuits) I was out the door headed to Rolla, Missouri to pick up Brian and his gear at the commuter parking lot.  The looks I got from passerby’s as I wadered up in a parking lot a good 20 miles from the nearest trout stream in the middle of a college town was pretty comical but it was so cold no one offered up any heckles as they drove by.

By 10:30am we were loaded and on our way our first stream of the day, Blue Spring Creek; a hidden wild trout jewel hidden near Bourbon, Missouri.  We knew that our goal of 6 streams on Day 1 would be tough, especially because were were going to be tackling 3 wild trout streams in the group,with bright bluebird skies with a high sun.  Fishing was going to be tough and Blue Spring Creek held true to being  tough on this day.  Last year we fished at the first public gate on the right as you drive down the highway, however this year we fished downstream of the first pull-off on the left side of the highway (this is the first time I have ever fished this section of stream) and only had one take in the short hour we fished the stream (on a small brown mohair leech).  The section of river holds trout, and alot of the runs just look “fishy”, but today was not the day.  All was not lost, we got to see more of this stream than we did in previous years and we were greeted by sounds of turkeys gobbling as we exited the stream camera gear along with a myriad of deer carcasses from the recent passing of rifle season in the state.  We were done with Blue Spring Creek and were off to see the Meramac River and Maramec Spring Trout Park.

We rolled into Maramec Spring Trout Park on Thanksgiving Day around noon and were one of 4 vehicles in the entire park.  The day was warming up, and the water was slightly high and off color.  We needed to bang a fish out of the stream pretty quickly and headed to the faster water above the island near the cable.  Within minutes Brian had landed his first fish on a psycho prince under an indicator, and missed then landed another fish.  I quickly checked out a few locations that generally hold bigger fish but there were two anglers camped out on the water, so we decided to head back to the rig and drive to the end of the parking lot and hike down to the Meramac River where the spring branch dumps in.

Brian was up again in an effort to try out his new Redington CPX Switch Rod he had gotten a few days prior to the trip.  We parked the rig, and hiked towards the end of the park and the suspension bridge, where Brian quickly entered the water just below the Red Ribbon Trout Stream sign, and was quickly rewarded with a take and a hookset while swinging an articulated streamer.  What we thought was going to be a healthy trout turned out to be a nice smallmouth brought to hand and a few laughs.  The high sun made shooting photos tough and I only managed to get a few shots that were worth a damn while Brian fished the river.  The water below the park was higher than normal and it would have made from some tricky wading, so with fish in hand and a long day ahead we counted the smallie and headed towards the rig and our next destination.

During the 2008 Trout Odyssey we fished the Little Piney River at the Mill Dam Hollow access and had a good trip there, it was one of two rivers we actually wanted to go back and fish, so we figured if it wasn’t broken don’t fix it and headed back to the same access.  As was the common theme on Thanksgiving, we arrived and found we were the only vehicle in the access point.  We hopped out and I grabbed my 4wt and off we went to fish the water just below the access.  Like a fat kid on prom night, the fish just didn’t cooperate with me in the one hour we spent here and I couldn’t raise a fish so I retreated to the car with my tail stuck between my leg still with the skunk on me.

“Trust in Garmin” brings a whole new meaning when you are following outdated maps and driving through the Mark Twain National Forest, what once was a road now is a driveway, etc.  It was a great reminder that I needed to update my maps and ensure that I have the topo maps loaded on my hand held GPS but I digress.  We trusted in Garmin for the most part, but made a few departures when the sultry voice of my GPS was going to take us straight through a barn or living room.  Garmin did provide us with one easter egg on this trip though….as we were rolling down the road, I glanced over to the left to be greeted by the sight of a Missouri Mule in a parking area, with no human in sight and no rigging on the mule.  It was an oddity that made us turn around and go check out the animal….i bet someone was pissed he got out but I digress.

We rolled into the Forest Service Picnic Area on Mill Creek, while barely setting a tire on blacktop, just in time for Brian to be out of the rig and running towards the stream.  The water was slightly higher than it was last year and off color, which should have been ideal for fishing; but this year, Mill Creek had our number.  Brian fished a section of stream about 100 yards long to no avail with a nymph rig, then switched to drifting / swinging a mohair leech down the same section before retiring to the rig and stowing the rod and camera gear off to our final destination of the day, Spring Creek.  It was another year, and another frustrating trip to Mill Creek.  The stream definitely holds nice fish, now if we could just get the timing to coincide with “the trip” that would be ideal.

Neither one of us have come to expect much from Spring Creek, a small wild trout stream that flows into the Big Piney River near the town of Doolittle, Missouri.  Brian and I have fished it on several occasions in the past, out of shear hope and chasing a dream that some of the bigger fish may have made its way down from the Danforth Property on the river.  We certainly figured that today would be no different than our past trips, and rolled into the parking area near a low-water crossing just at dark as we walked upstream.  I was transfixed on shooting some low-light photos, so Brian grabbed the rod and rigged it with an egg pattern under an indicator.  Within minutes of being on stream, we were rewarded with a beautiful 5″ par marked beauty of a wild rainbow from the stream.  Both of us were surprised, and slightly shocked, but figured it was a great way to end the fishing for the day.  We stowed our gear and headed towards Rolla and eventually Licking, Mo and the Scenic River Inn on Hwy63.

Out of the 6 streams fished, we had caught fish in 3 of them and didn’t fish any of them for more than an hour at a time, funny how the small wild fish was the trophy for the day but it was definitely the conversation at the Huddle House in Rolla as we enjoyed a nontraditional Thanksgiving Day feast of scrambled eggs and hash browns.  Brian and I had jokingly made a pact to only eat at Mexican restaurants this trip, but on Thanksgiving Day at 7pm that is easier said than done, and Huddle House was one of the few restaurants that were open (although later we started to compromise with fast food so long as we had a burrito or wrap).  We rolled into Licking around 9pm tired and ready to hit the sack, but we had photos to go through, video to transfer, and batteries to charge and up and at them again at 5:30am on Friday morning.  All in all, not a bad way to spend Thanksgiving.

The  rest of the photos from Day 1 are below, and the video will be up shortly.

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.

Meramac River Float Report — February 25, 2006

Mark Kotcher, Brian Greer, and myself floated the Meramac on Saturday morning. We put in at the Hwy. 8 bridge and floated the 9 miles to Scotts Ford. It was a long float, and Gavin did try to warn me on several occasions to be ready to row, as there are some slow pools. But being the young punk that I am, I didn’t listen to him (but should have). Kotcher brought his kayak, and Brian and I were in our personal pontoons. I was surprised again at how skinny of water my pontoon will float me through….I was also surpised at how sore I am today from having to row against the wind the entire 9 miles.

I learned a few things this trip. The first being that I need to puchase a trolling motor if I ever am going to float that section of river again. The second this is that 9 miles is a LONG float and doesn’t allow much time for fishing. I broke my rod out 3 times for about a total of 20 casts. The third is that Mark Kotcher should never try to go underneath a sweeper in his kayak — he dumped it. On this trip I also learned that the Orvis waterproof camera bag doesn’t work worth a shit (ask Mark what happened to his Camera that he had in his). It was also brought to my attention, when we interrupted an anglers day to borrow his cell phone (just down from Suicide), that you can get Verizon cell service on the river (and that more than one person ought to bring a phone with them — as Mark was the only one that brought his and it got soaked). Shortly after Mark took his baptism on the Meramac, Brian realizes that the keys to his truck at the take-out are in his blue jeans………in my blazer at the put-in. But about the best thing that can be learned is capitalism is alive and well on the Meramac, where $30 will get you a lift from Scotts Ford to the Hwy. 8 bridge from a methed up camper. Oh, no one caught a fish — but after Mark spilled (about mile 4.5) we headed straight for the take-off.