Missouri Trout Odyssey III – Day 4

2012-12-09pic046800pxThe 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.

After 3 days of being on the road, we finally reached our final day, and the two streams we were looking most forward to fishing; the Eleven Point and the North Fork of the White.  We also had to fish the Trout Park at Montauk State Park, due to some poor planning and not being able to fish the park on a thursday during the C&R season.  We left the confines of our Branson hotel early on Sunday morning and headed for our comfort stream….the NFOW.  This is the river that Brian Wise guides on and it is the river that I try and fish every chance I get.  Pointing our car in the direction of the river was the easy part, getting there…..not so much…thanks to a massive storm that was settling over the area.  We drove through some torrential downpours and thunder and lightening, only to get to the NFOW just as there was a slight break in the storm.  Like a good woman, the river didn’t disappoint, and provided us with our largest fish of the trip and probably the most photogenic as well.  In a race to beat the rain, we quickly hit the car and headed towards the Eleven Point and met up with Brian Sloss of 11pt Canoe Rental, and like always the 11pt produces in both scenery and fish.

“Trust in Garmin,” were the words both Wise have uttered many times over the years while on an MTO trip.  This last day was pretty special though, as Garmin took us what must have been the most direct route to Montauk State Park, but probably not the fastest, as we traversed various dirt, gravel, two track, highway, and a stream crossing or two on our way to our final destination — Montauk State Park.  It was one of the more memorable and scenic drives of the trip; mainly because neither of us had any idea where we were or how to get out (much like the first night of this MTO, when we drove in circles in Mark Twain National Forest looking for a place to camp that wasn’t partied on by the locals).  We hopped out of the Jeep just in front of the rain and ran down to the ditch to eek out a fish or two, then it was time to take off the waders and settle in for the quick drive back to Licking, Missouri to sort out the gear and hear our separate ways……another Missouri Trout Odyssey completed……..

Plenty of memories, stories, photos, and videos, to keep us appreciating all the different trout water Missouri has to offer.  Day 4 included a ton of miles and the North Fork of the White River, the Eleven Point River, and Montauk State Park Trout Park.  Here are the photos from Day 4.

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.

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.

Montauk State Park (Licking, MO) — October 8, 2005

This weekend was the maiden voyage of the newest Tucker Family Camper (a 1988 Coleman Sequioa Pop-Up). My wife and kids took out of St. Louis by 5:30pm on Friday for the trip down to Montauk. I will say the pop-up tows like a dream behind the Blazer. We made ok time, stopping for gas and dinner — we arrived at camp site #111 at 8:30pm. We were camping with Mark Kotcher (aka mkotcher) and his daughter. They had the fire going and we set up the camper and hung out by the campfire.

It was a camping weekend, and not so much a fishing weekend from the get go — which is why the family came along. Saturday night it was frigid. We stayed in a basic campsite (no electric) and the pop-up doesn’t have heat we froze that night. We woke up, started a fire, and cooked breakfast (eggs, ham, sausage) then decided to take everyone to the lodge to get their tags and to head over to the C&R area to let the kids fish.

The temps in the morning were in the low 40’s with sunny skies and a wind that could gust fairly hard. This was my first chance to fish the C&R area since they rehabbed it last winter and I am impressed with what they have done. New to the area is now you are only allowed to fish from one side of that section of stream — they also tried to creat a little more current in the lower section of the run. Make no mistake, it is still like fishing to fish in a barrel as there are a ton of fish in this section of water. But there are also a ton of anglers, and the fish see a ton of flies. Today was about the girls catching fish though. Mark and Alyssa scoped out a spot near the bottom of the C&R area and I took Hannah and Kaitlyn further up. A white mohair proved fatal for Kaitlyn as she quickly landed a rainbow when the MDC employee pulled up to feed the fish — well the girls were off like a stampede of buffalo to help them feed the fish and the MDC employee let each of them empty a bucket of feed into the runs. My youngest daughter is still talking about it. A big thanks to the MDC employee that took time out of her work to let the kids “help” her. Definitely put a smile on all thier faces. After feeding the fish, now Hannah wanted to catch one — so we put on a madame x and started to fish it dry. Hannah quickly caught 2 fish with a little help from me (she is only 3 — so I was helping her cast and set the hook). She got a kick out of watching the fish blow-up on the fly. After about an hour of fishing, each of the girls caught 2 fish, and I caught a few as well, they were ready for lunch and a playground. On the walk out, Mark and I decided to have some fun and I started throwing the “x” in the slower water at the end of the C&R area and the fish were going nuts over the thing. The last fish of the morning actually sucked my fly through its gills. It came out of the water several times and was a nice fish of about 16″that appeared to be foul hooked (and fought like it). Upon landing the fish and trying to unhook it, the fish actually sucked the fly through its gills somehow and I had to cut my tippet to unhook the fish.

After lunch and pointing the girls in the direction of the playground, Mark and I decided to get in 2 hours of fishing before he and Alyssa had to head back to St. Louis. Because it was right there, and the girls were “playing” near the water we opted to just walk down to the river behind our campsite and we fished from campsite 111 until the end of Loop # 3. It was interesting water that I have never fished, and Mark had only fished it once or twice. We fished dry flies the entire time. I started out throwing the same madame x and Mark threw a small crackleback. The fish were not as plentiful as in other sections of the park — but there were fish to be had. Several of us missed fish on top, and then Mark got into a group of risers and proceeded to get what seemed like hook-up after hook-up on his fly. I ended up changing to a crackleback as well and got a few rises and LDR’s but didn’t get a hand on a fish from this particular group. I did pick up a fish in front of the handicap access, but that proved to be the last fish of the weekend for either of us. By 4pm, we headed back to the campground and Mark called it a weekend, while I tidied up camp and got dinner ready.

There was no fishing on Sunday morning, just packing up the camp and heading to the lodge for breakfast (youngest wanted pancakes). I did run into Norm when we were at the lodge — and just had time for a quick handshake / hello (starving kids wait for no one).

It was a good weekend by anyone’s standards. To see the look on my kid’s faces when they hooked up with fish was priceless (as I am sure the look on my face was too), and the camper proved to be a sound $400 purchase. Hopefully that is the first of many future camping trips with my wife and kids. My youngest is already asking to go fishing again…….

Montauk State Park (Licking, MO) — February 13, 2005

Breakfast on Sunday was a feast (including biscuits and gravy, hash browns, blueberry pancakes, eggs, bacon, and sausage) and no one really seemed in too much of a hurry to get on the river. After breakfast, Tiny and I packed up the Blazer and suited up to hit Montauk Trout Park and the Catch & Release area on our way back to St. Louis. The guys that fished the park yesterday, said that they had changed up the C&R area yet again, and I wanted to go see it. They in fact did change it quite a bit, and you will just have to head down there and see it for yourself.

I was determined to catch a fish on the conehead slumpbuster, and a couple of trout park fish fell to it within several minutes of fishing. The pine squirrel really moves in the water, and I will be making these a staple in my fly box. Neither Tiny nor I were much into the fishing this morning and actually only fished for about an hour before deciding to head back to St. Louis and the chance to kick this sickness that we had.

All in all it was a great weekend, that I hope to make in to an annual “End of C&R Season” event. Those that attended this weekend were Brent Hinds, Kris Maurer, Brian Greer, Mike Goldneberg, Norm Crisp, Ron Caimi, Pat, Lee, Vic, and Joel. All in all it was a great group of guys and a good time, I think, was had by all.