Early January found me back on the Niangua River, taking my brother-in-law, Bob Weber, on his first fly fishing trip. Bob’s dad, Dan, joined us for this trip as well. It was a cold morning start, but the temps warmed up pretty quickly. We ended up sticking with the same Bennet Spring State Park Boat Ramp to NRO float that I have been doing and again, the fishing did not disappoint, even with a couple of new fly fisherman in the boat. Bob hooked up with his first trout on a fly rod early in the day, and Dan was able to stick a couple when we got out of the boat to wade fish in a few spots. All in all, it was another good day on the Niangua River, and it keeps me coming back for more.
The Niangua River is a river that really caught my eye in 2012, as being a river big enough to float in a drift boat, and just close enough for a day trip….albeit a long day trip, with a nearly 3hr drive to get there. With only a little time left in 2012, and the Christmas holiday fast approaching, Dan Ritter, Paul Chausse, and I elected to make a “quick” float on the Niangua. It was a cold morning, requiring ice to be broken as we slipped the boat off of the trailer and into the water, as the water above the spring at the Bennett Spring State Park boat ramp is a lot colder before the spring dumps in. We floated from Bennett Spring to NRO, as they are one of the few outfitters on the river that will actually run a drift boat shuttle. The fishing on the Niangua is always acceptable, but the fish seem to hold in different places than some of the other rivers we fish — here, they will be out in the middle of the river holding to the divets in the bottom at times, which means for us this is primarily a nymphing river (although with Chausse and Ritter in the boat, several hours were spent chucking streamers).
All in all it was another great day on the river. On the way back to St. Louis, we stopped by Charlie Reading’s Fly Shop…..holy crap, this shop has everything. I was able to walk in and buy new size 14 soles for my Korker Red Sides…..something i could not have done at any of my local shops. Charlie is a hoot, his shop has just about everything and while it appears unorganized, he knows where everything is that is in it. It was well worth the stop……however, i wonder what the vegas line is for him to actually finish the water feature in front of his shop (he has been working on it for years). Here are the photos from the float today.
The 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 cannot 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 2 of the 2012 MTO was a bit of a challenge and offered us our first real challenge………..trying to find decent Mexican food near the Niangua River. We were able to find it and several hard earned margaritas were found before we headed back to the campground at Bennett Spring State Park and sat around a fire planning our next day while drunk and having to listen to two campers have sex into the night….as I look back at it, they weren’t really having sex, but animalistically fuckin’ each other in the campground. At some point neighboring campers started encouraging them and applauding after every 10 minute romp they took as they boinked into the night to the sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd, at some point Wise and I may have been encouraging them by yelling out different acts to partake in. Drunk and dog tired we each crawled into our tents and passed out, only to need to break camp at 4am the next morning…..to the sound of Skynyrd’s Freebird…much to the dismay of the other campers looking for the same sympathy we were the night before.
Day 2 included Mill Creek, Little Piney River, Spring Creek, Roubidoux Creek, Bennett Spring Trout Park, and the Niangua River. 6 streams fished today and 11 tackled so far. Here are the photos from Day 2.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.