Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fly Fishing in Missouri

My home state of Missouri contains four trout parks that are stocked: Bennett Spring State Park, Montauk State Park, Roaring River State Park and Maramec Spring Park. I caught my first trout at Montauk, a small rainbow. Bennett Spring State Park is filled with trout and it is a wonderful place to fish. This past fall I decided to try Maramec Spring Park for the first time.

When I arrived at the Maramec River, it was packed with people. There were probably two hundred fishermen and women on the mile-long stream. It was hard to find a place to cast without hitting another person. The Maramec River is open to fly and bait fishing, so naturally the trout preferred real food over my dry flies. Rainbows and browns were everywhere, some quite large, but three hours of fly fishing yielded not a single bite. It was excruciating to see the trout not a few feet before me in the clear cold water and watch them ignore all of my efforts with obvious disdain. By the end of the morning I was ready to go home.

My time on the Maramec lacked three things that are necessary for a good fly fishing trip: solitude, scenery and striking trout. An amazing fly fishing outing can occur when you are alone on a river in beautiful surroundings. You catch trout after trout, releasing all but the largest ones back to their homes.

Even if a fly fishing trip does not include striking fish, we can enjoy the scenery and the solitude. In the Catskills of New York, I fished the famous Beaverkill River in the fall. All around, the leaves were turning brilliant yellows and oranges on the hills. On that trip, I did not catch a single trout, but the time I spent alone on the river was deeply nourishing.

Sometimes, catching fish can make up for a lack of solitude. The Connetquot River is located in a nature preserve on Long Island, New York. Surrounded on all sides by strip malls and highways, the park is an oasis in suburbia. When I fish the river, planes fly overhead and my fellow fly fishers are casting only a few yards upstream. However, the river is beautiful, and the fish are abundant. When I catch a dozen trout and release them, I tend to forget about the planes and the other anglers.

The Maramec River lacked scenery, solitude and striking trout, and left me feeling empty. I was going to head home, when I decided to explore the park a bit more. I walked upstream, past all of the fishermen, and found myself at the hatchery. In this part of the river, fishing is not allowed, and I watched massive trout slowly moving their fins in the cold water.

Pictures: The Maramec Spring, A big rainbow swimming near the spring

As I followed the wooden path, it led to Maramec Spring, the source of the river. Springs are miraculous. Cold pure water flows out of the ground, an average of 96 million of gallons at Maramec. Looking down into an underwater cave, the source of the spring, I saw the rich blue color of the perfectly pure water. I stood there silently for a few moments, reflecting on the miracle of this work of nature. I offered a blessing, thanking God for our earth that provides us with such abundance. There were a few hundred of fishermen on the river not a quarter mile away, but I was the only one at the spring.

Maramec Spring park also has a museum, which chronicles the history of the site. Native Americans first found the spring and settled there. In 1825 a band of Shawnee brought Thomas James, a banker and merchant, to the spring where he discovered iron ore deposits. James soon opened an iron mine and foundry, which functioned until 1876.

I walked to the abandoned mine, now filled with dirt, and held the red earth and pieces of iron ore in my hands. A scenic drive followed “Stringtown Road,” where a "string" of cabins lined the dirt path in the 19th Century. The small wooden homes, one of which still stood, attested to the hard rural life of the mine workers. The iron ore was mined and then transported to the foundry, which was located on the river near the spring. Using the river current as its source of power, the foundry produced a profitable amount of iron for 50 years.

Pictures: The Maramec Iron Mine

As I drove home from the Maramec, I reflected on my trip. The fly fishing was frustrating, but the day was still rewarding. I learned about the evolution of a river. From its Native American caretakers, to its use by settlers, to a haven for trout, the Mamarec has seen many lives. I thought about how the cold water washed away all traces of the iron mine, leaving a pristine river where trout could flourish. I felt grateful that such a place could still exist, where pure water flows in abundance from the earth. Most of all, I hoped that we humans would have the wisdom to be caretakers for this river like the Native Americans before us, so that even if it is filled with trout and surrounded by fisherman, it can be a place of natural beauty forever.

To learn more about the Trout Parks of Missouri, CLICK HERE


MO Trout Hunter said...

Don't be nervous. I'm sure when you realized who was leaving this comment, you got a bit worried, since you just badmouthed a Missouri trout stream. I have to admit, though, that you're spot on.

Being a marginally well-known Missouri trout fishing guy, I receive a lot of emails from folks complaining about Maramec Spring. The river has been channelized, and much of its bankside is paved. Once they removed the character of the stream, they added some back with earthen dams and strategically placed boulders. The fact is, though, that it's not a natural setting, meaning the trout won't act in a natural fashion. Frustration is generally what it offers me as well.

Maramec Spring's branch dumps into the Meramec River (spelled differently for some reason). At that boundary line, the fishing changes radically. The Meramec River is managed for trophy brown and rainbow trout fishing, and it's a wild and challenging river to fish. You're allowed to keep two fish per day at least 15" long. [begin shameless plug] It's also where I guide clients. [end shameless plug]

Next time you find yourself in the area, let me know. I'll be happy to take you fishing and show you what a wild Missouri trout stream really looks like -- no charge!

BTW, I may not always comment, but I always enjoy your articles. Keep up the good work.


Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer said...


Glad you enjoy the articles. Fishing in a real wild trout stream in MO sounds good to me.

Who knew that the river and the spring had a different spelling...

The teach said...

Meramac and Montauk are the only two rivers that I have fished for Trout. I have been to Meramac many time and have been denied more than successful. I have recently been to Montauk and I love every time I am there. There are the busy holes and there are quiet places you can go to find solitude if you wish. I would like to visit the other Trout parks in Missouri some day but there two are the closest to St. Louis, where I am driving from. Montauk by far is the better stream to fish.

Anonymous said...

What a great site you have. Was pleasantly surprised to see it. I have also had some terrible experiences on the park stream. The people I have encountered have little in the way of manners. Once they see you catch a fish they will swarm you quickly and even start casting over your line. The river is fun when the fish are biting. I would like to recommend the Norfork and White River in Arkansas and the North Fork of the White in Missouri. They are fun streams without some of the pressure our trout parks have. Good reading your web site.
Kent Padgett-Rivaux Creek Fly Outfitters, LLC