The Missouri Trout Opener is almost upon us. March 1 marks the annual opening of catch-and-keep trout fishing in Missouri’s four trout parks. This year, the opener falls on a Sunday. Hopefully, with it being on a weekend, more Missourians will be able to get out on the river to catch some trout and celebrate our state’s deep love and affection for fishing.

Each of the four Missouri Trout Parks are unique in their own way, but all offer exceptional trout fishing along with many other outdoor recreational opportunities. Three are Missouri State Parks: those being Bennett Spring, Roaring River and Montauk. Maramec Spring is operated by the James Foundation.

Jim Washabaugh is the author of "Fishing the Missouri Trout Parks" and is the most knowledgeable Missouri trout fisherman I have met. He gets giddy when he speaks to people about fishing the parks. He is a true ambassador for the Missouri Trout Parks.

"There is nothing else like the trout parks we have here in Missouri," Jim said. "Generations of families become attached to these parks, building lasting memories through trout fishing."

The Trout Parks are an anomaly of sorts. Most trout fishermen seek solitude and release the fish they catch. The Trout Parks can be quite crowded, especially on opening day, and most of the fish are kept. But this is the culture and what makes the parks special. When I explain it to my out-of-state fly fishing friends, those who feel that if you can see another fisherman they’re too close, I tell them you have to experience the vibe of these parks to really understand the positive energy generated around fishing, and their importance to growing new fishermen.. More than anything, the parks represent a celebration of trout.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with other fishermen anywhere else would be torture for many, but at a trout park you just sense this overarching appreciation for the other fishermen because everyone is in the same boat. Everyone loves fishing, and you feel this love of fishing from the crowd. It’s children with Snoopy poles standing next to old timers with bamboo fly rods. They are sharing the same thrill of just trying to catch a fish. This is a day to embrace fishing on a grander scale than individualized interests. It’s just awesome.

Bennett Spring is the most popular Trout Park. The spring from which the park derives its name is the third largest in the state, producing an average of 100,000,000 gallons of water a day. Located near Lebanon, Bennett Spring dumps into the Niangua River.

Roaring River is way down in the southwest corner of the state near Cassville. The trout fishing section is two and a half miles long but is narrow. There is no wading allowed at Roaring River, so you can leave your waders at home. This is an excellent location for children, since they can cruise the bank fishing pool after pool.

Montauk, near Salem, is the most natural of the Trout Parks, and truthfully my personal favorite. The park is the headwaters of the Current River and just has more of a wilderness feel to it. I had one of those special moments when I fished the park for the first time and it hooked me for life. Using a 3-weight fly rod with 7x tippet (this is a very lightweight outfit) and a size 20 elk hair caddis, I was able to land a half dozen trout in under an hour. I found a stretch of river that was shaded in the middle of the day, and the trout that were tacked up in there liked what I had to offer. It was magical.

Maramec Spring, near St. James, is the only Trout Park that isn’t a State Park. It’s built on the site of the historic Maramec Iron Works. Many of the old structures still stand. You literally fish your way through history.

According to a MDC press release, "Trout hatcheries are just one way that conservation pays in Missouri. MDC staff stock more than 800,000 trout annually at the state's four trout parks and approximately 1.5 million trout annually statewide. Trout anglers spend more than $100 million each year in the Show-Me-State, which generates more than $180 million in business activity, supports more than 2,300 jobs, and creates more than $70 million dollars in wages. About 30 percent of Missouri trout anglers come from other states, so a substantial portion of trout fishing expenditures is "new money" for the state's economy."

Each of the Missouri Trout Parks offer their own slant on excellence. If you haven’t experienced these magnificent destinations, I encourage you to do so. Be part of Missouri’s trout celebration. I hope you get out on the water opening day, and that you have a wonderful experience.

See you down the trail.

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