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Cast, catch, repeat: Trout fishing warms up winter at Missouri state park

by Flip Putthoff | January 3, 2023 at 1:15 a.m.
Anglers have plenty of room on Dec. 2 2022 while fishing for trout at Roaring River State Park near Cassville, Mo. The park offers catch and release trout fishing four days each week from mid November through mid February. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

There aren't enough fingers and toes for anglers to count how many trout they catch at Roaring River State Park. And that's in an hour of fishing.

With the right fly, trout can keep a fishing rod bent in the shape of a rainbow all day. More power to any angler who can catch 100 or more trout. That's all fine and good -- as long as each fish is let go to fight another day.

Catch and release fishing season for rainbow trout opens the second Friday in November and closes the second Monday in February. During that time, trout may be caught and released Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Anglers need a Missouri fishing license and Missouri annual trout permit.

Only flies may be used, but a hair jig, commonly used in crappie fishing, is considered a fly at Roaring River State Park. Flies may be cast with any type of rod. Spin cast outfits and fly rods are both seen along the clear, cold stream.

This park, nestled in an Ozarks canyon eight miles south of Cassville, Mo., is Missouri's most visited park. One would never know it in the winter. Few anglers are seen, unlike catch and keep season March 1-Oct. 31 when the banks can be crowded. There's room to spread out and fish with no other anglers in sight.


Craig Hull of Wichita, Kan., had the right fly on a chilly Friday, Dec. 2. He'd been fishing an hour and had no idea how many trout he'd caught and let go. A tiny midge or scud fishing fly gets a fish's attention.

"This fly here is a size 18 black bead-head midge," Hull said.

Size 18 is super small in the world of fly fishing. The hook is so small it can be difficult to get line through its tiny eye. Hull fished the midge three or four feet deep under a small float.

The angler visits Roaring River five or six times each year and typically stays two weeks. He fishes during catch and release season and also the catch and keep season.

"I like the fact that fish are released in the winter, and there's opportunity to catch some big trout. I like the cooler weather and there aren't as many people as in the summer," Hull said.

When fishing is closed Tuesday through Thursday at Roaring River, Hull fishes Lake Taneycomo below Table Rock Lake dam. In August, he caught a 22-inch brown trout at Taneycomo.

"I've been coming here 50 years," he noted. "The park is in better shape now than it's ever been. It's been managed very well."

Downstream a ways, Doug Wills from Overland Park, Kan., tussled with trout after trout. Wills prefers egg patterns, gray scuds or a particular fly he didn't happen to have that day.

"My buddy makes a fly he calls a pellet ant. It's a cross between an ant and a fish pellet the trout are fed at the hatchery. I can catch 'em all day with that," Wills said.

That fish hatchery is at the north end of Roaring River State Park. The Missouri Department of Conservation runs it and raises thousands of trout that are stocked at Roaring River.

When catch and release season nears, staff stocks several hundred trout initially, then adds more every two weeks, said Terry Gerke, assistant manager at the hatchery.

"This year for catch and release, we put in about 2,000 trout. Five or 10 of them were lunkers weighing 3 pounds or better," he said.

More trout are stocked every other week because there is some mortality on the fish, even through anglers release each trout.

"The fish get handled when they're released and that accounts for some. Herons, bald eagles and otters eat their share," Gerke added.

For anglers, love 'em and let 'em go is the name of this winter fishing game.

  photo  Roaring River Spring flows at an average of 20 million gallons each day creating ideal conditions for trout. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  A rainbow trout put up a fight Dec. 2 2022 for an angler at Roaring River State Park. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  Rainbow trout thrive in the year-round cold water at Roaring River. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  Anglers find quiet fishing at Roaring River during winter. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  Pools and drops are characteristic along most of Roaring River. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  Craig Hull of Wichita, Kans. nets a rainbow trout on Dec. 2 2022 at Roaring River State Park near Cassville, Mo. The park offers catch and release trout fishing four days each week from mid November to mid February. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

Trout and trails

A great way to spend a day at Roaring River State Park is to fish awhile in the morning, take a hike and eat lunch along a trail around noon time, then fish some more in the afternoon.

Trails at the park include the easy River Trail. It’s an out and back hike of 1.4 miles. The more difficult Devil’s Kitchen trail is a 1.5-mile loop that starts near the trout hatchery. The difficult Eagle Nest Trail is a 2.6-mile loop that starts in the campground on the south side of the river.

Source: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette


The story was updated to correct the dates of the catch and release season.

Print Headline: Cast, catch, repeat


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