I get it. How you fish is not how I fish. And that's swell. Really, it is. I like to fish with a fly rod. You don't? That's fine. I prefer to chase wild fish instead of stocked fish but if you don't care you won't hear any complaints from me. I like to hike away from the parking lots and trailheads and find solitude on the river, but maybe you prefer cajoling with your buddies right by the put in with a cooler of beer. Sometimes, I do too. However you like to fish, by and large, that's how you should fish. I'm a big defender of this simple concept and a staunch advocate against snobbery on the river, lake, pond or wherever. But, there's fishing, and then there's whatever this is.
Yesterday, March 1st, marked the opening of trout season in the state of Missouri. As is evidently the tradition, Missouri kicks off its trout opener at four state parks across the state, including Bennett Springs State Park near Lebanon, MO. And the Missouri of Department of Conservation has put together a short video of clips from previous year's openers, to promote fishing this year's kickoff, as opposed to showcasing the vast other array of angling opportunities in the state.
The video kicks off with the soft, soothing sound of an air raid siren which signals the "all clear" for Missouri's waiting trout anglers to have at it, and from that point, the video is a relentless highlight reel of trouty goodness: crowds of immense and almost unbelievable proportions, anglers standing ass-to-ass in an interminable line along the edge of a spillway dam, trout being transferred in one swift motion directly from the water to white plastic construction buckets, and fishermen pulling drab, snub-nosed, dog-food fed, frankenstein-sized rainbows from a river that could never possibly produce such a fish, just to name a few.
At first, the video seems like a farce—perhaps a bit of sketch comedy pulled from an old Saturday Night Live episode. But then you realize it's real. Not just the crowds or the air raid siren, but the you've-got-to-be-fucking-kidding-me banjo music and the endless array of glory shots of stringers loaded with fresh-from-the-truck trout.
On a typical year, the four parks see crowds that swell as high as 10,000 anglers, with over 25,000 trout dumped into the river just in time for the opener—including several hundred "lunkers" (those aforementioned frankenstein bows).
This spectacle in which these trout-seekers are just short of literally shooting fish in a barrel isn't just anathema to elitist masochists that like to chase native fish in wild places with bits of deer hair and chicken feathers lashed to a tiny hook, it contradicts the idea of fishing being a sporting pursuit and it is, most certainly, an offense to the cornerstones of our fishing heritage which demand that object of our chase be treated with some degree of reverence or measure of respect.
How you spend your time with your friends and family is your prerogative. And the kids in the video all seem to be having a great time. I'm not here to degrade anyone's traditions. I keep trout from time to time. They're delicious. And I have, many times, tried to pull a big, fat invasive fish from the shoulder-to-shoulder shitshow that is the town pools during chinook season on New York's Salmon River. I'm not here to throw stones, just perhaps to give a vocabulary lesson.
So, if standing on the edge of a spillway dam pulling trout out of a glorified arcade crane machine is the way you and your buddies like to spend the first day of March, then have at it. Just don't call it fishing.
Enjoy the video below.
Steven Smith replied on Permalink
I am from Missouri. I have fished Bennett Springs as a child MANY times, and still go back on occasion in the summer when visiting family in the area (I would avoid opening day at all cost). What kills me is the money making scheme that these parks are. Bennett Springs is actually a very beautiful stream from where it bubbles up from the ground, to where it spills into the Niangua. Every time I go I can't help but laugh at the ungodly amount of "trout" that are in the stream. It is not uncommon to have 5-8 trout swimming through your legs as you move around. I call them "trout" because they are missing their front pectoral fins. Occasionally you can pull a Rainbow that has some nice spots and color, but all the browns look like turds. This post just makes me sad. I feel if properly managed it could hold wild fish, but it is all about the almighty dollar. You have to pay $3.50 (or it may be more now) to fish for the day. God forbid they ever try and turn Crane Creek into something like this....last remaining strain of pure McCloud Rainbows. It is scary how proud they are of this too....I guess to each their own and I am just some snob that has been exposed to wild fish in PA.
Bill Cooper replied on Permalink
Trout fishing in the trout parks is not about money. It's about people. Not everyone has access to wild trout.
Anonymous replied on Permalink
There are several really good "wild" trout rivers in Missouri that are primarily catch and release and see little pressure. Plenty of water for driftboats on a couple rivers and rainbows that reproduce naturally. The trout parks are like a tiny tailwater, obviously a put and take fishery. They do get new people in to the sport that often get fed up with the craziness of the trout parks, these people often graduate to other more natural and challenging rivers. If you have never tried the North Fork of the White (in Missouri) or the Eleven Point, I think you would be pleasantly surprised at what the Ozarks have to offer.
Chad Shmukler replied on Permalink
Unfortunately, I've not had the pleasure of fishing in Missouri. I have, however heard many great things about the fishing opportunities there, especially in the Ozarks, and I doubt none of them.
I'd also agree fully that anything that helps bring kids into the sport should be welcomed -- and there's no doubt the trout parks help spark interest in fishing.
Martin Burch replied on Permalink
I got issues with the tone of this piece. I have fished wild western streams and because of my home location (Kansas City area) I fish Missouri Parks a lot. I know they are stocked fish. I know it is a state managed stream. I am not expecting the same experience. Thank you though for not letting the word out about the SUPERB catch and release season Missouri has in these parks November through early February. Many times I have virtually had a stream to myself and enjoyed some of the finest dry fly fishing on midges ever during winter in these parks. Your elitist hatchet job is deplorable.
Milt Barr replied on Permalink
Patrick Ybarra replied on Permalink
It's more about camaraderie than fishing.
I can drive a few miles to Maramec Springs with my 12 year old son, meet up with a friend or two, catch some fish, eat some breakfast and be back home before noon to tackle the weekend chores.
Many of us that fish shoulder to shoulder on opening day also sneak off down river when time allows to go after the rainbows and browns that live a more wild existence.
Personally, I fish the parks to get trout for my smoker and never keep a trout outside the park. I also use the parks as a spot to introduce people to fishing and know that they have a decent chance at catching some fish.
You say you're not but in this article you come off as a snob that thinks your definition of fishing is better than mine.
steelslinger replied on Permalink
And as it says, have at it. You're the one getting offended for no reason. I've been to opening day at some of these places. It's catching. Not fishing. It doesn't teach the kids respect for the fish or the process. It's no big deal if that's what people are into but it's also no big deal to poke a little fun at it.
Randy replied on Permalink
What an elitistm a$$hole!
Anonymous replied on Permalink
I will forever be grateful for the fact that this place introduced me to a method of fishing I would have never considered had it not been there. I spent a lot of time here as a child/teen and it opened the door to other "better" or "wholesome" fly fishing experiences and locations.
What this park has become is far from what I would like to call a home water, although I grew up fishing here and have great memories. More and more crowds at this place + self-introduction to more wild/native waters and fish has added up to my avoiding this place when deciding what to do with time away from the office.
From a person who has great respect for the opportunity this park provided me, I would agree that this opening day video is a bit of what most would call a joke. NO WAY I would participate in the fiasco that is dubbed opening day. Nor would this be anywhere but the bottom of my list of places I anticipate planning a trip to in the year to come.
Hopefully I can provide an alternative view of what this place means to different people. I can't help but wonder if a few of those kids in the video gain the interest to venture out to other waters as they progress toward gaining adult independence... like I did.
Chad as you mentioned, I won't cast stones either. However, what I will do differently than what you have demonstrated, is maintain an objective optimism that there are kids in that very video that will grow in to a "fly fisherman" that would meet your criteria to be called so. But, it's *easy* to poke fun.....and its especially easy to do so in a passive manor.
But come on man. In the increasingly snobbish culture that has developed around this sport, you are not helping by writing stuff like this. Maybe ask yourself "What was my intent for writing this article?" As you have the title of Editor, I hope you consider the fact that you are an ambassador of sorts to our sport. I understand there are many fly fishing publications available to me, of which I decide to click on to read through and generate a little revenue for. I suppose your intent here does not match my preferences, in this regard. Rather than just leave the site and visit less frequently, I chose to take a little time to advocate for the future of our sport rather than sidestep this apparent bashing. I can play devil's advocate: the waters that you or I prefer which are as egregiously beautiful as this park is egregiously crowded.... those waters benefit from these places. Let the crowds hoard the stockers on opening day.
Meanwhile, hopefully you or I will be standing in water that doesn't include another person in sight... right?
Most of all I hope that one of the kids (I have none, I have a dog) that were in that video don't read what you have decided to take the time to write so eloquently and passively insulting. It would be a shame for your opinion to erode the interest in our sport before some people even have a driver's license to go fish elsewhere, wouldn't it?
Ken Kozlowski replied on Permalink
I saw the vid on MO opening day at the spring trout holes before I read your blog. First thing I thought of was that it reminded me of opening day of steel head fishing on some of the GL tribs in MI and WI and how fishing with crowds is not my thing. Then I noticed the kids and the grandpas and that nobody was bitching and fighting and everyone was having a good time. So I say, "more power to all you folks that enjoy catching and keeping some trout on opening day." By the way Mr Schmukler, the spelling of your name should be changed to "Schmuck"ler, because you're a schmuck for for writing such an insulting, condescending piece and ignoring the numerous good things that were taking place on opening day.
steelslinger replied on Permalink
Dude, lighten up. It pokes fun at that ridiculous spectacle, noting that everyone should do what they want and that the kids were having fun. It just says it should be called something other than fishing because of how silly it is. My gues is it was mainly supposed to be funny.
Duane Doty replied on Permalink
It's a shame I can not share this blog with others due to your foul mouth. Trout are an invasive species in Missouri. Can't expect much more than that with a fish that never belonged in the Midwest. It sure is nice not to have to drive over 12 hours to catch them in their native habitat though. You really are not worth much more of my time making any more commits on this subject. Keep it between 10 and 2
Anonymous replied on Permalink
Too bad I guess my comment didn't make it past their gates.....
John Rogers replied on Permalink
You sound like a schmuck I couldn't possibly fish with, much less share the beer.
Jarod Matheson replied on Permalink
Personally I rarely ever fish any of the trout parks here in MO, except on the rare occasion when its cold or they still have water an everything else is getting super low and those fish don't need any further pressure. In those regards they can be nice. They can also be very nice in the fact that they keep the wild fish or wild like fish rivers clearer with fewer people. Maybe it is an elitist stance that some on here have already sneered at, but if trout parks keep the cattle tag crowd, that often aren't well acquainted with river etiquette or are there to catch their limit but "release" the smallest fish off their stringer for a bigger one, off the more natural water...Then I whole heartedly support the idea of trout parks!!!
Steven Smith replied on Permalink
This is true. They do help keep some nice little streams less crowded.