Trout fishing in the spring is a great sport for me. I find the colorful fish not only beautiful, but also very difficult to catch with flies. Then again, it just may be me. I grew up fishing catfish or bass. Perhaps I just don’t have the finely tuned senses to be a successful trout fisherman, but I continue to do it anyway. But, as I said, I enjoy it.
A few years ago, I was home visiting family and I had a trout-fishing trip planned with my nephew (Stevie) and my daughter (Lisa). We were going on a trout fishing trip to Maramec Springs (many locals pronounce it Merry-mack Springs), in Missouri (in the Ozarks). The springs are privately own, but stocked and monitored by the Missouri Conservation Department. I grew up in Rolla, Missouri, which is a small town just a few miles west of the springs. I knew, from a lifetime of hearing the tales, the springs were a good place to fish for trout. I suspected the kids would catch a few anyway.
To get there, we took I-44, which runs from St. Louis to Springfield, Missouri (in our case we drove east toward St. Louis). About 100 miles west of St. Louis, is the small town of St. James. St. James is well known for its fine wines, so you will see many billboards advertising the product way before you get there. You want to leave I-44 in St. James at the highway 8 exit, and then turn south onto highway 8. If you head into town, you are going the right direction. You will pass through a very pretty and clean, but sleepy little down, as you travel in a southernly direction. If you have the time, I strongly suggest you stop for breakfast at one of the local restaurants. You will find the food excellent and the prices are hard to beat. Expect Southern cooking, with biscuits and gravy, eggs, and maybe even grits. I assure you, your coffee cup will never be empty.
The road out of town is a bit rough and the winding turns seem to be unending. If you are new to the road, take it slow and easy. It has the potential to be very dangerous and more than one accident has happened on the road. You will see many places offering overnight camping, canoe rentals, float trips and other outdoor activities. While the mileage to the park is only about six miles, the winding road takes time to drive safely.
Nonetheless, about twenty minutes from I-44 you will turn into the entrance of the springs. If your first impression is like mine usually is, the first thing I notice is all of the greenery and how clean everything is. It is a very well maintained place and as I told the kids, we need to help keep it that way. The last time I was there the parking price was three dollars and then I had to pay to fish (I think I paid three dollars for me and two dollars for each child). I do know it only cost me ten dollars total to park and for the three of us to fish. But, believe me, it was well worth the small expense.
I took the kids to see the old iron mill and fish hatchery. We crossed over a small wooden bridge that spans the Maramec River. For pocket change, trout food can be purchased and the kids can feed the fish at the hatchery. They found it fascinating to watch the large trout come to the surface to feed. My main interest, next to actually fishing, was visiting the old iron works. According to what I can remember, a family named James first established the iron furnace in 1826. My older family members told me it was the first such type business west of the Mississippi river. It supplied large quantities of pig and wrought iron during its years.
I also remember my grandfather telling me the James family (not of Jesse James fame I was told) became very wealthy as the owners. Especially during the Civil War when iron production was increased. But, according to what I was told as a youngster, by about 1870 the family had lost all of it’s wealth and were bankrupt. At some point a few years later, a member of the family was able to repurchase the land and then established a private park. Much of this is from stories told around the campfires with my grandfather and uncles, so I am not real sure of how accurate some of the information is. I suspect though, the basic information is pretty sound.
It was a very nice day and while I wanted to start fishing, I loved the excitement of the children. We went to the cafeteria at the park for lunch before we would start angling. I remember the prices being about normal for a public park, a little high, but not that much. The meals were the typical hotdogs, burgers and fries. Actually it was nothing to get excited about in the cafeteria, unless you were a child. They giggled and laughed as we ate. I felt close to both of them as we shared our meals and talked of feeding the fish.
Along the Maramec river at the park is a sidewalk or concrete trail of sorts and it is kept in excellent condition. This makes it easier when you have children along, or if you have someone with walking difficulties. We were soon down at the river with our lines in. I had put cheese bait on the hooks of both kids and I was using a dry fly.
I had been fishing no longer, than five minutes, when my nephew Brian gave a loud excited yell, “Got one Uncle Gary!”
As I got the net and made my way down to the water’s edge I said to Brian, “Son, keep your rod tip up and bring him in slowly. Keep line tight, but don’t force it.”
Well, in just a few minutes, a beautiful fish was in the net and Brian’s face was all a glow. He had caught his first trout! I re-baited his hook and noticed a sad look on my daughter Lisa’s face. Only, that changed in just a few minutes when she too landed her own nice trout.
We spent the next four hours trout fishing and by the time we had to leave, we had all three caught fish. Lisa landed the biggest fish we caught and it was a nice brown trout. It must have weighed about four pounds. But, let me tell you, I had two very tired children with me as we left the park and started on the winding road that led back to the main highway. If I remember correctly, the kids slept almost all the way to my mother’s house in Rolla. They were beat.
It has been a year now, but those kids still talk about the trip. They talk about the old iron furnace, feeding the fish, and the fun they had just fishing. We often laugh when discussing the excitement of landing that first trout. Memories like these are hard to forget. Take a child fishing, the memories last a lifetime.
Stay safe and take care. I will see you on the trail.