Written by Bob Marsh
If you’re looking for a new place to fish in the Midwest, you should consider Missouri’s four trout parks. They were all built around major springs, so they have a steady supply of cold water – a refreshing option during a Midwest summer! Hatcheries built on site use the spring water to raise trout for daily stocking. For a new fisher, (or a new fly fisher) they provide an accessible and controlled setting to learn more about how to fish. And while much Midwest fishing takes place in reservoirs, lakes and ponds, these trout parks provide easy access to flowing water – an appealing fishing alternative.
There are some downsides, including sometimes crowded conditions, especially on weekends. For fishing purists or those that prefer a more natural setting, the substantial site improvements, and the fact that the trout stocked daily, may also be a downside. On the other hand, the improvements make fishing very accessible, and particularly kid-friendly, with other activities available to balance out the fishing time. To manage the heavily used fisheries, and to provide a range of fishing options to visitors, the state parks have developed somewhat complicated rules that may be confusing for a new angler. We’ll explain how the trout parks work, and some of these rules in this article, but you should check for rule changes if you decide to visit a park.
To give you some more detail on what to expect at a trout park, we’re going to talk about Roaring River State Park in the southwest Missouri Ozarks near Cassville, Missouri. For the past three years Roaring River State Park has been the most visited of Missouri‘s 92 state parks.
Here are some key things to consider at Roaring River:
Licenses and Permits
You’ll need a state license (or be exempt under the license rules). You’ll also need a
daily trout tag (that you buy at the park). But . . . watch for certain days where license or permits are not required, either for all fishers or kids. The daily trout tag is $4 for adults and $3 for youth 15 and younger. At Roaring River you buy your permit at the Park Shop along Highway 112 between the drive to Campground 1 and the Conference Center.
Open Season March 1 is opening day for the “catch and keep“ trout fishing. It’s always crowded on March 1, but fishing that day is a tradition for many. After that, the catch and keep season continues until __. In between the season dates, fishing is either closed or is open for catch and release fishing only on selected days. Fishing hours Fishing is permitted only during set hours each day. A “whistle“ is blown to indicate the beginning of the fishing day, and another whistle at the end of the day. Don’t worry, you can hear the whistle from everywhere in the park! The opening and closing times vary through the year – for May they are 6:30 am to 8:15 pm and for June 6:30 am to 8:30 pm.
Fishing “zones” Roaring River is divided into three fishing zones in the park. Each zone has its own rules on the kind of baits that can be used. It is important to remember that even during the “catch and keep“ season, certain zones may have restrictions on keeping fish and be designated catch and release only. Maps available at the parks, and prominent signage along the streams, show the zone boundaries. Can you Wade? Wading is a key part of fishing for many, and different parks, have different rules on wading, and Roaring River is pretty restrictive. Wading is permitted only in the catch and release portion of “zone two.” Limits If you choose to keep trout, each of the parks imposes a limit on how many can be kept. The current limit at Roaring River is 4, but be alert for any changes. The rule is that “no person shall continue to fish for any species after having 4 trout in possession.” That means if you already have three trout and catch another, you are done fishing. Period. Flies, Lures, and Baits Probably the primary difference between the various “zones“ is the lure or bait that can be used. At Roaring River, the first portion below the hatchery is “zone one“ and only artificial lures, soft plastic baits and flies can be used. No natural baits or dough baits can be used in zone one. Zone two at Roaring River is flies only. “Flies” are defined as “a lure constructed on a single point hook of feathers, tinsel, chenille, yarn, fur, silk, rayon or nylon thread or floss, with or without a spinner. For example, a rooster tail with a treble hook ( 3 points) would not be permitted, but a rooster tail with a single hook would be considered a “fly.” Zoom three permits the use of artificial lures, soft plastic baits, flies and natural or scented baits. Natural and scented baits include live bait or any other substance designed to attract fish by taste or smell including dough, putty or paste-type baits.
Minimum Length There is not minimum length for keeping rainbow trout, but you can only keep a brown trout over 15 inches in length. There are plenty of rainbow trout over 12 inches in length, so unless its your first fish, we’re not sure why you’d keep and clean one smaller.
Fly Fishing Fly fishing is permitted in all of the zones, but be alert – based on trees, crowds and walking traffic it is hard to safely fly cast in some places. But find a suitable stretch of water and it is a perfect place to practice casting, detecting strikes, and mending your line in the current. The clear water makes it easy to see trout. Most of them will completely ignore your fly, but every once in a while you’ll be able to watch one shoot up from the depths to grab your fly!
Fish Cleaning Made Easy! If you want to catch a fish to cook, trout are easy to clean, easy to cook, and great to eat. And there is no easier place to clean a trout than at the Roaring Rover fish cleaning stations with plenty of flat surfaces, light and running water.
Where to Stay Roaring River State Park has 3 nice campgrounds, all is set in a beautiful valley that fills with campfire smoke in the evening. A perfect place to cook your trout! Reservations may be needed, and you’ll need to check current fees and check in procedures. Lodging is also available in Cassville, Missouri, just a few minutes away.