The return of winter weather impacted attendance yesterday at Roaring River State Park as trout season opened for 2009. Snow was on the ground for the first time since 1990. The fish were still biting, and the day remained a grand adventure for those who turned out to enjoy one of the Ozarks' great spectacles.
The difference between last year, when teens strolled the park grounds in shorts, and yesterday was startling. Parking, which last year was full along the park road shoulders back to the main stop sign by the entrance at 6 a.m., was wide open up to the first bridge over the river itself.
By the time the gunshot sounded at 6:30 a.m., 1,834 fishing tags had sold: 1,547 for adults and 287 for children. That compared to 2,218 last year. One fisherman, huddled around a barrel of burning firewood, said conditions had been frigid when he arrived at 3:30 a.m., and only improved when the barrels were put out at 5:30 a.m.
Still, the tag number was far above the 1990 sales of 1,172 at the gunshot, on a Thursday. According to Kevin Asbury, assistant hatchery manager, the temperature was 15 degrees at the gunshot, similar to what it was in 1998, the last Sunday opener. But on that occasion, 2,530 tags had been sold by 6:30 a.m.
Fishermen bundled in coats and camouflage overalls were undeterred as they took their positions on the shoreline for fishing to start. As Junior and Clarice Stephens from Olathe, Kansas, came forward with hatchery manager Jerry Dean to fire the gun to start fishing, a group of his friends just out of clear view on the dim river bank started chanting, "Jun-ior! Jun-ior!" He waved back with a broad grin, and got the party started.
Jeff Greer of Joplin pulled in the first lunker of the day almost immediately, weighing 9.9 pounds. His catch would not be surpassed until the last half hour before the Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce handed out trophies. A total of 32 lunkers were caught and weighed in, compared to 107 last year.
In the men's division, the top 10 catches were a 10.1 pound winner by Ben Curry of Rogers, Arkansas, to win the trophy. Taking third place was Josh Greer of Joplin, Jeff Greer's nephew, with a 9.5-pounder.
The rest, in order, were a 8.9-pounder caught by Kevin Gibson of Olathe, Kansas; an eight-pounder caught by James Rogers, Climax Springs; a 7.4-pounder caught by James Austin, Neosho; a 7.3-pounder grabbed by Luke Stooder of Washburn; a 7.2-pounder caught by Jeff Tiefenaver of Deslog; a 7.1-pounder reeled in by Joe Bernard of St. Joseph; and a 6.8-pounder caught by Dennis Mullin of Joplin.
The women's trophy went to Rose Thomas of Bella Vista with a 4.2-pounder. The rest of the women's field weighing in were a 2.9-pounder caught by Renae Cookerly of Joplin, a 2.6-pounder caught by Jayne Wilson of Dittmer; and a 2-2-pounder captured by Mary Ford, also of Dittmer.
Winning the children's field was Vanessa Glaze of Seligman with a 4.2-pounder. Sarah Milner of Springfield was second with a 2.8-pounder. Colby Smith of Marionville completed the youth fishermen with a 2.1-pound catch.
There was a distinct lack of local people in the lunker lists. Lance Eaton of Monett had a 4.1-pounder, and was the only Monett person pulling in a large catch early. Many of those fishing on the banks said the small fish were biting.
Asbury said it appeared many people caught their limit and went home after a couple hours, because of the cold. Others came, but even though it was a clear day, the arrival of the sun brought wind, absent in the early hours of fishing. By 2 p.m., Asbury said the thermometer had risen to 34 degrees, but with the wind chill, it actually felt colder than it had at dawn.
"Everything worked. The sirens worked. We had lots of fishermen," Asbury said. The Department of Conservation of three people on its day crew, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had a comparable crew. In addition, a number of Conservation agents were on hand watching the fishing, and a number of DNR agents spent time watching the traffic.
Amy White with the Cassville Chamber reported around 40 volunteers showed up to help serve coffee in the pre-dawn hours. By 6:10 a.m., 120 gallons of coffee had been brewed and was being thankfully accepted by those eager for its warmth. White added the United Methodist Church further helped by providing donuts for the occasion.