Preparations are underway for the opening of trout season on March 1. Anglers and fishing enthusiasts will pack into Roaring River State Park near Cassville overnight for the chance to fish at the 6:30 a.m. gunshot that marks the start of the annual event.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, more than 1.7 million visitors from Missouri and beyond flock to the Show-Me State's four trout parks each year. Roaring River is one of three of state trout parks owned by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The others are Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon, Montauk State Park near Licking. The fourth park at Meramec Spring near St. James belongs to the James Foundation.
Trout provided by the Department of Conservation are the main attraction. All the parks offer campgrounds, hiking trails, historic buildings and other amenities. The Missouri Department of Tourism estimates that visitors coming to fish add more than $100 million annually to local economies.
March 1 marks the start of the catch-and-keep fishing season at trout parks, a tradition that dates back more than 70 years. Total attendance at all four parks has topped 14,000 in years when the weather was good and the season opener fell on a weekend.
Officials at Roaring River expect approximately 2,000 anglers on opening day. That corresponds with the 1,938 tags sold on the Thursday opening in 2001.
Gov. Jay Nixon plans to fire the opening gun at Roaring River, returning to the tradition of a state official doing the honors.
Hatchery managers stock 2.25 fish per expected angler during fishing season. On opening day, they put three fish in the water for every angler they expect to attend. These fish average around 12 inches long. Park staff also stocks dozens of "lunkers," surplus hatchery brood fish weighing three pounds or more, some tipping the scales at more than 10 pounds.
Anglers need a daily trout tag to fish in Missouri's trout parks. Missouri residents 16 through 64 need a fishing permit in addition to the daily tag. Nonresidents 16 and older also need a fishing permit. Anglers who are exempt from permit requirements due to age or other circumstances must carry documentation to verify their exempt status.
This year, opening-day anglers will get more than a chance to catch big fish. They will receive lapel buttons designed to raise awareness of didymo, an invasive algae also known as "rock snot," thanks to its unsavory appearance. Didymo blankets the beds of cold-water streams with unattractive mats that choke out native plants, degrading fish habitat.
In an attempt to keep didymo out of Missouri, the Conservation Commission has banned the use of felt- or other porous-soled waders, which can harbor didymo cells.
Conservation officials urge the following precautions to limit the spread of algae:
* Check all fishing gear and equipment and remove any visible algae. Dispose of algae by placing it in the trash, not by putting it down a drain or into bodies of water.
* Clean all gear and equipment with a solution of 2 percent bleach, 5 percent saltwater or dishwashing detergent. Allow all equipment to stay in contact with the solution for at least three minutes. Soak all soft items, such as felt-soled waders and wader boot cuffs, neoprene waders and life jackets, in the solution for at least 20 minutes.
* Dry all gear and equipment for at least 48 hours by exposing it to sunlight.
For more information, call Roaring River State Park at 417-847-2430.