Catch-and-release fishing for trout at Missouri's four trout parks begins the second Friday in November each year and runs through the second Sunday in February. This "no-creel" season is a weekend affair. The parks are open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. On those days, anglers can catch trout -- including some really big ones -- after the warm-season crowds disappear from Montauk, Roaring River and Bennett Spring state parks and Maramec Spring Park.
All fishermen need to participate is a fishing permit and a statewide trout permit ($7), which is valid throughout the winter season. The same permits allow anglers to catch and keep trout in many public trout streams outside the parks all year.
Trout fanatics also can pursue their favorite fish at Stone Mill Spring Branch on the Big Piney River. The area has been a trout management area for decades. Anglers there routinely catch and release dozens of fish a day. The area is open to catch-and-release fishing from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. from Nov. 1 through Feb. 28. Unlike the trout parks, Stone Mill is open to fishing every day of the week.
As with other catch-and-release areas, only flies and artificial lures may be used during the catch-and-release season at Stone Mill Spring Branch. The last Saturday in February each year is reserved for a youth fishing derby there.
Stone Mill Spring Branch is on the Mark Twain National Forest. However, it is bounded on several sides by Fort Leonard Wood, and the only practical land access to the area is through the fort entrance in St. Robert. Use the visitors' lane at the main gate and be ready to show your driver's license and vehicle registration.
Once through the main gate, go southeast on Missouri Avenue approximately two miles. Turn left on First Street and go 3.5 miles to Route 25. Take Route 25 3.5 miles and turn left onto Route 26. Go across the Big Piney River and travel approximately 2 miles farther before turning right onto a gravel road. Another mile on this road will get you to the parking lot. From there, follow the foot path .3-mile to the spring branch.
For more information about the youth fishing derby or for regulations and permits, call Fort Leonard Wood's Outdoor Recreation Office, 573/596-4223.
Anglers can enjoy a slightly different kind of winter trout fishing nearby at Little Piney Creek. Rainbow trout have been stocked there since the late 1800s, and the USDA Forest Service's Lane Spring Recreation Area south of Rolla has had catch-and-keep fishing for rainbow trout since 1969. Recent regulation changes established two separate but adjoining trout fishing areas on this stream.
A wild trout management area (WTMA) extends 9.9 miles from the Phelps-Dent county line down Little Piney Creek to Milldam Hollow Access. This area, which will become a Blue Ribbon Trout Area March 1, includes the Piney Spring and Lane Spring branches.
In the WTMA, anglers can keep one trout measuring 18 inches or longer daily. Only flies and artificial lures are permitted in this area. Soft plastic lures and scents are prohibited. The accesses do not have boat ramps, since the stream is too small to accommodate boats larger than canoes. Anglers on foot will find ample access to the WTMA at Lane Spring.
The 3.7-mile stretch of Little Piney Creek near Newburg is a trout management area (TMA) and will become a White Ribbon Trout Area March 1. In this area, up to five trout can be kept daily. This area is a few miles southwest of Rolla. The TMA begins at Milldam Hollow Access and continues to County Road 7360. Information and a map of the area are available at www.mdc.mo.gov/fish/sport/trout/little piney/, or from Michael Smith, Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 248, Sullivan, MO 63080, 573-468-3335 x238, email@example.com.
The Missouri Department of Conservation stocks catchable-sized rainbow trout periodically from March through June and from September through October in the lower portion of the TMA. The best fishing is generally before noon or on cloudy, snowy or rainy days. Any winter day when the daily high temperature is predicted to be near 40 degrees is prime fishing weather.
Missourians also can enjoy winter trout fishing at specially stocked ponds in St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia, Jefferson City and Jackson. For more information about this urban trout fishing program, contact the Conservation Department office in each city.
Information about Missouri's diverse trout fishing opportunities will be contained in a new publication, "Missouri Trout Fishing," which will be available around March 1.