Brandon Butler: Missouri’s trout parks a celebration of fishing

When the whistle blew on the morning of March 1, trout season opened in Missouri. I was standing under the bridge at Montauk State Park. On both sides of me, other anglers were a rod length away, and I was happy to have them there. The trout opener is a celebration of fishing. It was fun to spend the day with over 1,000 fellow anglers.

There are four yrout parks in Missouri. Each is unique, but all offer exceptional trout fishing and many other outdoor recreational opportunities. Bennett Spring, Roaring River and Montauk are each a Missouri State Park. Maramec Spring Park is owned and operated by the James Foundation. All four parks offer exceptional camping opportunities. The trout parks are managed for fishing by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Each night during the season, which runs March 1 through October 31, trout are stocked in the parks’ waters.

Bennett Spring is the most popular trout park. The spring from which the park derives its name is the third largest in the state, producing an average of 100,000,000 gallons of water a day. Located near Lebanon, Bennett Spring runs into the Niangua River. This park caters to all sorts of anglers with special designation areas for flies and bait. It’s a wonderful, family friendly destination.

Montauk State Park is, in my opinion, the most naturally scenic of the trout parks. It just has more of a wilderness feel to it. Located near Salem, this gem is a gateway to the Ozarks. Montauk Spring is the headwaters of the Current River, which is a National Scenic River. At Montauk, you can find little stretches of river all to yourself. The extensive tree canopy throughout the park provides some shaded areas in the middle of the day. Trout stack up against undercut banks. Drifting a fly past or casting a spinner to these special spots should result in a strike.

Roaring River State Park is set in a quaint valley way down in the southwest corner of Missouri near Cassville. There is just over two miles of trout fishing. Wading is limited to a small area. Roaring River is an excellent State Park to take children fishing at, because they fish along with everyone else safely from the shore. The state record rainbow trout hails from the Roaring River. Perhaps a larger one is lurking in a deep hole waiting for the right angler to come along. The lodge at Roaring River is a beautiful place to stay.

Maramec Spring Park is built on the site of the historic Maramec Iron Works. This gorgeous park is the only trout park that is not a state park. The fishing is in the park is the main draw, but exploring the many of the still-standing old structures from the ironworks and the onsite museum are another great reason to visit. There are 200 acres to explore at the park. The Meramec River, which does have a slightly different spelling than the park, offers additional fishing and floating opportunities. Located near St. James, Maramec is easy to access from any direction in the state.

Opening Day at the trout parks takes place each year on March 1. To many, this is an annual holiday, a celebration marking a new year and the soon to arrive joys of spring. On Opening Day, the trout parks are crowded in the most wonderful way. Families return to the parks they have been coming to for generations. Men and women now in their golden years fish the same stretches of water they fished as children. Smiles are seen in every direction and an energy of joyfulness reverberates through the crowd. Anglers of all ages and all skill levels crowd the water to fish for trout. It’s an amazing experience.

Yet over the years, I have heard the groans of outsiders looking in. Those who see a picture of anglers fishing shoulder to shoulder on Opening Day at a Missouri trout park, and declare how horrible it must be to fish in such a crowd. They couldn’t be more wrong. To experience Opening Day at any of the four trout parks is to participate in a celebration of fishing. A celebration of all that makes fishing so special — family, friends, fish to be caught and a beautiful place to catch them. The positive experiences generated during these Opening Day celebrations are measured by the smiles on the faces of anglers from 8 to 80 each time a trout bends a rod.

There are few trout fishing destinations in the world where more first fish are caught than the Missouri trout parks. These special destinations, where children with Snoopy poles are fishing next to old-timers with bamboo fly rods, are worth the trip for anglers of all skill levels. The Missouri trout parks celebrate our state’s deep love and affection for fishing.

Visit the Missouri trout parks. Take home a few trout for dinner and memories to last your lifetime.

See you down the trail …

Brandon Butler writes a weekly outdoors column for the Daily Journal. For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast on or anywhere podcasts are streamed. Send comments to [email protected].