Midweek opening day will have affect on crowds at trout parks

Sunday, February 26, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY -- State officials say they expect a light turnout for opening day at Missouri's four trout parks. Even at that, however, the event is expected to draw more than 7,000 die-hard anglers.

Each March 1, thousands of anglers descend on Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon, Montauk State Park near Licking, Roaring River State Park near Cassville and Maramec Spring Park near St. James. The date marks the start of catch-and-keep fishing for hatchery-reared trout.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources operates Bennett Spring, Montauk and Roaring River state parks, while Maramec Spring Park is owned and operated by the private James Foundation of St. James. Hatcheries at all four parks are run by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Missourians have been flocking to the three state-owned trout parks on March 1 since 1939, and to Maramec Park since it opened in 1958. Records of opening-day attendance give trout-park hatchery managers a solid basis for estimating how many anglers will turn up each year. The number varies according to weather conditions and on which day of the week March 1 falls on.

The record opening-day turnout came in 1992, when the opener fell on a Sunday. That year, 14,947 anglers bought trout fishing tags on opening day.

Cold weather and weekday openers cut into attendance.

With normal seasonal weather and a Wednesday opener, Bennett Spring Hatchery manager Mike Mitchell anticipates approximately 2,000 anglers. Roaring River Hatchery manager Jerry Dean expects about 2,300 anglers, while Montauk Hatchery manager Tom Whelan says he expects 1,600 to 2000. Maramec Hatchery manager Paul Spurgeon says he expects 1,400 anglers.

Festivities planned

A festive atmosphere prevails at all four parks on opening day. Anglers, families and friends share the camaraderie of an event that marks the beginning of the end of winter's grip.

Over the years, the parks and surrounding communities have developed special events in conjunction with the season opener. One of the most popular is the stocking of "lunkers," fish in the 2- to 6-pound range. This is much larger than the average trout-park stocker, which weighs about 1 pound.

The Conservation Department produces a number of these bigger "brood" fish for its spawning program. Each year, hatcheries take dozens of the oversized fish that are no longer needed for spawning and release them on opening day to spawn added fishing excitement.

To make the most of lunkers, the Conservation Department has an "I Released a Lunker" Program. Anglers who catch and release big trout can get recognition patches to commemorate their achievement and the fact that they let the fish go for another angler to catch. To recognize anglers who catch and release lunkers at all four trout parks, the Conservation Department has a grand slam patch around which the other four patches can be sewn.

To qualify, you must catch an 18-inch or larger trout at one of the four trout parks between March 1 and Oct. 31 and immediately release the fish in good condition. One witness is required to verify the catch and release. Applications are available at hatchery offices at the parks.

George Kromrey, cold-water hatcheries supervisor for the Conservation Department, said the agency will stock three fish per angler expected at each of the trout parks.

Trout regulations have not changed this year, but the MDC suggests that anglers review area regulations published in the 2006 Summary of Fishing Regulations. Specific area regulations are outlined in pamphlets at each trout park.

Jim Low is the news services coordinator for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

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