Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Fly Fishing in Missouri's Wine Country

The Meramec River is one of the few undammed major river systems in Missouri stretching over 218 miles in length and having nearly 1.3 million acres of drainage. It boasts the highest biodiversity of any stream in Missouri with over 125 species of freshwater fish. While some of those flooded in the St. Louis area may disagree, the lack of a dam and free flowing nature of the river is what makes it such a treasure of the northeastern Ozarks, an area is known for rugged terrain, cold springs and beautiful streams like the Meramec. 

Morning mist on Meramec River
The Red Ribbon Trout fishing area, located in Phelps and Crawford counties, begins at the Highway 8 bridge and continues downstream about 9 miles to Scott’s Ford. While the Highway 8 Bridge is the uppermost point of the Red Ribbon area, the first two miles are considered to be cool water fishery rather than cold and a much better small mouth fishery. The true trout fishery on this river begins below the confluence with the Maramec Spring branch. The effluent of the spring branch lowers the water temperature considerable and about doubles the flow of the river. The river holds MDC stocked brown and rainbows trout. The browns are stocked once or twice a year, and the rainbows are originally stocked in Maramec Spring Park and either escaped or washed out of the spring branch.  In the fall, the browns can be found moving out of the river and up into the spring branch to spawn. 

In this Red Ribbon stream only flies and artificial lures may be used. Soft plastic baits, natural or scented baits are prohibited when fishing for any species. The legal creel limit is two trout over 15 inches. To stay dry you will need a pair of chest waders, but wet wading is possible in the warmer summer months. As with all coldwater streams in Missouri, the use of porous soled shoes, boots, or waders is prohibited by MDC regulations in an effort to prevent the spread of Didymo

Confluence of the Meramec River and Dry Fork Creek
On the Meramec River, brown trout and big streamers just go together and you cannot go wrong with big leeches or sculpin patterns. There is something about that big bite of food that the fish just seem to love. Hatches are neither large nor predicable on the Meramec however they do happen and it pays to have a variety of caddis and mayfly imitations on hand when they do. The trout can be a bit fickle from season to season, as water temperature and flooding seem to have a big impact.  Lack of consistency leads the crowds to often overlook the Meramec when they are choosing where to fish. That can be a mistake.

If you are a wade fisherman, there are several access points to the river, but they do involve walking. To reach the uppermost trout holding section of the river parking at Maramec Spring Park is recommended. There is a $5 daily parking fee, but the walk is flat and by following the west side of the spring branch downstream you will find a bit of solitude and wonderful water. 

Author landing a trout
The next two accesses (Cardiac Hill and Suicide Hill) are a bit more katabatic in nature. To reach these access points take the Highway F/ZZ exit off of I-44 at mile marker 203. Turn right onto the south outer road to Rosati, take Highway KK south for 3 miles then turn right onto Brennan Road also know as CR3620. Follow that road for a short ways then make another left onto Besmer Road. The first parking lot you come to is “Cardiac Hill”. Just before this parking lot there is a gated MDC drive that leads to the river. The long walk down to the river is a pleasurable stroll in a beautiful Ozark valley. The walk back to your vehicle is a different matter. They don’t call it “Cardiac Hill” for nothing. A little further down, Besmer Road will dead end at a parking lot known as “Suicide Hill”. The walk to the river is much shorter, however it is considerably steeper and more treacherous. It is recommended that you keep your rod cased as you scramble up and down this slopes. 

Nice cut bank on the Meramec River
Many people fish the Meramec River from a canoe or kayak. The MDC Highway 8 access is a great place to put in and the float to Scott’s Ford makes for a perfect day fishing on the river. If you are looking for canoes, kayaks, or a livery service, Mark Dessieux at Adventure Outdoors is a great place to start. They are super nice people and you can find their office at the Scott’s Ford crossing or online at www.adventureoutdoorfloating.com.

The city of St. James is located just a few miles west of the river at the intersection of Highway 8 and Historic Route 66.  The town has three fabulous wineries, a brewpub and several great restaurants. Located along the north outer road you will find a shared venture between St. James Winery and Public House Brewing Company, called the Gardens. It is an outdoor patio which offers wine and beer products from both establishments as well as pub food and great appetizers. Downtown on Jefferson Street is a neat little wine bar called Just a Taste. They offer local, Missouri produced wines and meads as well as a full menu.  There area has a couple hotels located in town, but it you prefer a slower pace, the Painted Lady Bed and Breakfast is located along Highway 8 on the southern edge of town. And if you prefer camping, Maramec Spring Park offers both tent and RV camping from March through October.  

Brown trout favorite food...large Streamers
The upper Meramec River is definitely worth a weekend get-a-way to go and spend a couple days on this beautiful northern Ozark stream. Provided you don’t mind a walk, there is a degree of solitude that is not found on other Missouri trout streams as this river is mistakenly all too often overlooked by fishermen.

"Fly Fishing in Missouri's Wine Country" by Boot Pierce
Article originally published in the "Ozarks Edition" of "Southern Trout Magazine", July 2017 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Crown Jewel of Missouri Wild Trout Fishing

Have you ever looked at a crown? The one thing you notice is that there is always one jewel that stands out. It is bigger, brighter, and shines above all others. For many fly fishermen Mill Creek is that crowning jewel. This Ozark stream has a wild strain of California Red Band trout, dumped over a century ago, that are both beautiful and challenging to fish.

Located a few miles southwest of Newburg, Missouri, Mill Creek is a tributary to Little Piney Creek, which eventually flows into the Gasconade River. The stream has good public access as it flows across Mark Twain National Forest (MTNF) and Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Bohigian Conservation Area. Although Mill Creek typically starts flowing below Yelton Spring, the spring is intermittent and doesn’t flow during dry years and can dry up in late summer months. Mill Creek’s reliable water flow starts at Wilkins Spring, which provides a flow of approximately 6 CFS of 57o degree water. Dye tracing shows the spring recharge area extending 14 miles to the southeast near the town of Edgar Springs. 

MDC has designated Mill Creek as a Blue Ribbon Trout Stream below Yelton Spring. Only flies and artificial lures may be used. Soft plastic baits, natural or scented baits are prohibited when fishing for any species. The legal creel limit is one fish over 18 inches, but as with all wild trout streams please practice catch and release. The stream is easily fished with a pair of hip waders and wet wading is possible in the summer months. In an effort to prevent the spread of Didymo, an invasive alga, the use of porous soles shoes, boots, or waders is prohibited by MDC Regulations. Also, the trout spawn in the winter months so please be careful not to step on redds as you walk.

Mill Creek offer challenges for every type of fly fishermen. For dry-fly fishermen, caddis and mayflies fish very well. They are abundant in the stream, with periodic small hatches throughout the year. You can’t beat the standard #16 EHC, Adams, or a Bob’s Fly. By fishing the ends of riffles and runs with dry flies you can expect to land the smaller subordinate 6- to 9-inch trout. The larger fish seem to be located in the deeper holes and hidden under cover. A Mike’s Mohair Leech tied up in a variety of colors, on a size #8 or #10 hook is probably the most productive fly for the larger fish. The wild trout in Mill Creek can be pretty spooked. Don’t be afraid to put flies into heavy cover. Sure you will get hung up, lose flies and have to tie them back on, but you will also have a better chance of hooking fish. 

Access to Mill Creek from Interstate 44 is straightforward. If you travel from the west take the Highway J exit at mile marker 169. Travel southeast then turn left onto Highway P. From Highway P turn right onto Highway AA. Once you drop off the ridge you will be at the upper parking lot of the Bohigian Conservation Area and right in the heart of Mill Creek.  Continue on Highway AA and you will find Forest Service Road 1581. This road takes you across the creek and back to Wilkins Spring. By turning left off of Highway AA at the bottom of the ridge onto Forest Road 7550 you will access the lower portions of Mill Creek including the Mill Creek Picnic Area.

If you are coming from Rolla take the Highway T exit at mile marker 179. Continue through the town of Newburg until you cross Little Piney Creek. Just past the bridge make a right onto highway P then turn left onto Forest Road 7550. Look for the sign. You cannot miss it. If you want to access the upper portion of the stream continue on Highway P until you see highway AA and follow the instructions previously given.

There is no stream gage on Mill Creek, but one is located on the bridge that crosses Little Piney Creek at Newburg. After a rain event, Mill Creek have a tendency to both rise and fall faster than Little Piney Creek, but if you have a long drive ahead of you, a quick check of the gage USGS Newburg Stream Gage could give you an idea of steam conditions before you leave.

Mill Creek runs through MTNF and there are plenty of places to pull off the road for primitive camping. If you prefer an organized campground with picnic tables and restrooms, Lane Springs Recreation Area is located just a few miles east of Mill Creek by gravel road and offers all the amenities of a MTNF campground. If you prefer to stay close to the water, the Outcast Inn (outcastinn.com) located on Forest Road 7550, overlooks Mill Creek. The Inn accommodates 6 people and has a full kitchen, sauna room and hot tub. 

The towns of Rolla and St. Robert are each about 10 miles from Mill Creek and there are several places to stay and eat in both. In St. Robert you cannot go wrong with the Hub located on V.F.W. Circle Drive. The Hub is a German restaurant with great food and fun atmosphere. In Rolla my recommendation is to try a three-part tour of local flavor starting with Alex’s Pizza on 8th street for dinner. They’re a Greek restaurant, which specializes in thin crust pizzas and gyros. For dessert, stop by A Slice of Pie on Kingshighway. They have awesome homemade pies, which can be purchased by the slice. And for libations, it’s the Public House Brewing Company on the corner of 6th and Rolla Street. There you will find a relaxing corner pub with a great atmosphere that brews equally great beers.

The crystal clear spring water, which makes Mill Creek such a picturesque Ozark stream, also produces beautifully colored and healthy trout that love to put up a fight. You only have to fish Mill Creek once to understand why so many fly fishermen believe it to be the crown jewel of Ozark trout streams. I believe this stream should be at the top of everyone’s Ozark’s fly fishing bucket list. 

Author - Boot Pierce
Originally published in the May, 2017 edition of Southern Trout Online "Ozarks Edition" 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Get the Stink Out

If you spend any time on the water it soon becomes clear that your equipment will start to stink. I have this really great pair of TEVA sandals that I wear all the time during the summer months. After a few days on the stream though they start to get this funky smell that will not go away. I had tried every different remedy I could find and none of them ever seemed to work. Finally, I hit the jackpot and found the right combination. It will work for wading boots, water shoes, sandals, or anything else you wear in the water that starts to take on the stream side funk.

It is easy, it is simple and here it is…I will use my TEVA sandals for example:

Step one: Take a 5-gallon bucket and pour in one gallon of regular vinegar. Dip your TEVA sandals into the bucket. Make sure they are completely soaked. I always let them sit in the bucket for a couple hours at least to make sure they get completely wet.

Step two: Take your sandals out of the bucket and place them in the sun so they can dry completely.

Step three: Once they are dry, wrap them up in plastic bag like you get from Walmart and place them in the freezer for 24 to 48 hours. The plastic bag is not really necessary, but nothing freaks out the wife like opening the freezer door and seeing your sandals on top of the pot roast. My wife and I have separate (his and her) freezers, but that is another story for another day.

Step four: Take them out of the freezer and put them on. You might want to let them thaw a bit. They can be pretty cold for half hour or so. 

I wear my sandals every day during the summer and I am in the creek at least a couple times on the weekends. Over the course of the summer I probably have to do this three or four times. I know this works for me and I hope this helps you too. 

Good Luck