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 ( 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" 

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