Over 1,900 fishermen visited Roaring River State Park to participate in the 2007 trout season opener on March 1. Roaring River drew more anglers than Bennett Springs State Park, which was expecting 2,300 anglers this year.
Last Thursday, after a morning of turbulent weather, the skies cleared over Roaring River and the stars began to shine down on the anglers who gathered on the banks of the stream before daylight. The temperatures stood at around 60 degrees on opening morning.
"They had to evacuate the fishermen off the banks for a little while at Bennett Springs because of the storm warnings," said Kevin Bolling, park supervisor, on opening morning, "but the storm has moved over so they'll be starting on time there too. The weather isn't too bad. I remember last year it was around 70 degrees on opening morning."
Bolling said the previous year some anglers turned out for opening day wearing shorts and T-shirts. This year, many fishermen sported hooded rain jackets, which came in handy during early morning showers.
As in previous years, Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce members and volunteers delivered coffee to the anglers gathered on the banks of the stream.
"Anyone down here need coffee," Chamber board member Bill Shiveley called out to the fishermen gathered near the water. As he stopped to fill their mugs, Shiveley made casual conversation with the anglers who had travelled from near and far to participate in the opening day event.
"This year, over 20 members and volunteers distributed 800 souvenir cups of coffee to fishermen," said Amy White, chamber executive director.
The coffee was donated by the Cassville Wal-Mart Supercenter, and the souvenir cups were sponsored by the Cassville Democrat, Hutchens Construction, Les Jacobs Ford-Mercury, Inc., Oak Hill Court, Rock Village Court and RV Park, Jim Rogers, Roaring River State Park, Tim's Fly Shop, Logos and More/The Trophy Place, the Barry County Care Center and Baywash Carwash.
Just before daybreak, Jack Overman, the 89-year-old Pittsburg, Kan., man who was selected to receive the first tag of the season made his way to the bridge near the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Lodge.
"Are you all ready to catch some trout at the beautiful Roaring River State Park?" Overman called out to the fishermen gathered around the bridge. The eager anglers called back enthusiastically.
Overman continued to pump up the fishing crowd until Jerry Dean, RRSP hatchery manager, handed over the starting gun and Overman fired a single shot to open the 2007 trout fishing season.
Within minutes, several anglers had reeled in lunkers from the rushing water of the Roaring River stream. Josh Greer, of Joplin, landed an eight-pound trout just after 6:30 a.m.
"I missed him on the first cast but caught him on the third or fourth," said Greer, who had camped out at Roaring River overnight. This was the 15th year that Greer has journeyed to Roaring River to participate in opening day.
Washburn resident Bill Johnson also experienced a successful opening day. He landed a 6.02-pound rainbow trout on his first cast.
"Bill and I come down here together every year," said David Ruark, of Cassville. "We have a traditional bet that whoever lands the first fish will pay the other $1."
"He usually always loses," said Johnson. "We've been doing this for around seven years, and he's only won once."
"This was the second year that I've won, but it was spoiled when he caught that big fish," said Ruark.
Johnson has a history of catching big fish. A few years ago, while fishing in Roaring River, Johnson landed a trout that weighed in at over 10 pounds
Les Fields, of Exeter, took home a 4.91-pound trout on opening day. He spent the morning fishing with his son, Shawn, who is a fourth grader at Exeter Elementary School. Les and Shawn both caught their daily limit, which is four fish, before 7:30 a..m.
"We came down around 3:30 this morning," said Shawn Fields. "My dad taught me how to use an open cast reel last year. That's how I caught these fish."
Although the temperatures started out at around 60 degrees on Thursday, the mercury quickly fell, and by 8 a.m., the temperature was around 45 degrees.
Park employees placed makeshift barrel campfires along the banks to give anglers a place to warm up. It didn't take long for several anglers to migrate toward the fires to warm their hands and arms.
"The lunkers are still out there," said Tim Parker, of Joplin. "I've seen them in the water. There is a lot of day left."
In total, 1,927 anglers visited the park for the opening day festivities. Trout tags were sold to 1,584 adults and 342 kids.
Don Bowen and Bill Lee weighed 55 lunkers at the Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce weighing station. The Cassville Chamber of Commerce recognized the anglers who caught the biggest fish in men's, women's and youth's divisions.
Greer won the men's division with his 8.06-pound trout. Brittany Carver, of Monett, reeled in a 6.6-pound trout that topped the women's division, and Cody Stehlik, of Cassville, won the youth division with a 3.6-pound trout. Each winner received a trophy from the chamber and a discount gift certificate for a trout mount from Visions of Wildlife Taxidermy.