Gov. Nixon kicks off Missouri trout season
Annual fishing tradition brings young and old, near and far
Trout season kicked off with a bang on Tuesday at 6:30 a.m., when Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon fired a full magazine from the Opening Day gun to allow anglers to reel in the treasured trout at Roaring River State Park.
Nixon spent Monday night in a cabin at the park, then made his way to the gazebo to fire the gun and then trekked just below it to the banks to fish for some trout on his own.
"We are extra excited about the turnout," he said. "There's probably 1,500 people and 25 percent of those are kids. Last year, our state parks had record attendance, and trout parks are the muscle of that. they bring all kinds of economic benefit.
"Without the snow at Roaring River this year, it's much better, but the fishermen will come no matter what the weather does. And, I hear the trout don't mind any kind of weather either."
Despite initial fears of weather, the morning developed into boasting unusually excellent conditions for Opening Day fishing. Temperatures hovered around 50 degrees at the gunshot at 6:30 p.m. The rain, which had provided periodic showers following the opening round of thunder at 1:30 a.m., suddenly stopped about 6:15 a.m. The park lit quickly, going from predawn gloom at 6:15 a.m. to a clearly-lighted shoreline 30 minutes later.
The threat of rain may have deterred early tag sales. By 6:30 a.m., a total of 1,028 adult fishing tags had been sold and 177 children's tags. That compared to approximately 1,200 adult tags and 250 children's tags in 23-degree temperatures in 2011, the last Tuesday opening.
Nixon said Opening Day of trout season is a rite of passage for people across the state, including himself as a child.
"When I was a kid, we first went to Montauk on Opening Day, then Bennett Springs when I was 10 or 11," he said. "When my dad and I came to Roaring River, we would catch a lot on dry flies. And in my second year as Governor, we had a cabinet retreat at Roaring River where we fished and hiked the trails.
"This year, with the passing of Sen. [Emory] Melton, I thought it would be a good time to remember a man who really made a difference and was a great leader."
Nixon said much has been done to improve the parks over his years in office.
"We've done a lot to make the parks more accessible for kids and the older folks," he said. "The parks are a safe place for people to walk, take their kids and have a lot of things for their kids to do. Plus, the parks are all very pretty and friendly."
Nixon said he was impressed with Roaring River's recovery from the pair of floods in 2015, one in July and another in December.
"Roaring River is an important economic asset so we hopped on it quick," he said. "All three [trout] parks got hit, and the parks system has really moved forward. Plus, there's a lot of big fish downstream. There's some 6-9-pounders pretty deep in the river."
After firing the gun, Nixon fished for about 30 minutes, reeling in at least three trout in the short amount of time. Nixon cast his line next to a Caledonia man who was not expecting the Governor's presence.
"I was just making sure I stayed out of his way, and he caught more fish than I did," said Chris Horton, who drove about five hours to fish on Opening Day. "I come every year just to have fun with all the guys."
Also not far from Nixon was Jeff Tiefenaur, of Desloge, who reeled in a 6.90-pound lunker, which won the Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce's contest.
"I did not set my hook yet and I saw [the 6.90-pound trout]," he said. "I said to myself I'd better take a shot at him."
Shasta Schmidt, hometown unknown, won the women's division with a 4.70-pounder, and Hunter Browning, of Aurora, won the 12-and-under division with a 5.10-pounder.
Nixon marveled at the rainbow beauty and took some pictures with Tiefenaur before heading out to check the progress on the CCC Lodge renovations, a project due to be completed later this month.
While many came from far away to enjoy the Opening day festivities, locals got in on the action as well, such as Phil Glaze, of Seligman.
"I'm not sure how many trout I've caught," he said at about 7:30 a.m. after pulling one in and letting it go. "I don't keep count anymore. I fish out here all the time, usually on Opening Day, too. There's quite a few fish here in the river today, more than normal I'd say."
According to Roaring River Hatchery Manager Paul Spurgeon, the Department of Conservation stocked 6,000 trout in 33 points along the river, including 100 lunkers.
Ed Maestri, of Ft. Smith, Ark., was one of the lucky anglers who snagged a big one. His friend and hunting and fishing buddy of 13 years, Jerry Thomas, of Stigler, Okla., helped him net the colorful rainbow.
"We come here several times a year because it's such a great place," Thomas said. "I've been fishing here for about 30 years, and Eddie has been fishing here for 40-plus years. It's such a great place to get away from everything."
Maestri said he was elated with his catch Tuesday morning.
"I'll be checking my basket all day to make sure that one doesn't get out somehow," he said. "That's the best fish I've ever caught out here."
Unlike many days at the park, this Opening Day began with a flurry of catches. Throughout the morning, anglers had seemingly little trouble catching fish, many filling their limit in less than half an hour.
"It's amazing how quick they bit and how fast you can catch them," said Chance Larimore, of Verona, a first-timer on Opening Day.
For many, the experience was irresistible.
"I've got to go see it," said Shane Cowherd, of Cassville, who came for his first opening.
Robert Randall, of Washburn, another first timer for March 1, found the fish were biting depending on the color of the bait. Randall was most impressed by the number of people.
For some, gathering at the river has become a tradition. Two former Monettans, Sam Helmkamp, now of Diamond, and John Peters, now of Noel, were back for their 41st Opening Day. Helmkamp remembered his favorite opening day was back in 1987.
"I pulled in a 8-and-three-quarter-pound fish that year, and John helped with the net," Helmkamp said. "That was the biggest fish I ever caught here, and it took two of us to do it."
Steven Goceljak came from Kansas City, Kan., with his son, Randy Sestrich, and his grandson, Brayson Sestrich. Goceljak has been coming to opening day for the past 15 years, and coming to the park for the past 30.
"I always said you have to be an idiot to fish here on Opening Day, and now I'm one of them," Goceljak said.
Rodney Gold of Aurora, who waited 25 years to secure a cabin on March 1, observed the quality of the renovated cabins made them especially nice for an outing with family and friends.
Gold and fellow fisherman Blaine Byrom went to kindergarten through high school together in Aurora, and have since brought friends and family together to the annual event at Roaring River for years.
"We had several kids with us one year," Byrom said. "It was all we could do to keep up with them. Between us, we must have had 50 fish in an hour."
Charles Bertalot, of Tulsa, Okla., started coming to Roaring River 30 years ago. He and his wife, Dolores, the sister of Monettan Gale Huffmaster, used to come regularly when they visited her parents. He was back for opening day after a break of several years, and even though the frenzy of fishing seemed to have slowed, he didn't mind.
Danny and Jessica Naugle, of Shell Knob, perhaps had a more typical experience casting lines into the water. Asked how their fishing had been one hour after the gunshot, Jessica said only one thing was important.
"For him, [the fishing is] great," she said. "For me, not so great. But we're having fun. That's what matters."
Travis Tennison, a 1993 Monett High School graduate who now lives in Galena, has gone to Opening Day for more than 30 years. In his view, this year was surely one of the best, for he was there with his son, Luke.
"It's pretty fun," Luke Tennison said.
More photos from Opening Day may be viewed at http://www.cassville-democrat.com/gallery/26558