Families share memories on Opening Day
Warmer weather bodes well for fishing at Roaring River
Mild weather led to pleasant conditions for the opening of trout season at Roaring River State Park on Wednesday, offering many a chance to make memories with their families at one of Missouri’s premier parks.
Severe weather overnight, including a hail storm that lasted for around 15 minutes at 1:45 a.m., prompted an evacuation of campers to the Emory Melton Inn until the storm passed. Reports of storm danger may have discouraged anglers, as by the gunshot at 6:30 a.m., 1,033 adult fishing tags and 196 tags for youth had been sold. That was 105 short of the last Wednesday opener in 2006, when temperatures hovered around 50 degrees. The previous Wednesday opener in 2000 had 1,882 tags sold by the gunshot and temperatures in the thirties.
By the day’s end, Missouri State Parks reported 1,307 adult tags and 267 youth tags had been sold, the highest overall total of all of the state’s three parks.
The Roaring River valley proved especially accommodating this week. Under a clear sky and no wind, light spread through the fishing grounds within minutes after the gunshot, and temperatures rested comfortably in the upper 40s.
And, the fish were biting.
Craig Greer of Joplin brought a 4 pound, 8 ounce lunker to the Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce’s weighing station within the first five minutes, a trout he caught on his first cast.
“I have to thank my brothers for leading me to the spot,” Greer said.
Greer family members frequently appear on the lunker list.
Leading the early contenders for a big catch was Andrew Lee of Monett, pulling in a 6 pounds, 7 ounce beauty.
The day started off with three members of the MAKO Fly Fishers club firing the gun.
Greg Edster, club president who fired the first shot, said he was glad the group got to split up the honor.
“We wanted to come down and get things started, and we have a lot of our members here fishing, young and old,” he said.
“It was awesome,” said Waymeth Werries, who was second in line to shoot the gun. “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. We appreciate what the park does for us and the MAKO club enjoys giving our support.”
Werries’ husband, Steve Werries, capped off the moment, firing the final shots to officially kick off trout season in Missouri.
Opening Day offers its special attraction and memories. David Fielder, of Shell Knob, reported he had attended Opening Day for 40 years and had many favorite memories.
“I like it when there’s snow, and only the hearty can get a fish,” Fielder
said. “You could tip your rod in the water, throw it over your shoulder and it would be frozen before you could get it back in the water. Back then, going to Opening Day would be an excused absence from school. We’d sign each other’s forms for permission.”
Fisher recalled one of his most difficult explanations came when his mother asked how he managed to come home one year with singed eyebrows and a smoky face. Fisher tried to explain how, following the cooking methods he’d been shown, he had poured bourbon on the fish in the frying pan and got a little more flame than he’d expected.
Three long-time Monettans, Ron Branum, Robert Pierce and Mike Dalbow, continued a tradition they have practiced since the early 1980s of renting practically the same cabin each year for an extended stay. Their tradition may end this year since Dalbow and his wife, Joyce, have moved to Oklahoma.
While Dalbow waited waited for more family members to arrive, Branum and Pierce were down fishing Wednesday morning with a goal of catching enough fish to feed six that evening, including Pierce’s sons and Branum’s two sons-in-law. Pierce’s grandson, Jonas, from Springfield, had joined them and eased the load by landing a fish for his portion of the fry.
“There are so many good memories of Opening Day,” Branum said. “Just hanging out with Rob and Mike is a lot of it. These guys could catch trout in a parking lot. They’ve taught me a lot.
“One year when I caught a log, I thought, I ended up with a 5-pound rainbow. Rob helped me tune my rod to catch it. Later, he got it mounted for me, with the help of some others. It’s great to have friends. I’ve always wanted to repay the favor some day.”
Branum looked back fondly on the year he drove his 1972 Vega from Cassville to the park behind a snowplow, barely getting home later.
“We’re so lucky to live where we do, to have this so close,” Branum said. “Where else can you go for $3, [the cost of a fishing tag], and have a blast?”
Memories of years past were also recalled by former park staff, such as former Superintendent Dusty Reid.
“I used to live in a cabin behind the CCC lodge when I was a naturalist at the park,” he said. “It was always great watching people have breakfast at the lodge when the previous concessionaire, Delaware North, served breakfast at the lodge. They tried to modernize it more. When Jack Nickols was there before them, it was a bit more rustic, and he served really good coffee.”
This was Reid’s third Opening Day since taking a position with Cassville schools, and he said the difference from then and now is how he takes in the experience.
“For me, I feel like I get to enjoy the experience a little more, taking everything in, seeing everybody, hearing the conversations and seeing the smiles,” he said. “Most of the time when I was superintendent, I’d be running around like a crazy person, so I appreciate it more now because I’m not tied up. As superintendent, I’d spend the whole offseason getting ready, and when the sun came up on March 1 and the gun was fired, there was a huge sigh of relief. Those four months [of offseason] go by really fast, like the summer working for the school.
“Now, I come down to see old friends and former co-workers. I also want to congratulate MAKO for finally getting to fire the gun.”
Anglers from Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and from across the state could be found in the crowd. Many said trout fishing opportunities closer to home did not compare to what they found at Roaring River.
“I don’t think there’s a better park around than this one,” said Jim Sapp, of Joplin, while reloading his lure.
Mick Tichenor, who grew up in Eagle Rock and now lives in Lamar, watched the proceedings on Wednesday with his wife, Eunice, preferring to take the role of a spectator. With a few exceptions, he has attended Opening Day regularly since 1968.
“I’m a bass fisherman,” Tichenor said. “When I was 14, I was here using borrowed equipment. A fellow loaned me a Pocket Pal, with a short pole. They made fun of me when I got the hook caught in the hood of my jacket.”
Embarrassing moments often made fond memories. Larry Zebert, of Pierce City, has attended Opening Day for 25 years. He caught his largest fish to date on Wednesday, making it one of his best year. A favorite memory he had was watching a dynamic angler fall in the water when it was 20 degrees.
“He spent the rest of the day in his car, trying to warm up,” Zebert chuckled.
Heather and Bill Logan, of Monett, have gone to Opening Day for 15 years together, bringing a camper. The hail Wednesday morning woke them up, as well as their cat, who has traveled with them to the event for eight years. For Heather Logan, camping with friends has been a favorite memory.
Amanda Tucker, of Cassville, was on the banks with her two daughters, 8-year-old Katie and 6-year-old Kamille, making new family memories for the fourth consecutive year.
“This was the first year Kamille caught a trout,” she said. “And, she wound up catching three. The kids love to come down to fish.”
The two girls said waking up was a little difficult, and it was kind of chilly, but they were still having fun, even if a 1:30 a.m. storm cut into sleeping hours.
“I’m still tired because my mom woke me up in the middle of the night during the hail storm,” Kamille said. “It’s a little cold, but l love it.”
For many, memorable moments led back to the banks and the fishing. Keller Snodgrass, of Monett, was fishing with his grandfather, George Patton, for the first time on Opening Day and had nothing but praise to share.
“It’s very fun,” Snodgrass said. “I’ve caught three. Now I’m just messing around.”
For Todd Hills of Monett, a 25-year veteran of Opening Day, “skunking my friends” with his fish catch was his fondest memory.
Justin Wiese of Mt. Vernon, who has fished at Opening Day for more than 10 years, held 2016 in fond esteem as the occasion when he caught his limit of fish in 15 minutes.
Richard Witt, a 1978 Monett High School graduate now living in Marionville, has been fishing on Opening Day since he was in junior high school. His favorite memory was landing a 5.5-pound lunker one year, even though his line was tangled with several others.
Making memories with family merged the two highlights. John Rosenbalm of Monett, who has fished for 36 years, had his nephew, Jason Rosenbalm, drive in from Iowa to be there. His daughter, Pam Callaway, came in from Cincinnati, Ohio, to fish on the same bank.
The shores of Roaring River has many gaps along the bank for additional anglers on Wednesday. Parking, once at a premium, cleared to provide room for others eager to try their hands and their rods on the placid stream.
More photos from Opening Day may be found at http://www.cassville-democrat.com/gallery/29571
- Roaring River Opening Day 2017 (03/03/17)