Roaring River experience sparks nostalgia
More photos from Opening Day may be found at http://www.cassville-democrat.com/gallery/32341
Anglers in high numbers find opening day irresistible
Unseasonably warm temperatures opened the floodgates for anglers who descended upon Roaring River State Park on Thursday.
Thursday openings for trout season seem blessed, for the last outing in 2012 saw temperatures near 70 by midday. This week saw 57 degrees at 6 a.m., a far cry from snow on the ground for the last weekend opening in 2015, or from last year's Wednesday opening accompanied by an overnight hail storm.
At the 6:30 a.m. gunshot, the concession stand had sold 1,299 tags: 1,108 for adults and 191 for youth. That compared to other gunshot totals for Thursday openings of 1,465 in 2012, 1,871 in 2001 and 1,518 in 1990.
By 4:45 p.m., fishing tag totals for the Missouri parks participating in trout season opening were 1,617 at Roaring River (1,352 adults, 265 youth), 1,572 at Montauk (1,4541 adult, 131 youth) and 1,467 at Bennett Springs (1,380 adult, 87 youth).
Parking was not quite at a premium, but space on the banks of Roaring River was. Shadows of shoulder-to-shoulder anglers emerged as lights from passing vehicles flashed the banks. The barrels lit with fires glowed along the banks to warm those already chilled, but unlike most years, they were not surrounded by frozen sports enthusiasts. The valley was especially dim at that hour, but lightened quickly following the gunshot.
Officially kicking off the festivities this year firing the gun were Ramona and Charlie Stock, of Boonville, who have volunteered at Kids' Fishing Day events at Roaring River for more than 20 years.
"It was really awesome [to fire the gun]," Ramona said. "We've spent a lot of time here. Charlie does fly tying and casting at Kids Fishing Day, and I'm always here to help with whatever's needed."
"It's really rewarding and good for the kids," Charlie said. "But, I think I get more out of it than they do."
The Stocks have been coming to Roaring River to fish themselves for more than 30 years.
"We're here in May, August and October, and fall is probably our favorite time to come," Ramona said.
"We just like the stream and like the fishing here compared to other parks," Charlie said.
The fish were biting too. Hayden Fox, now of Joplin, and his dad, Darrel Tilford, of Seligman, caught their limits in 15 minutes. Fox left the park at 7 a.m. to dash to classes at Missouri Southern State University.
Richard Heller, a Sarcoxie resident retired from the Monett Street Department, was also done by 7 a.m.
"Four casts and I had four fish," Heller said. "There are some nice ones in there too this year."
Heller shook his head thinking about his former colleagues, trapped at work, while he could enjoy the moment.
Local families, whose children have Thursday and Friday out of school, were excited to get in on the action.
"This is just what you do if you're from Cassville," said Stacy Runnels, whose son, Camden, had just brought in a trout. "It's a tradition, and I loved doing it as a kid. It's one of the special things about being raised near Roaring River. Most of the kids with us have already caught their limit [as of 9 a.m.], and I'm glad Cassville schools still recognizes this and gave them two days off."
Runnels, a Cassville native and Cassville High School graduate, said she remembers the day-before preparations for Opening Day when she was young.
"I came every year as a kid," she said. "My dad, [Landon Fletcher], would prepare our rods the night before, then we'd come out early, fish and go eat breakfast, and he'd go into work while we went home and took naps."
Runnels and her husband, Dr. Steve Runnels, had two children on the banks, along with Stacy's brother-in-law and nephew.
"We have a 4-year-old at home with grandma who thought it was a little too early to get up and go fishing," she said. "I'm used to being up here early. I spent six years on the Chamber board and served coffee, and my dad has always served coffee since we were kids."
For most visitors, however, the park was a refuge to be savored. Stephen Goceljak III, from Kansas City, Kan., had three generations of his family with him. Goceljack said his family drove up on the park one year on a trip to the East Coast, and now was back for the 30th consecutive opening day.
"I always used to say you had to be an idiot to come here on opening day," Goceljak said. "Now I'm one of them."
Asked why he came, Stephen Goceljak IV said, "It's fun; the kickoff of spring. Now it's their turn," looking at his two boys, both ready with poles in hand.
David Probstfield, of Monett, has been going to opening day for years, videotaping the proceedings. This year, he and his wife, Sonie, and son, Meghan, decided to come at the gunshot and witness the frenzy at the start.
"I don't think I'd like elbow to elbow fishing," Probstfield said. "I'm here as an observer now. I wanted to see how they'd keep their lines from getting tangled up."
An oddity of the morning was even though fish were biting, no one had brought in a lunker for weighing at the Chamber of Commerce's official scale in the first 45 minutes of fishing. Usually an angler or two will produce a big catch within the first 10 or 15 minutes. According to Sam Madsen, owner of At The River Consignment in Cassville, "If the water is high and murky, fish go down deep."
With recent rains, Roaring River was especially high. The twin waterfalls filling the river were quite loud, and they produced so much water that it flooded the section of walkway along the bank, a phenomena veterans of opening day had not seen in 30 years. There was so much water on the concrete that anglers laid their stringers on the sidewalk and the fish remained submerged.
"I fish, but not opening day," Madsen said. "This is craziness."
Many who were asked why they continued to return to fish on Opening Day cited tradition.
Kevin Yount, who grew up in Aurora in the same class as Monett coach Michael Calhoun, was back with classmate Ryan Baxter, now from Marionville. Yount was back for his 33rd consecutive year.
"There were seven of us here last night," Yount said, including Yount's father, son and brother. "Over the years we've stayed in a camper, a tent, and this year, in a cabin. The cabin is good. We've seen snow, rain, sleet, a tornado and a flood. And we've fished next to the Governor [Jay Nixon]."
"It's exciting," said Ryan Jennings of Aurora. "It's the first day of fishing for the year, the excitement of catching a lunker. I got one decent sized this year, but not a lunker."
"I come back because it's the first chance to fish in the spring," said Rick Comer, of Diamond. "Trout fishing is extremely exciting, watching the way they fight and jump, not to mention seeing a lunker."
Tony Harris, originally from Cassville, had come from Bolivar with wife Ruth, daughter Emily, and son Zander for the experience. He fished on the shoreline with grandfather, James Pippin of Seligman.
"Grandpa started bringing me down here when I was 3 years old," Harris said. "I haven't missed a March 1st in 32 years. I just love it. It's a family affair."
Emily Harris caught a 17-inch trout on the day.
"I don't know why I do it," admitted Rodney Gold of Aurora. "I've done it for so long I don't know any better."
Melvin Ward, back for his 44th opening, echoed those sentiments.
"I've been doing it for so long I just can't quit," Ward said. He was on the banks with fellow Wentworth residents who between them had nearly 100 years of openings: Dale Jasumback with 33 and Chris Jasumback with 18.
Anglers from Arkansas, Kansas, even Iowa and four hours away in Missouri were found on the banks.
Monte Seidel, of Rogers, Ark. was fishing near the falls releasing from the spring pool when he reeled in a 9.6-pound lunker that drew loud "oohs" and "ahhs" from nearby anglers.
Immediately heading to the weighing station, Seidel was stopped by Park Ranger Steve Jabben and Park Superintendent Roger Taylor, who each took pictures of the goliath.
"Today is my son's birthday, and he caught the lunker last year," Seidel said. "I haven't caught anything above four pounds before."
Seidel was easily leading the Cassville Are Chamber of Commerce's lunker contest after his rainbow was weighed.
Other people in other banks trying their luck included Rick Crawford, of Monett, who had caught more than 10 in the first hour of fishing but was still holding on for the big one.
"I've come to Opening Day every year for 40 years," he said. "I caught my limit in 15 minutes, and there have been some good-sized ones. I like coming for the fellowship. We bring the same group of about 10 people every year, and this year we're staying for five days."
Another group angler was Vern Saul, of Hollister, who was celebrating his 12th year in a row at Opening Day.
"It's a tradition with my friends and family, usually about 20-30 of us," he said. "We stay in cabin No. 1 every year, and others are in different cabins or camp out."
Saul said had reeled in 10-15 trout by about 8 a.m., but he only had two on his line and was searching for something bigger.
"I'm hanging on for the decent ones because we always do a pool on Opening Day and then another pool for the rest of the weekend," he said.
Children with tiny poles, women and teens, old men unafraid to park a wheelchair in standing water to fish from the handicapped accessible landing, all these massed together for the moment. Some wore faces of grim determination, others laughed freely. One laid on the sharply angled bank overlooking the stream with his hands behind his stocking cap covered head.
There were many ways to enjoy the day, all good, on a warm not-quite-spring day at Roaring River.