Bob Mitchell: Greatest show in Barry County

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

This Friday’s 91st Opening of Roaring River State Park, to coin a circus phrase, might well be termed the “Greatest Show in Barry County.”

The opening gun and siren at 6:30 a.m. Friday will see the park hollow jam-packed with rainbow trout anglers and spectators alike that might be unequaled for any other event locally.

A balance between those fishing and spectators might well depend on weather conditions as history of the event has seen Mother Nature dump all her wrath on what is off-season just simply a thing of beauty.

A few cautions

For all those taking the winding road into Roaring River, there are cautions that might well be observed.

Travel to the park from either Cassville or Seligman requires dropping down a couple of steep and crooked stretches of road that need to be approached in a slow manner.

From Eagle Rock, getting to the park’s eastern boundary is somewhat hilly with some curves.

During darkness travel, deer accidents have occurred. So drive carefully!

For those spectators, and fishing public, that move from location to location, walking behind those using fly rods can be dangerous if you get too close. Emergency facilities have, over the years, become quite efficient in removing hooks from body parts that might be snagged by a long back cast.

Hatchery looks bare

The famous Roaring River Hatchery looks quite a bit different for this year’s opening, as a big renovation is in progress to modernize the facility. However, Paul Spurgeon, Roaring River Hatchery manager, says adequate stocking of rainbow trout will be coming from Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery, below Table Rock Dam, and Montauk State Park.

Processes involved in the project will in no way interfere with the opening.

Requirements for adults, who will be fishing, are a Missouri fishing license and a $3 daily tag. Special provisions are available for juveniles. The daily limit number for catching trout these days stands at four. The number was dropped from five several years ago in lieu of a price increase.

What’s for spectators?

For those people, veteran or novice, there are sights to see as the anglers, veterans arriving well before opening for a usual spot, will stand elbow to elbow streamside to await the beginning, which is all going on in complete darkness, as the sun hasn’t made it above hills to the east of the stream. This could well, depending on Mother Nature, require layered clothing to remain comfortable.

For the fishing people and spectators alike, the Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce will be on hand to provide warming coffee for those early arrivals. The tradition is nearly as old as the park.

Number speculation

Spurgeon speculated the Friday opening might attract between 1,700-1,800 folks purchasing tags, again depending on weather conditions. That number could drop 500-600 if inclement weather was to visit the area.

The superintendent jested somewhat after viewing the long list of opening records, noting that in the past 30 years there has been a definite decrease in tag sales when the temperatures dropped or falling weather was present. “Could this indicate today’s trout anglers aren’t as hardy as they once were?” he quizzed.

Going back years

Park openings in recent years have had an absence that many have thought should have been continued. The grandest sight of all on openings years ago was hitting the Roaring River hill on Highway 112 and making that final turn to see the large bonfires burning to keep folks warm and provide some illumination for the valley. There hasn’t been that spectacular sight available for many years.

There was never a problem warming a person or thawing the guides on a rod when these “heaters” were in place. But, they have succumbed to barrel fires in recent years.

Eagles departing

As a special show for the anglers and spectators, there have been a few openings in the past when the American symbol, the bald eagle, has ended its wintertime stay in the park just as the crowds were arriving for the opening.

During those special years, the stately bird has made a final flyover, going up stream from their perches in the lower stream area. The flight apparently followed the stream all the way and was at an altitude that could be seen by all.

These birds are annual visitors to the park, and were once provided dead fish in an area near the twin falls almost daily. Their arrival for the meal was very cautious, not approachable by any other vehicle other than those daily in use in the park.

Good luck

This is the 91st opening of Roaring River since becoming “the jewel of Missouri’s State Parks,” as declared by one-time Secretary of State Jim Kirkpatrick, who attended all but a couple of openings during his tenure in office.

Good luck and safety to everyone.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.