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Hooked: Opening day of trout season a long tradition

LEBANON – Rick Langdon and Ken Henry shared a bit of fisherman’s remorse with Gov. Jay Nixon on the opening day of trout season at Bennett Spring State Park.

“Been coming here since I was 14, and didn’t catch a fish for the first time ever,” said Langdon, who is 46 and from Conway, Mo. Henry also lamented being shut out.

“It’s been slow,” agreed the governor. “They’re out there, though.”

Gov. Jay Nixon joins other anglers on the first day of trout season, 2011.

A fingernail moon gave way to a frosty morning and blues skies, making a picture perfect opening day Tuesday at Missouri’s three trout parks. However, recent storms made the waters at Bennett Spring challenging.

“We had a rise; it’s 6 to 8 inches above normal,” said hatchery manager Mike Mitchell. “It’s a bit milky and cloudy. We put in three fish per anticipated tag. We expected 2,000 so that’s 6,000 fish. With those numbers, we should have some success.”

Trout were caught, although hits were a tad slow in coming. Minutes after the siren was sounded, Matt Strong of Marshfield pulled in a lunker from just below the dam. “About five pounds,” he estimated.

Park officials had expected up to 6,000 tags to be sold at the three parks. By mid-day, Bennett Spring State Park had sold 1,517, Montauk State Park near Licking had sold 1,798 and Roaring River near Cassville had sold 1,599 tags.

Nixon was accompanied by his wife, Georganne, for the opener and both were pleased to learn that the total at Roaring River State Park included 261 children’s tags. The Nixons have been strong advocates of encouraging families to give their children a healthy dose of nature.

“You don’t see any reruns outdoors,” the governor said.

The sounding of the opening siren for trout season signals the start of spring for many of the state’s outdoor enthusiasts. At Bennett Spring, three members of the Brooks family from Marshfield were chosen for the honor.

Brothers John and Joe said their late father, Bill, had been bringing them to the trout opener for as long as they could remember. Their mother, Ruth, also took a turn pushing the red button inside the hatchery office that sounded the siren.

The Brooks brought a set of their father’s trout tags that spanned consecutively from 1947 to 1988. With those tags came a lot of stories.

John Brooks, who is 59 and hasn’t missed an opening day since age 16, pointed to his favorite fishing spot just above the elegant triple-arched bridge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps that is an icon of the park.

“In 1972, we put a fraternity brother of mine in at midnight to hold that spot,” Brooks said. “That was his first year. He was a whole lot smarter the next year.”

The three trout parks are the result of a special parternship between the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which operates state parks, and the Missouri Department of Conservation, which operates the hatcheries that stock the trout.

With the bright sunshine highlighting the mist that hung over the chilly spring water, Gov. Nixon noted that catching a fish is a treat, but just taking part in opening day is the reward.

“For me, today is really a day not to fish but to talk to the fishermen,” the governor said. “This is the beginning of the season, and it’s great to be out here.”