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Missouri Fly Fishing

Moving here from Western Colorado over 20 years ago, I figured there wasn't a trout within 500 miles of where I'd be living. To my great surprise, we have found the outdoor life, and particularly Missouri trout fishing to be quite outstanding. There are a number of options to consider and we strive to help you enjoy these opportunities as well.

Fly Fishing for Trout in Missouri

by David Mann


Chances are, if you spin-fish long enough for trout on Missouri streams, you will get the itch to fly fish. For one thing, a number of miles of trout water (primarily in the four trout parks) are restricted to flies only. Secondly, aquatic insects make up the majority of a trout's diet. Imitating their primary forage almost certainly means using the long-rod.


Fly fishing (especially for trout) can feel a bit intimidating, but it doesn't have to be that way. Missouri may not have the variety or number of trout streams that many other states have, but we have plenty of waters tailor-made for the beginning fly fisher. Trout parks, and even some wild trout streams will allow anglers to catch fish even while they are in the process of learning the craft.

First, you will need to learn the very basics. Obviously, the first step is buying a fly-rod and reel. For Missouri, you'll want either a 5 or 6 weight set-up. This will allow you to fish nymphs, dry flies, and small to medium streamers with ease. A larger rod may be needed for big streamers, and a smaller one for little creeks. But such specialization can (and should) be left alone until you are well along on your fly-fishing journey. Also, don't feel like you have to drop big bucks. While you probably shouldn't go with the $20 combo set-up from a department store, you can get what you need (including both rod and reel) for around $100. You won't get a premium outfit for this kind of money, but it will get you through the first few years.


Secondly, you will have to learn how to cast. This part of the process isn't nearly as difficult as it looks or sounds. That said, there are countless articles and videos that cam help you with this.  We'll move on to the aspects of fly fishing more specific to Missouri trout waters.


Once you've bought a fly rod and learned how to cast, it's time to purchase some equipment suitable for our trout waters. Missouri trout streams are, almost without exception, crystal clear. You'll want leaders that taper to 5x-7x in most situations. Also, you'll need several spools of tippet in each of those sizes, to fit specific situations. Since you probably will be starting off with subsurface flies, strike indicators are needed as well. You can buy all forms of these "bobbers", everything from cork to yarn. But I prefer the little stick-on indicators that are both sensitive to light strikes and are too light to hinder the casting motion. Don't start off nymph fishing without a strike-indicator, though. I made this mistake and it resulted in many fishless trips. 

Now, it's time to buy the flies. You'll want to get a nice assortment of little beadhead nymphs, to start off. Pheasant tails, Hare's Ear's, and Prince Nymphs are all standard fare. Hook sizes should range from #14-18 for most purposes. Next, you'll want to purchase some beadhead "egg patterns" (little yarn imitations of trout eggs that get stocked rainbows all fired up.) Also, make sure to buy some woolly buggers. This indispensable little streamer has probably accounted for more trout (and bass) than any other fly in existence. Buy a variety of sizes, and colors ranging from black to olive to white. Finally, you'll want to have a few dry flies on hand. Get a variety of Adams or Parachute Adams ranging from #12-20. These all-purpose dries imitate a wide variety of mayfly nymphs. You'll also want to get some Elk Hair Caddis patterns, as well as a few grasshopper or ant imitations for late summer fishing.


Now you have your flies, leader, tippet, rod, and reel. It's time to hit the river. But picking the right one will be important. Some Missouri streams are known as being notoriously technical, where it's hard even for the so called "experts" to consistently catch fish. Places like Crane Creek, Blue Spring Creek, and even the big waters of the North Fork of the White hold big trout, but carry with them an even heavier dose of frustration. Until you've learned the basics, stay far away from these areas.


The trout parks are your best friends, specifically the fly-only sections. These areas are full of gullible trout that will forgive an occasional clunky offering and bite anyway. Once you're on the water, look for faster water, preferably with rocks and other good habitat on the bottom. In these areas, trout have less time to inspect your fly, and tend to strike more easily. Since these fish are not frightened of humans (you'll have to come legitimately close to stepping on them for them to bolt most of the time) long casts are not necessary, and in fact, counterproductive. The less fly-line you have on the water, the more likely you are to have a drag-free drift.

Now for the particulars: first, you'll want to start off with an egg pattern most of the time, as those tend to work most consistently within the trout parks. If that doesn't work, you can try a woolly bugger or a smaller nymph later, but chances are, you'll never get to that point. Put your strike indicator on the tippet, about one and a half times as deep as the water you're fishing. This can vary based on current speed and bottom cover. Generally, you'll want your indicator a bit deeper (relative to the depth of the water) where current is faster, and vice versa in a dead-slow pool.


Flip out short casts as described above, and watch your strike indicator closely. If it stops, twitches, or goes under even momentarily, gently  lift your rod. No need for the kind of hookset you might execute with a spinning rod. That will result in you ripping the fly out of the trout's soft mouth more often than not.


Of course, often what caused your indicator to go under will just be a rock or a weed or a stick that your fly hooked. Soon, you'll get a better feel (and that's all it is, really) for when to set and when not to. But at first, this will simply be the cost of doing business. You are just going to lift up some casts unnecessarily until you learn to tell the difference, and it's best not to get frustrated by this.


Let's say you've fished in a trout park all day, caught a few fish, and have gotten tired of the crowds. You want to try the stretch of Blue, Red, or White Ribbon trout stream below the park. You've learned how to catch fish up in the park, so you think you're ready for the challege.


You are, but a change in mindset will probably be required. Remember when I said the trout in the parks are not afraid of humans? Start working your way downstream from the heavily stocked waters, and you'll be surprised just how fast that changes. Trout aren't exactly like bass, where just the sight of you from 30 feet away may well be enough to send them headed for shelter. But you can't afford to get right on top of them, either. Furthermore, you will have to start "reading the water" a little bit.

In the parks, the fish are everywhere, having been stocked that morning, after all. Even the siltiest, most exposed run can produce a limit of rainbows. If you've moved down, say, to the Blue Ribbon stretch of the Current, that's no longer the case. These fish actually have to survive and support themselves in the river, without the benefit of hatchery pellets or rock dams to slow the current. You'll be looking for defined features. The fast water is still often a good place to start, but you want to look for deep slots or slow cushions behind a boulder. Often, fast water will have a soft eddy along the bank, and those areas are often dynamite. Just look for any place where a trout can lie still and feed on drifting bugs. You will also find fish in the deep, glassy pools. But in those areas, the trout can see you from a mile away, and you'll probably have a hard time catching them. Stick to the faster current for awhile.


If you can stay out of the water and fish, that's preferable. Often, that isn't practical, due to a high, brushy bank. In that case, decide which side of the river (or the middle, in some cases) is most worthy of your time. Then, approach the pool on the opposite side to avoid spooking the fish. Avoid splashing too much and excessive false-casting. The idea to remember is that you are trying to sneak up on the fish, much like a hunter stalks his game. This doesn't mean getting on your hands and knees and going into full-ninja mode, but it does require some basic thought.


Also, you may want to change the fly on the end of your tippet. Generally, the approach will be the same. You'll want to start with a strike indicator and a sub-surface fly. In fact, the egg pattern may still be a strong starting point. But that may not work, and if it doesn't, you'll want to reach for something more natural. A Hare's Ear or Pheasant Tail Nymph is often a great bet. If nothing works and you are still stumped, tie on a woolly bugger and give it small strips while working it down, and across. This may or may not work, but if it does, it generally results in a nice fish and an exciting fight.

Speaking of the fight, it's important to keep your cool. That can be tough, because even a your cool. That can be tough, because even a stocked, 11 inch rainbow can feel like a live, electrically charged wire on the end of your tippet. But your job is pretty simple. First, keep the line tight at all costs. Let it go limp for a half second, and it's going to stay limp permanently, because the fish will be gone. On the other hand, let the fish do want it wants to do, at least at first. Assuming it's not headed straight for a major rootwad or a boulder, let it run up and down the pool at will (with a little bit of added tension) until it wears itself out for a bit. Assuming the depth and current allows, follow the fish as much as you can. Soon, the fish will stop jumping and making long runs, and will begin to thrash idly near the surface. This is your cue to get serious about landing him. Start taking in line quickly as possible without fear of breaking off. Sometimes, this will light a fire under the fish, and incite it to one last, desperate run, sometimes taking out  quite a bit of the line you've worked so hard bring in . By this point you'll be ready to use brute force to land the fish anyway, but resist the urge. Give him his final run, and with luck, that will play out, and you can bring the fish in for good.


Make sure to take a moment to admire your catch. It may be a silvery-pink rainbow or a wholesome gold, black-spotted brown trout, but that doesn't matter; whatever species, it's a beautiful specimen that you caught. After all, this is a moment you've worked hard for, and fishing being what it is, you never know when next one will come to hand. Then, just as quickly, release him back to his home. After a while, this will become your favorite moment in the entire process.

Specifics on Missouri Fly Fishing

Trout Fishing in the Ozarks...includes hatch table as well as much general information about trout fishing throughout the Ozark region - primarily Missouri, but also northern Arkansas.

Current River Trout Fishing...more specific information on trout fishing on the Current, including mile-by-mile descriptions of trout populations, methods, etc. Includes some description of fishing the trout park at Montauk State Park.


Meramec River Trout Fishing...the Meramec is not renowned for trout fishing, but certainly is worth a visit for the Missouri trout fihserman.  Especially, it is worth a visit if you are at Maramec Springs Trout Park and need a break from crowds.  Here you will find detailed information on fishing this beautiful river.


Eleven Point River Trout Fishing...This beautiful river, which has a nice run through one of Missouri's most secluded wilderness areas, is a must visit for Missouri trout and fly fishermen.  It is sectioned into different regulatory sections and different methods are effective on different stretches of the river.  Here you will find the information you need to get started on this western style beauty.


North Fork of the White River Trout Fishing: This article focuses on the section of river from Rainbow Springs down to Dawt Mill Dam, but you can definitely get sufficient information on fishing this outstanding river to get you started.  This river is one of the best trout fisheries in the Midwest!


Little Piney Creek Trout Fishing: This little stream has probably been passed over many hundreds of thousands of times by "trout fishermen" on their way down to Montauk State Park.  It is worth a stop sometime if you have a little extra time.  There are a couple of decent sections, but right off Hwy 63 a few miles south of Rolla are some of the prettiest wild rainbows you will see anywhere - albeit usually running on the small side.

Fly Fishing other Missouri Small Streams: Missouri has quite a few smaller streams worthy of a  visit by the avid Missouri fly fisherman.  You cannot always find a lot of information on them, but we have provided you the basics for finding them and what you will encounter once you are there.


Wild Trout Waters of Missouri: Some fisherman relish the idea of fishing for wild trout as opposed to those that have been stocked.  There are some limited options for these opportunities in Missouri.  Here is a comprehensive rundown on where to go.

Trout Species of the Ozarks: This little article might surprise you a bit!  We don't want to give it away, but take a look and find out what trout species are around you might not know about.

Missouri Trout Park Fishing: No discussion of trout fishing and/or fly fishing in Missouri would be complete without talking trout parks.  Montauk State Park, Maramec Springs, Roaring River, and Bennett Spring account for more hours logged fly fishing for trout in Missouri than all of the other waters combined.

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