The Meramec is a fine trout stream by any standards. It provides an excellent option for trout fisherman in the Eastern part of Missouri. We'll talk here about the prime trout fishing water, which is primarily constituted of the river between Maramec Spring Park and Scotts Ford. There is a decent amount of fishing pressure, and many floaters, but it shouldn't be difficult to find a good place to fish. If you'd like to have a bit more solitude, consider a trip during the Winter season.
At the Highway 8 Bridge, the Red Ribbon Trout Management Area begins. The two mile stretch between Highway 8 and Meramec Spring holds mostly smallmouth, and the trout that are found generally inhabit spring holes. This changes dramatically at the junction with Maramec Spring Branch. The river becomes quite cold, and a bit faster. Trout flourish year-round for the next seven miles to the Scotts Ford Access, which is the last trout stocking point. This part of the river receives annual plantings of several thousand brown trout, and it also holds many rainbow trout that escape from Maramec Spring Branch. According to the last sampling, 290 trout per mile (MDC Shock Survey Data) can be found in the Red Ribbon Trout area, an almost even split of rainbows and browns.
There are several ways to successfully fish the Meramec. Perhaps the best is to float it. Most people begin at the Highway 8 Bridge, and float downstream to Scotts Ford. At normal water levels, this is an easy class I float, with a few mild class II runs. As with all Missouri streams, it can be dangerous at high flows, as downed trees become strainers that can cause trouble. You shouldn't float or fish the Meramec if it is higher than 1000 CFS at Steelville. At that level or above, the water will be very cloudy, the fish will go off their feed, and the river becomes treacherous to wade or float. The Meramec is easily influenced by rain. If the Meramec is blown out, smaller trout streams in the area will generally be fishable. The good news is that the Meramec is almost never too low to float, so you won't have to drag much. No matter what the water conditions are, your best bet will be to get out of the canoe and fish, as opposed to trying to control the boat and fishing at the same time. Most experienced anglers will attest they catch more fish this way.
Wade fishing is another popular way to fish the Red Ribbon Area. The first practical access is at Maramec Spring Park. There is a trail that leads down the left side of the river below the junction of the spring branch, which covers the entire mile of river between the park and the mouth of Dry Fork Creek. This stretch of water is fished less heavily than you might think, and fish are abundant. The river here is a series of deep, oxygenated pools, and fast riffles. There are many fallen trees in the area that provide good cover. When trout fishing is difficult in other parts of the river, you can almost always pick up a few here. Most trout are rainbows in this area, although browns are common. Two other popular wade fishing access points are Cardiac and Suicide Hill, which are respectively 2 ½, and 3 miles below Maramec Spring. At either access point, a tough hike will be required to reach the river. The fishing is usually worth it, however. This is classic brown trout water, with some excellent holding water both up and downstream of these access points. The hike is really too rough at these access points to put in, or take out a canoe. The final access to the Red Ribbon Area is at Scotts Ford on Thurman Lake Road. The water is deeper, slower, and warmer here, and both the fishing and the wading are relatively tough. With that said, there are trout to be found, and some huge browns at that. Some folks say that while trout aren't terribly numerous here, this is the best place to catch one that's 20" or larger. Smallmouth and largemouth bass are also abundant in the area. Wading upstream will be most productive for trout, while wading downstream might produce better for bronzebacks. This is one of the most popular put-in and take-out points on the river, so you';ll have some company during float season. It should be noted that the entire Meramec River generally fills with floaters from Memorial through Labor Day. Locals generally refer to this as the "Aluminum Hatch". Because of this, and hot weather, the best summertime fishing tends to be between 5 P.M, and 9 A.M.
Lures and flies also tend to be relatively uniform throughout the area. Small spinners, crankbaits, and jigs are the top producers. 1/32 ounce Rooster Tail and Panther Martin Spinners work well. For hard baits, Rebel Wee Crawfish, Floating Rapalas, and Baby Bombers tend to work well. 1/16 and 1/32 Marabou jigs in White, Olive, and Black tend to work well. Popular flies include size 10 Woolly buggers, size 18 Pheasant Tail Nymphs, Glo-bugs, San Juan Worms, and Scud. Your leader should be 9' to 12' long, and it should be between 5x and 7x. Regulations permit artificial lures and flies only in the Red Ribbon area. There is a 15” minimum length limit, and a daily limit of two trout. A little under half of the trout will be legal sized.
Trout fishing is truly excellent on the Meramec River if you know a few basics. Whether you prefer to float or wade fish, there are plenty of excellent options for you along the Meramec River. Besides trout, you might also hook into a big smallmouth or goggle-eye as well. So load the canoe, or grab the waders, and head on down.