Some people may think this article is pretty prissy and the embodiment of a stuck up fly fisherman. And some of you, depending on your definition of "stuck up fly fisherman" would be right. But I had a great time fishing despite the fact that maybe it wasn't the best day on the water so I decided to write about it.
Missouri’s Ozark Mountains guard some of the most forgotten trout streams in America. Many fisherman drive by and over them every year on their way to more known rivers like the North Fork River, White River, Lake Taneycomo, and the Norfork. Though they won’t provide the monsters some seek, or the numbers that others crave there is always the chance of making a memory that will last a lifetime. I’ve had many days of incredible fishing in my life already, but some days fishing is less about the fish in your hand and more about how it got there.
I luckily stumbled into one such fish during this unusually warm winter. I started the day hunting smallmouth bass on one of my favorite Missouri rivers, the Little Piney. Unfortunately a couple hours into fishing it was clear that even with the odd sixty degree weather the fish knew that it wasn’t spring yet and refused everything I threw at them. With half a day left I was caught between trying to salvage a day of
fishing or heading back to the dorms to get an early start on some important homework. Naturally I chose to fish, I’ll never sacrifice my planned relaxation time for the literal embodiment of stress.
I knew there were a couple of blue ribbon trout streams near me and quickly decided to venture over to Spring Creek which I’d never fished before. It was risky, sometimes blue ribbon trout streams can be hidden sanctuaries teeming with pretty little rainbows, but other times it seems like it’s one finicky fish per mile. I wouldn’t say Spring Creek turned out to be either of those, close to somewhere in the middle.
That’s what is special about some of these little creeks though. They may not be headline fisheries but every fish is special and memorable. For example just a couple weeks before my day at Spring Creek I fished another little trickle called Blue Spring Creek. I’d fished all day without a bite and was in danger of being skunked when I approached the short bridge I was parked near. With nothing to lose I flipped a little Griffith’s Gnat up under the bridge, which cleared the water by only a couple feet, and immediately a rainbow rose up a plucked it from the surface. It was such a parody like moment because after fishing four miles of stream with no success I finally broke through within sight of my truck on a last stitch effort. That’s just how some of these backwoods fishing spots are, a parody to regular fishing.
I parked at the entrance of a questionable forest service road that was so rutted and washed out I didn’t think my truck’s four wheel drive could handle it. The stream was actually a little bigger than I’d expected and I felt confident I could catch some fish. The first run I came to was a beautiful dark blue hole that flowed underneath a massive log. It made for a couple awesome pictures but difficult fishing because I had to flip my flies up under the low hanging log each cast. This became a recurring theme all day, the brush and driftwood made fishing with a nine foot pole mind numbingly frustrating.
I spent an hour haphazardly slinging my flies around the creek, half the time fishing the other half getting untangled from brush. I abandoned the tight quarters fishing for an emerald green pool that snaked next to and under a short bluff. For once I had a little room to work with so I was confident in breaking the ice and finally catch a fish. I’d yet to even have a bite despite fishing two rivers through three-fourths of the day. I gazed into the crystal clear water and spotted two of the biggest blue ribbon rainbows I’d ever seen. I lengthened my nymph rig and checked my hooks before sneaking to the gravel bar parallel the current.
I could see both fish resting lazily in the bottom of the pool. I laid out my first cast and the instant the indicator plopped down on the water they scattered like field mice. I moved away from the water’s edge and sat on a large log for about fifteen
minutes to let them settle down. I removed my indicator before my second attempt but it was clear they were to spooked to even look at my flies. I’ve done enough wild trout fishing by now to know that when a fish gets spooked, then it’s usually spooked for good.
I continued on downstream looking for any fish that would buy what I was selling. Eventually I broke the seal and hit a decent stretch of river that produced some strikes but nothing special. With a lot to do back at campus I turned upstream and began to hike it back to the truck. I was content to just mark this stream off the list and never come back but when I saw the bluff pool I decided to try something a little bit different.
I rigged my rod with a Pat’s Rubber Legs, like them or hate them, they work. I unclipped my sling pack and dropped it on a nearby gravel bar before climbing my way up the eight foot bluff. I felt like I was in a magazine article as I picked my way through the brush atop the short cliff. When I reached the middle of the pool I peered over the edge and spotted both fish in the deepest section surrounded by a pod of minnows. They looked relaxed so I shot a cast upstream past the fish but my line hit the water a little too hard and once again the fish fled immediately.
I couldn’t believe it. Climbing that rock wall and fighting through some cedars and briars wasn’t easy. Then one cast and boom they’re gone. I decided that I wasn’t going down without a fight. So I worked my way to the front of the pool and sat down on a large boulder to give the fish time to settle down. I probably sat there for twenty minutes or more. But eventually I began to remember the unhealthy amount of homework I had and my looming Calc. two exam.
I once again slipped up to the edge and scanned the pool. The fish had settled into a little crevice just after the main current and I felt confident with the right drift I could ease my fly into them. From my perch I gently lowered the nymph into the water, allowing the current to take it downstream to the fish. The first couple passes were too far to the left but the third was on an intercept course for one of the two veteran fish. I never actually saw him take the fly but his mouth opened about the time I expected it to, so I set the hook.
To my surprise he was on and with some wild fight. He made a couple short runs before I got him under control. I’d put myself in a bit of a predicament however. I couldn’t help but chuckle because while I had been in the best position to hook the fish, I was in the absolute worst position to land him. I thought about just hoisting him up the cliff but quickly decided against it considering I had just broken a rod a couple weeks before and didn’t want that to happen again.
With no other choice, I began to tiptoe my way precariously along the edge of the cliff. I was trying my best to keep the fish hooked but I could only do so much. I came to a couple of trees blocking my path and had to pass the rod from one hand to the other as I gave the tree an awkward, off balanced hug. Thankfully I reached the edge of the bluff and slid down the rocks to the bank where I finally brought the solid bow to hand.
I couldn’t believe my luck as I lifted a new personal best blue ribbon rainbow from the freezing creek water. I’d say he measured out close to fourteen inches and I had to work for everyone of them. I slipped him back into the deep pool and watched
him glide under a rock and out of sight. The other fish was probably four pools upstream at that point considering I’d not only caught his buddy but stomped through his home to land him. My day couldn’t get any better so I decided to enjoy the moment and take my time strolling back to where I’d parked.
This is what makes these little creeks and forgotten waters so special. I didn’t have a great day of fishing that day. It was, quite frankly, pretty slow and below average but I will never forget it. Because even though I caught fewer than a dozen fish in six hours on two different rivers I was still walking back to my truck with a smile and a feeling that comes just a few times a year.