Play it cool on Opening Day at Missouri Trout Parks

Each Opening Day of Missouri’s trout season is a learning experience. Not so much about trout, but about people. There are four “Trout Parks” in Missouri. Around 7,000 anglers fished at those parks on the opener in 2023. Today, it felt like more. As I stood in water up to my knees waiting on the 6:30 a.m. Opening Day whistle to blow, I observed the actions of the anglers around me. 

First of all, I’m a defender of the Trout Parks. These are special breeding grounds for new anglers. Watching kids running around with excitement in their eyes and extra pep in their step as they move along the river is fun and heartwarming. Old people, camped out in lawn chairs with thermos of coffee and hot chocolate, remind you the passion for fishing never dies. Opening Day is a special experience that brings families and friends together, and I love it. 

You must accept you are going to be fishing close to other people. And by close, I mean shoulder to shoulder in some cases. There are areas of each park where a lot of people congregate. At Montauk State Park, where I spent Opening Day, it’s at the bridge. This is where the starting pistol is shot, and a large crowd of onlookers gather. If you want to be in the action, this is the place to be. 

Even though you are entering a crowd, there should be some common decorum. Unfortunately, a few fail to adhere to basic principles of being kind and gracious to their fellow anglers. These folks are the ones who give Opening Day a bad name. It’s been said, “common sense isn’t that common.” Crowds prove the theroy. 

This morning, our party of four fisherman departed our cabin one hour before the whistle was set to blow. Last year, this was plenty early to secure the spots we wanted. This year it wasn’t. When my fishing partner and I reached our preferred destination, two guys were sitting on the bank in front of the hole. There was still a 45-minute wait for the whistle. Oh well, good for them. That’s how the game goes. They beat us to the spot, so we moved to the other side of the bridge. 

The early risers, those who show up well ahead of time to stake out their spot, are very likely to be the type of people who expect the best from their fellow man. They likely feel they’re getting up early to secure a spot, so others will respect the effort and the basic rule of first-come, first-served. These people are going to be disappointed on Opening Day. Because the world has too many people who cruise to the front in left lane when traffic has clearly merged down to one lane on the right. And some of those people fish.  They clearly have no concern for others with their every man for themselves mentality.

Those two guys who had been sitting on the bank for an hour watching their spot, well, they lost it when a fella walked directly in-between them and sloshed out to the middle of their hole, lit up a cigarette and paid no mind to the guys he’d just bogarted. If you want to protect a hole, you must be standing in it. 

I was fishing in front of a concrete slab. I had waders on, so I was in the water. Someone without waders on, walked up directly behind me, about 10-feet away, and stood there. I didn’t acknowledge him until he threw a cast right over the top of me. His line literally came down on my shoulder. At which point all I had to do was turn around and look at him to receive a simple, “sorry.” 

Even with the crowds, a rhythm of sorts can be found. At one point, there were six of us fishing into the middle of the pool under the bridge. Three on each end. We were all casting towards each other in a vertical direction. For the most part, it was working, with the occasional, expected a tangling of lines. 

Then some guy sees no one is standing directly under the bridge. He moves in and begins to cast horizontal across the pool with six lines already fishing it. While most people are lightly pitching their lure to the pool, he’s casting so hard his rod sounds like a whip going through the air. Was he simply oblivious to what he was doing? Was he so jacked up on trout fishing adrenaline that he was unaware of the fact he was ruining the harmony six other anglers had created? Or did he just not care? We’ll never know, because after the second time I hooked his line, I explained to him how the system was working. He gave me a blank stare and left. 

It makes you want to shake your head and wonder what the heck. But then you just have to take a breath and remember what you signed up for. It’s the smiles on the faces of kids and the old people telling stories of fishing 50 Opening Days.  It’s the nights in the cabin, camper, or tent. It’s the fish fries. But more than anything, it’s the anticipation of the whistle and the excitement of the first pull from a feisty trout fresh to the water. 

Concerts are crowded. Ballgames are crowded. Festivals are crowded. A lot of fun activities require us to deal with crowds. Opening Day at the Missouri Trout Parks is no different. Most people are great. Some are not. This is common across all large social gatherings. To those who make it difficult for others to enjoy, it’d sure be a lot cooler if you’d just take a second to consider those around you.  

See you down the trail….
Brandon Butler
bbutler@driftwoodoutdoors.com

For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast HERE or anywhere podcasts are streamed.

Pic: A crowd of anglers fishing on Opening Day at Montauk State Park. 

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