Fishermen have had a heyday at Montauk since the flood. This is the story . . .
Businesses and individuals have been busy cleaning up after more than a foot of rain dumped on the Ozarks a few weeks ago. Damage occurred to roads, bridges and structures. Parks and resorts along rivers suffered from the highest water levels ever recorded in some areas.
Almost 500 miles of the 600 miles of county roads in Dent county suffered some type of damage. Montauk State Park saw water two feet higher than during the flood of December, 2015, according to superintendent Doug Rusk. Campgrounds and roads suffered damage and lots of mud, sand and debris had to be removed.
The Missouri Department of Conservation fish hatchery suffered damage as well. Additionally, thousands of trout were washed from the hatchery and into the spring branch and Current River.
“Wildlife is resilient,” said Brandon Butler, the executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri. “Fish normally hunker down and survive these types of water events,” he said.
Trout anglers became anxious about the future of trout fishing for the upcoming season.
“Wow,” Damon Spurgeon, of Outside Again Adventures, said as he prepared to fly fish at Montauk last week. “This place was a real mess just a few days ago. Park and conservation department personnel have done an incredible job of cleaning up and fixing up in a very short period of time.”
Fishermen have had a heyday at Montauk since the flood. The spring branch, particularly below the hatchery holding pens, is holding thousands of rainbow trout that washed out of the hatchery during the flood.
Anglers simply looking for a meal have caught four fish limits in less than five minutes. Others hang around for the fun of catching dozens and dozens of fish.
I joined the fun for a few hours one day last week and caught trout on my fly rod until my arms ached. I easily landed 150 fish and lost many more.
“It’ a great time to bring kids to the park to learn to fish or to simply catch lots of fish,” Spurgeon said. He stood in one pool, surrounded by hundreds of fish, and caught dozens on a wooly bugger, while a group of nearby kids, accompanied by grandparents, reeled in fish after fish, amidst all of their giggles. “One boy bragged to everyone that walked by that he had caught 500 fish,” Spurgeon stated.
“Catching dozens of rainbow trout on a fly rod is as fun as it gets,” said Spurgeon. “However, there are many thousands of small fish in the stream and getting past them to get to larger fish proved to be a real challenge.”
Damon had been fishing at the confluence of two branches, which attracted fish by the thousands and numerous anglers as well. He decided to move upstream to scout for larger fish and a little solitude.
Less than 200 yards upstream Spurgeon found what he was looking for. He immediately began sighting larger rainbows and there was not another person in sight.
“This is almost unbelievable,” Damon said. “Where else can you fish in such beautiful surroundings and enjoy fly fishing for trout alone. This scenario reminds me of mountain trout streams out West.”
Damon stood for a long few minutes analyzing the stream and locating individual big fish holding behind boulders. “Taking the time to look a situation over good before beginning to blindly cast is wise,” he said. “Often one can sight fish, actually drifting a fly to an individual fish. That is the ultimate in fly fishing fun.”
Clear, cold water rushed by as Spurgeon tied on a #14 tan scud, an imitation of a freshwater shrimp, which are common in Ozark streams. “It’s always fun to flip a few rocks and check out the aquatic insect life in a stream,” he explained. “The stream doesn’t lie. It will tell you what the fish are eating. Find an appropriate imitation in a fly and you are in business.”
Damon identified a run, a channel a little deeper than the surrounding water, and made a short roll cast to place his scud at the head, or beginning of the run. Holding his rod high allowed little fly line to contact the water, reducing the drag on his line. The effect became a scud pattern drifting in a near perfect, natural fashion.
Turning slowly to follow the drift, Spurgeon appeared fluid and confident. He’d spent years doing just that, all the while perfecting a fly fishing technique that few have mastered.
His ruse worked. He lifted his rod and it arched heavily. He had perfectly cast his scud, followed it with a high stick and watched as the fly rolled with the current up and over the boulder and dropped into the pocket behind the rock where the trout was hiding. Damon watched as the colorful fish lunged for his fly offering. The hook set came naturally for him.
Spurgeon paused often to make a point. I was learning. He melded patience and near flawless presentations into an art form that painted the perfect picture of what fly fishermen dream that fishing should be...a collusion of mankind, water and trout reacting to a well presented fly.
Spurgeon eased downstream, constantly on the watch for new opportunities to fool another trout. He occasionally changed flies, while explaining to me what each one imitated and why a trout would eat it.
“Trout fishing should be good at Montauk for a while,” Spurgeon said. “In addition to the fish in the lower park, conservation personnel are already stocking the upper reaches of the stream, too.”
To get off on the right foot for a fly fishing trip to Montauk, Damon recommends stopping by J Cook Fly Rods in Salem. “Jerry Cook is a world class fly fisherman and rod builder,” he explained. “Too, he and his staff can tell you what fly patterns to use in any given circumstance.”
Too, Spurgeon recommends that you not drool on Cook’s fly rod creations. “Just drop a hint to your wife that you want one for Christmas, your birthday, anniversary or Ground Hogs Day. The purchase will help the economy and certainly improve your stature among fly fishermen.”