Missouri Blue Ribbon Trout Slam by John Bush
A couple of months back, Mike Kidd from the MTFA Branson chapter sent out a message about the Missouri Blue Ribbon Trout Slam.
I’m always interested in finding new places to fish, and especially those that are a little less crowded so this sounded like something that would be enjoyable to do.
A blue ribbon trout area is defined as an area with habitat that supports naturally reproducing trout.
According to the MDC website, there are 9 blue ribbon Trout areas in the state of Missouri. I say “according” because one of them listed is the Current River, and many would argue that these fish are hatchery fish from Montauk State Park.
Below is the info from the MDC.
HERE’S HOW THE TROUT SLAM WORKS:
Missouri’s Blue Ribbon Trout Slam has been divided into three levels of accomplishment.
- Catch a trout from 5of the 9 Blue Ribbon Trout Areas.
- Award – certificate and bronze pin.
- Catch a trout from 7of the 9 Blue Ribbon Trout Areas.
- Award – certificate and silver pin.
- Catch a trout from all 9Blue Ribbon Trout Areas.
- Award – certificate, gold pin, and medallion.
Trout of any size caught after January 1, 2020 will qualify for a Blue Ribbon Trout Slam, but trout under 18 inches must be released.
First, let me say that if you don’t like a challenge and you’re bothered by walking, then this may not be for you.
On the other hand, if seeing some of the most gorgeous little gems in the state, with trout that are relatively small, but probably 3 times more difficult than most hatchery fish then this is something that will test your mettle as an angler and you’ll most likely enjoy.
I started working on the trout slam on October 3rd, kind of as a last minute decision. I had gone to the fly tying rendezvous in Branson Friday and Saturday, and decided Saturday to tie flies in the morning and go fish Crane Creek with Mike Kidd in the afternoon. Crane Creek is one that I’ve fished several times before, so I was confident that I’d at least get a few there. Mike and I drove to the conservation entrance south of Crane and proceeded to get our gear on and walk probably a couple of hundred yards to the creek.
Crane creek is small in most places, and without a lot of room for a backcast in many of them. Like most trout streams, the water is crystal clear. My rod of choice for these tight situations has been my 7 ½ foot 3 weight as you don’t typically need a long cast and the shorter rod helps in keeping out of the trees to some extent.
We started fishing downstream and found several nice pools along with noticing some trout that were very deep and obviously spooked in some of the deeper, slower pools. I’ve found that in most of these smaller streams, the trout are not generally super picky about pattern and for me at least; standard nymph patterns work pretty well. I used a guide’s choice Hare’s ear, with a Pheasant Tail Dropper and Mike was using a fox squirrel nymph.
We worked downstream, and the first section was fairly slow with Mike picking up a few fish here and there, but nothing consistent. Eventually, further downstream we found a couple of nice riffles and Mike picked up 10 overall. I ended up with 13, but mainly because we found a trough feeding in under a tree that they seemed to be stacked up in and I was getting hits almost every cast, and lots of hookups. The majority were from this one hole. Most of the fish were roughly 6 inches, which is pretty normal for Crane Creek.
After this, I had to take a couple of weeks break due to family obligations and on-call from work.
On October 24th, I headed over to Little Piney Creek south of Rolla. The temperatures were a little cool that morning and I arrived around 8:30 AM. Again, I got out my 3 weight and started with my standard nymph rig of the guide’s choice hare’s ear and pheasant tail nymph.
Little Piney, despite its name is actually a fairly decent sized stream and one of the few I’ve hit so far with plenty of room for a back cast in most places.
When I walked to the stream, I emerged on a fairly flat, slow pool with a couple of logs on the far side and a small bluff behind it. I was surprised to see several fish hitting the surface fairly regularly and a nice hatch of tiny cream colored mayflies going on. I found several that had drifted to the shore and were either stuck it the water crippled or perched on small sticks waiting for their wings to dry and the temperature to warm up. I estimated that they were a size 22 or 24. Being a little lazy, I decided to go ahead and drift my nymphs through despite the hatch, but after a few minutes of them being completely ignored, I sat down on a log and took the nymphs off to replace with the smallest Adam’s dry I had in my box. It wasn’t the right color, but was the closest I had in size that I could find.
Unfortunately, in the time it took me to re-rig, the hatch ended and the fish had pretty much stopped hitting the surface. I made several casts hoping there would still be one or 2 fish looking up without success.
I sat back down and put my nymph rig back on and tried again since the hatch had stopped. Still no success, so I walked back to my car and got my 7 weight rod out and tied on one of Mike Kidd’s wispy’s. I normally don’t use my 7 weight on small streams, but this one was wide enough with plenty of room for a back cast and my 7 weight is the only one I have sinking lines for.
I went back to the same area and started stripping the wispy, and in a few minutes hooked and landed my first fish for the day. Having now landed the fish needed for the trout slam, I fished the wispy probably another 30 minutes but with no more success.
I had noticed further upstream what appeared to be several nice riffles and holes, so I went back to the car again and swapped back out for my 3 weight nymph rig. Next, I came back and started walking upstream from where I had originally entered. For the next couple of hours, I managed to catch about 8 fish drifting the guide’s choice hare’s ear and pheasant tail through the riffles. I probably would have caught more, but I had planned the day to try and check 2 streams off my list if possible so around 2:30 PM, I went back to the car and headed to the Bohigian Conservation area of Mill Creek.
Mill Creek is only about 40 minutes from Little Piney, and I probably would have got there a little fast if I’d been there before but as my luck was, the directions on Google maps indicated a road that I never found and so I ended up taking at least one wrong turn and getting a little turned around.
Nevertheless, I finally found the parking area (or at least one parking area) and proceeded to make my way to the stream. There was a small path that had been brush hogged for some ways. I followed it quite a distance, but eventually it started to turn into heavy briars and brush, and I realized that if I kept going there was a high likelihood I was going to have problems finding my way back to my car.
So I abandoned that plan, and went back to my car to find another place to gain access.
After a few minutes, I found a small forest road with a bridge and a small place to park on just the other side. I pulled in and stepped out of the car to observe for a few minutes. From the bridge, I could see several fish swimming and it was essentially divided into 3 small sections with concrete dividers. This was an ideal situation for me, as the water was running across the first 2 and most of it getting diverted into the 2nd and 3rd sections.
I went back and got my rod, and walked down to the creek staying far enough back for the first divider wall to mostly conceal me. I made a cast to just the edge of the first wall, and within my first or 2nd drift hooked the first fish from mill creek.
A couple more casts to this section, and no hits so I figured the first one probably spooked any others so I moved up slightly and made another cast over the 2nd wall into the 3rd section, and again my indicator went under in short order. I set the hook and had my 2nd fish of the day and both of them in probably less than 10 minutes to boot.
From there, I started walking upstream staying out of the water as much as I could and looking for deeper holes or riffles where the water dumped over a shelf. I found 3 or 4 such spots and hooked 2 more fish before it started to get dark and from looking at my maps earlier, I had realized there was another parking that I had missed and I wanted to at least find it to check out for a later time.
Once I located it, I found a similar situation to the first one in that there was a small trail brush hogged that you could walk fairly easily. So I grabbed my rod not knowing what to expect as darkness was approaching quickly. I followed the trail, and this time to my delight it took me all the way to the creek with only a small set of rocks to step down just off a little island.
I looked upstream and down, and saw one small riffle that could have potentially held a fish, but by then it was getting dark enough that seeing my indicator wasn’t going to be easy much longer. I made a few casts and went back to the car and marked the location on my GPS for future use. I then took my waders off and headed home.
On October 30th, I loaded my car up and headed to Mike Kidd’s farm to try and get to at least bronze that weekend. Several of the streams in the trout slam are within an hour or 2 of there, so having a friend I could spend a day or 2 helped greatly. Ron Ward also went, and we got up Saturday morning and fished the Current River just below Montauk Park. The water was up higher than normal, and from talking with Mike this section normally does fairly well on streamers.
So I decided to start with my 7 weight with a full sinking line and a black woolly bugger. We walked from the parking area in Montauk to the end of the park where the blue ribbon section starts. Ron had already caught his fish for the slam here, so was gracious enough to let me start.
I hit a hole where they said Ron had hooked a larger fish a few days earlier, but didn’t have any success there. So I started working downstream, and hadn’t gone far before a nice rainbow smacked the woolly bugger and I had hooked up. I started calling for Ron to grab a picture thinking it was a done deal, and got the fish within a few feet of my net before he threw the hook. A little disappointed, but optimistic I was thinking that it shouldn’t be hard with no more time than it took to hook up with that one to catch another. Boy was I proved wrong. The rest of the morning I only had a few bumps on the woolly bugger, but not a single hookup. And to make it worse, my waders were leaking badly and I could feel water sloshing every time I took a step. Further down the river, there were some fish hitting the surface and a small caddis hatch going on. Ron managed to take several on the caddis, but since I had my sinking line on this wasn’t an option for me.
Ron mentioned he had a few on an egg pattern and a San Juan worm earlier as well, but both Ron and Mike said it was a lot slower than normal.
Somewhat dejected, but also knowing that Ron wasn’t going to get any benefit here and that he needed another creek on my list, we went back to the car and headed to Barren Fork Creek.
Ron had been doing some reconnaissance on some of Facebook pages, and trout slam boards and had an area mapped out that was supposed to be some of the better fishing in this stream. Sections of it are private, so we had to keep that in mind when fishing it. We drove to the lower end where it meets Sinking Creek and started working our way upstream.
This one is by far the most difficult stream I’ve fished so far of the ones I’ve hit. Ron and I walked upstream taking turns and found several nice pools, but never spotted a single fish. Normally, even if we don’t catch one I’ve at least been able to spot them when they dart from being spooked. That wasn’t the case here. Neither of us caught a fish that day.
Dejected and somewhat questioning my ability as a trout fisherman, we headed back to Mike’s farm with me being skunked for the day.
We spent the night again and got up the next morning and drove to Blue Springs Creek south of Bourbon, Missouri. I had fished this one once before and had found some holes that I knew had fish in them, but hadn’t been able to close the deal. I at least had confidence this time and a better game plan having fished it once and looking closer at my map.
First, we stopped at a small bridge with 3 culverts where Mike Kidd had landed his fish out of this stream. We fished probably 20 or 30 minutes, and Ron managed to land one on a fox squirrel. I had a couple of takes, but didn’t get a fish there.
So next we drove a little further downstream and I hit a small hole that was in easy walking distance that I knew for sure held a fish. I had seen him hit the surface on my prior trip, and got him to take my fly but I also knew that I was going to get one, or possibly 2 shots at the most and only because the water was up from the previous weeks rain.
Once again, I made my cast with the guide’s choice hare’s ear and pheasant tail, and the fish took but I wasn’t able to get the hook set. I made a 2nd cast and got the same result, but after that it started ignoring my fly.
We got back in the car and drove to the final area that I had been looking at on my maps and pulled into a Conservation Parking Area. Since Ron had his fish, he decided to go about 200 yards upstream from me and I started fishing downstream planning to work my way to some bends I had seen on the map. I found several nice holes that looked like they should have held fish but with minimal bites before I finally came to a riffle and landed a 4 or 5 inch rainbow to mark this one off the list.
Given that this was another more difficult stream and the farthest for me as far as driving, I still wanted to try and reach bronze and I was one short. So I started back to the car and hadn’t got far before Ron met back up.
We then drove back to the Current River so I could try it again. Fortunately, I had brought 2 pairs of waders and the 2nd pair wasn’t leaking like the first. I decided to try the woolly bugger again, but with a sink tip line and a slower sink rate versus the full sinking line like the previous day.
Once again, for whatever reason the streamers did not seem to work that day. I fished to the same place we had ended the day before with hardly a bite so I went back to the car and decided to try what Ron had some luck on the prior day, a weighted egg with a Cerise San Juan worm.
I hit the same first hole with no success, and was having a little trouble seeing my indicator with glare on the water.
Regardless, I hadn’t gone too far before I drifted the egg and worm into a section where I had spotted some fish from the higher bank before one smacked the San Juan worm and I set the hook and managed to cross stream #5 off my list to put me at bronze.
Having caught the one needed fish, I knew I still had a 2 hour drive ahead of me from Mike’s to get home. Given that the Current had been difficult, I decided to take it and be happy since I had achieved bronze which was my goal for the weekend. We drove back to Mike’s and I loaded my stuff up to go home. On the way, I drove to Spring Creek to mark the road I wanted to fish next Saturday on my GPS then headed home.
On Saturday, November 7th, I drove to Spring Creek to try for stream #6. Spring Creek is just outside Ft. Leonard Wood, and there are sections that are private depending on how far you go up. Using the GPS location I had mapped the week prior, I pulled into an old forest service road and walked down a little ways to make sure I thought my car could make it. It was a little rough, but looked doable so I drove back in and was able to park maybe 50 yards from the stream.
The water was shallow and pretty flat where I walked up, but I could see a nice looking riffle to my left downstream. I had talked to Ron Ward the week prior and knew he had caught his going upstream. Both directions looked nice, and I decided that I would start going upstream but definitely head back in time to try the other direction as well.
Spring Creek is a nice little stream that’s got a decent mixture of places where it’s easy to get a good cast, but several tight spots as well.
Again, I found several smaller riffles and bypassed most of the slower, smooth water where there wasn’t much structure. It wasn’t long again before I had hooked my first fish of the day, probably 4-5 inches from one of these smaller riffles.
As I made my way upstream, I spotted several nice fish holding over some leaves at the bottom of a bluff just below the road. They were spooked and not feeding, but one of them holding on the bottom appeared to be about 14 inches from what I could tell.
I made a few casts, but didn’t manage to do anything more than loose a couple of flies to trees and spook them so I went up just a little further to the next riffle I had spotted not far from them. I had decided this was as far as I would go before heading back downstream to try the other direction and actually ran into another fisherman coming up from behind me. He went around and I fished the nice riffle I saw managing to pull out 3 or 4 more fish before heading back downstream.
I had hoped that by resting the larger fish some, I would be able to have a shot at them but I made a few casts and they didn’t seem interested so I went back to my starting point and worked down.
I fished several more small riffles and pools, and managed to bring my total up to 12 before deciding I wanted to head back to the car and check out the other parking area I had found at Mill Creek a couple of weeks prior.
I drove there and saw one truck in the parking lot, but walked to the stream anyway.
As luck would have it, I ran into the other fisherman almost immediately after entering the water. He was working upstream, which was what I’d hoped to do but since he had been there first we chatted for a few minutes and he said he wasn’t going much further up before leaving.
Regardless, I decided to go ahead and fish downstream knowing that he’d already fished it but preferring that over interfering with someone else.
I found several nice pools and managed to land another 4 or 5 fish before it was starting to get dark and heading back to the car.
All total, I’ve completed 6 of the 9 trout streams now so I only need one more for Silver. I’m hoping to work on that soon, but will probably be a couple of weeks due to family visits and holidays.
On Saturday, December 12th, after a few weeks break due to Thanksgiving, work, and stuff with my church I picked back up on the trout slam.
I loaded most of my gear up in my car Friday evening and then set an alarm for 5:30 in the morning. I believe that when the colder months get here, it’s often beneficial to not get to the stream right at daylight as it gives the water a chance to warm up a little and thus get the fish a little more active.
I woke up the next morning, ate a small breakfast and packed my ice chest with drinks then loaded the car and drove the 2 hours and 20 minutes to the Eleven Point River. The destination for the day was Greer’s crossing, with a possibility of the Turner Mill access as a backup.
It was a cool 39 degrees when I got there around 9:30 AM, and I pulled in to find a few picnic tables, a boat ramp, and a bathroom as well as a few campsites on a small side road. I changed into a sweatshirt, fishing shirt and jacket and decided to survey the area before actually getting my gear out.
The boat ramp was situated in a small side cove with no current, and at first glance I could tell the water was fairly deep, and not likely to hold trout there. But on the walk I noticed a trail going to the North of the ramp as well as another trail that appeared to head west back towards the bridge on highway 19.
I decided to venture down the trail to the North first and walked probably a couple of hundred yards before finding a spot that looked like it would be safe to get in and shallow enough to wade. Once I passed the end of the cove with the boat ramp, the water and current became quite swift and deep in most places. I marked this mentally as an option to try but wanted to check out the water by the bridge first.
I backtracked and followed the 2nd trail back up to the bridge. The water to the south of me again looked deep, but there were some spots about waist deep that were slow enough that you could get to a gravel bar in the middle.
I also noticed that the water under the bridge, while still fairly swift was slow enough to wade. I climbed up to the side of the road so I could look down into the water from the bridge and hopefully spot some fish from a higher vantage point. While I was surveying it from the bridge, a couple of other anglers came down from the North side and I saw them start fishing a hole that I thought looked like it should hold a few fish.
Sure enough, after just a couple of minutes one of them rolled a fish and I saw the flash and could hear him telling his partner that he had just missed a nice one. Now knowing for sure that there were at least some fish in this hole I finished checking out the other side and went back to my car to get my gear on.
Once back to my car, I decided to start with a weighted egg pattern with a Cerise San Juan worm trailer as the water was a little high and had a slight green tint with lower visibility. I rigged up my 5 weight Hardy Shadow and walked the trail back to the bridge.
Once there, I decided to try fishing a drop off before crossing over to the hole on the North side of the bridge. I made a few casts, but didn’t get any strikes so I got my wading staff out to assist with crossing. Again, the water was a little swift but only about waist deep at the most and manageable. The anglers I had seen earlier were nowhere in sight now so I had the hole pretty much to myself.
I made 3 or 4 casts, and noticed that my indicator didn’t seem to be large enough to keep my flies afloat without pulling under due to the weight, so I decided to cut them off and put on a larger indicator. Once this was done, I made a couple more casts and saw the indicator dip indicating a fish had taken my fly. It wasn’t on for more than a couple of seconds before it threw the hook, but at least I had a hookup in just the first few minutes.
I made a few more casts, a little further out into the seam and the indicator dipped again and I set the hook. This time, I felt the fish and he immediately took off. This was one of those fish that when you’ve fought a few you can tell is larger than average. He started taking line and going across the river while I was frantically trying to keep him tight and get him on the reel at the same time. I never did get a good look at him before he finally managed to throw the hook.
Reeling in, I wondered what went wrong so I checked my hooks and found that the hook on the egg pattern had become dull. A little frustrated that I didn’t check this before fishing, I pulled out my hook hone and sharpened it back up. It may not be the reason the fish got away, but it is the excuse I’m going to use.
I made several more casts after that but didn’t get any more strikes, so I figured that the large fish had probably spooked the others in the pool and I should rest it for probably at least 30 minutes before trying again.
I next tried a couple of spots a little further upstream with no success before crossing back over and wading out to the little gravel bar I had spotted when I scouted it out.
I made several casts before hearing a large splash on the other side of the river. Instinctively thinking this was probably a large fish, I looked over to instead spot a fairly large otter swimming in the current on the far side. I continued making casts off a shelf in front of me trying to work the water over. After a bit, another angler walked in and asked how I had done. I told him I had hooked a couple, and he walked out across and caught 2 or 3 out of the same pool I had hooked the large one in earlier.
Eventually, after he went back further upstream I finished working the shelf and decided to give the hole another try as it had been several minutes.
I crossed back over, and tried my egg and worm again with no success. I decided to switch flies to the Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ear and Pheasant tail dropper that I had used successfully elsewhere. While I was re-rigging, the angler I had talked to earlier came up and started talking and in sheer coincidence, it turned out to be Darrel Nelson from Tulsa, Oklahoma whom I had met a couple of months back at the Branson Fly Tying Rendezvous. (For those who don’t know, Darrel also won the best dry fly category for this year’s contest). We exchanged phone numbers, and he mentioned he had caught 3 or 4 out of that run. He was working on the trout slam as well and planning to head to Barren Fork creek after that. I gave him some possible places to try that I had marked to try on my next trip there and we parted ways (I heard from him later that he caught a fish there in one of the spots I told him about).
I had finished tying my flies on while talking, and made maybe 4 casts before my indicator went under again and I set the hook. This time, the fish was hooked well and after a couple of minutes fight I landed a nice 13 inch rainbow. I took the hook out and kept him in the water in my net while I fumbled to dig my phone out of my waders for a quick picture. I noticed that this fish had a pinkish orange tint on all of its fins that I hadn’t seen elsewhere and admired it for a minute before releasing it for someone else to catch.
By this time, it was around 1:30 PM and I debated on fishing longer or investigating some of the other spots. I decided to fish it a little longer and made a couple of casts before getting caught in a tree. I broke my flies off, but managed to get at least my indicator back using a small tool that my wife had got me for Christmas a few years back. The flies were already badly beat up from being used the last few trips so it didn’t bother me to tie on new ones.
I again made several more casts without any strikes, so I decided to go back to the car and at least look at one of the other areas. I walked the short maybe 5 minute walk and put my gear up, but left my waders and boots on. I then drove up to the next spot I was going to try and turned onto a dirt road. I started down the road, and had to move slowly as it was one of the roughest I’d driven in a while. I went maybe 2.5 miles before deciding that this was rougher than I cared to finish driving so I turned around and pulled out a map to find the coordinates of one of about a dozen potential spots I had marked for the North Fork of the White River.
Content with the fact that this fish had completed the Silver level of the trout slam, I entered the coordinates, and started driving. My GPS took me on a road that led to a private gate with a pass code, but luck smiled on me this day as there was a local lady coming out the gate and I managed to stop and talk to her for a few minutes. After hearing what I was doing, she gave me a shortcut as well as a location that she said was actually a better spot than where I had been heading and was also on public land. She warned me that the water was fairly swift again, but still wadeable so I drove to check it out. I don’t really have a name for it, so I’m calling it location X for now.
I followed the directions she had given me to the end of a small dirt road and arrived around 3:30. The water was way too fast and deep to fish in several places, but after a short walk I again found a place to get in. I had less than an hour daylight at this point, so I started looking for likely holding lies.
After a short walk upstream, I found some water that was about thigh deep and could see a patch of boulders on the far side of the river. The rest of it seemed too fast to hold fish, so I got my wading staff out again and proceeded to cross.
If I’d had more time, I think I would have caught my fish there that day as I did spot a couple of fish, but didn’t succeed in getting a take. It was now sunset and I didn’t want to try to wade back across unfamiliar waters in the dark so I went back to my car and marked this spot for my next trip there.
On Saturday, December 19th I once again woke up early, loaded the remaining items in my car and after a short breakfast, headed to try for one of the 2 remaining streams on my list to complete the trout slam. Since most of these streams are a 2 hour or longer drive, I had made it a practice to load most of my gear up the night prior with the exception of my ice chest and occasionally my boots as I usually keep them on a dryer.
I had mulled back and forth during the week on whether to try Barren Fork Creek or the North Fork of the White River first, and had heard from Mike Kidd and Ron Ward that both were tough. I had experienced it first hand at the Barren Fork during my previous trip there. I finally decided on Barren Fork Creek as I had 2 potential spots thanks to Ron and Darrel Nelson who caught one in a spot that I had suspected should have trout prior.
Throughout the trout slam, Google Maps and my GPS have normally been very helpful. With Google Maps, you can get the coordinates for any location you like and use a GPS to get there. So using this technique, I planned to drive to a small, but fairly deep hole at the edge of a bridge that I had wished for a few weeks that I had tried on my previous trip. This was the same hole I mentioned previously that I gave to Darrel Nelson.
According to my map, this was about a 2 ½ hour drive from my house. I got in my car and left with an ETA of 9:00 AM. Unfortunately, this would be the first and only time of the trips I made where a specific GPS setting let me down. After driving 2 hours and 15 minutes, I was within 15 minutes of my destination only to end up on a road that stopped at a ferry crossing. Prior to this, I wasn’t even aware that there were any ferries in Missouri. So sitting at Akers Ferry on the Current River, I didn’t see any instructions on how to cross and pulled out my tablet with Google maps to find an alternate route.
After several minutes of studying my maps and trying a couple of roads that turned out to be dead ends, I finally decided my best option was to head back south several miles to Summersville and follow Highway 106 to Highway D to get across the river and head to my destination. I’m sure there was probably a better route somewhere, but being unfamiliar with the area I didn’t want to lose more time trying to find it.
Finally, at 10:30 AM I arrived at the bridge an hour and a half later than I originally planned. The temperature was about 45 degrees, and I got out of my car and surveyed the pool with my polarized glasses. I spotted a couple of decent sized smudges under the water that were moving and obviously fish so I went back and got my waders on and pulled out my 3 weight.
The location itself literally only had this one pool that was on public land, and you couldn’t wade either direction without entering private land after just a short distance. Darrel Nelson had also ran into the land owner downstream and mentioned that he was fairly grouchy and watching closely so I made sure to be extra careful not to go any further than was necessary.
I had to climb down a few small rocks to get to the stream, but once there I had my guide’s choice hare’s ear and pheasant tail dropper on and after a few casts into the seam where I had spotted the smudges earlier, the indicator went under and the fight was on. The fish took off across stream, and I started applying side pressure to keep him out of some sticks, then came back and was putting my 3 weight to the test. Fortunately, my 3 weight is a softer action rod and does a great job at protecting tippet. After what felt like an eternity, but was probably only a couple of minutes I had a rainbow in the net that appeared to be close to the 18 inch size limit and would end up being the largest fish of all the streams for this adventure.
I released the fish and it immediately swam right back to the pool where I had caught him. I made a few more casts without any action so decided to try the very short stretch on the upstream side of the bridge before it hit private land.
This only took a few minutes, and I had no success so I went back to my car to decide if I wanted to try for another fish here or drive to the North Fork of the White. I checked my GPS and it showed that the North Fork would give me an ETA of around 4:00 PM which wasn’t really enough time to fish, so despite the difficulty I opted to try for a 2nd fish here.
Ron Ward had given me another location to try, but warned that it was about a half mile hike down a steep hill through the woods. I had trouble finding it at first, so I drove to Twin Springs instead. I had heard from several anglers that the water here was shallow and they hadn’t had any success, but thought I’d try it anyway. In several cases the scenery in these locations has been as enjoyable as the fish.
We’d had some rain the last few days, so I was able to find a few pools that were deep enough to try, but didn’t have any success on finding the fish.
I turned around and coming from the opposite direction, I was able to find the location Ron Ward had given me.
I parked my car off the road and hiked down the hill using a small ravine that led down to the creek as my guide. I slipped on some rocks a few times on the way down, but the ground was soft enough that it didn’t cause any issues and eventually came to the creek.
Once again, this was a relatively short section of stream before it came to private land, but at least had a little more to explore than the prior areas. I fished several pools upstream and did manage to roll a couple of fish, but didn’t close the deal. Eventually, it started to get close to sunset and once again this was an area I was unfamiliar with, so I headed back to the car to make sure I had enough daylight to see how to get back through the woods. Going back up the steep hill reminded me several times that I need to be walking and exercising a lot more as I kept having to stop and catch my breath.
I got back to my car at about 4:00 and loaded up to head home.
On Monday, December 21st I once again left the house early and drove to the North Fork of the White River. This was the last stream I needed to complete the trout slam and I had tried a stretch down by Patrick Bridge after church the day before without a bite or even seeing a fish.
The North Fork of the White has been described as a big Western-style freestone river like you’d expect to find in the Rockies or the mountains of Northern California. It’s large enough to use a standard 9 ft 5 weight, and in some places too swift and deep to wade without hugging the banks.
It’s also one of those rivers where it pays to do some homework prior to fishing it. For example, in researching this stream I found an article that mentioned it has very few mayflies, but stoneflies tend to be important. It also has a good population of scuds and sowbugs. Additionally, several stretches of the river run through private land so you need to make sure you find a public spot to enter the river. Small things like this can be helpful when fishing unknown water, especially one this large.
I arrived at my destination, the spot I referred to as location X in one of my prior outings shortly after 9:00 AM. (After researching more, I found out that location X is referred to as Kelly Hollow).
I got my waders on and rigged up my 5 weight Hardy Shadow with a Guide’s Choice hare’s ear for weight, and a gray scud dropper. I then got in the stream and waded up and across a short distance to a spot where I had seen fish before. This time, I wasn’t able to spot them but made several drifts fishing the small patch of boulders with no success.
Not wanting to spend too much time here, I crossed back to the shallow side I entered on and started wading upstream to Rainbow Springs. I had done my homework here, and found that while the section where Rainbow Springs entered was private, that you could wade up to it from downstream and still be on public land.
The hike upstream was about a ½ a mile and I noticed some small islands with some riffles on the way that I planned to try on the way back down. I had talked to Mike Kidd and confirmed this was one of the recommended spots from him as well as some other anglers he had came across on the river.
As I got further upstream, the water toward the middle of the river started getting too deep to wade and I had to hug the bank and wade through vegetation for a decent stretch.
Eventually, after probably 30 to 45 minutes I found the mouth of the lower spring branch where it entered the river. There was a small sand bar on the side of it, and I could see the flashes of a few fish but they were too deep to get a good look. I adjusted my indicator and started casting to the edge of the closest seam to me. After a few more adjustments to make sure I was getting deep enough, the indicator bobbed, I set the hook, and pulled in the first fish of the day. Unfortunately, that first fish and several others following turned out to be a sucker fish instead of a trout.
For the next several hours, I tried midges, scuds, prince nymphs, the only stoneflies I owned, added split shot to make sure the flies were getting down, and pulled out almost every trick I could think of trying to land a trout. The end result was several more suckers, and few shad, and eventually a smallmouth bass. At one point, I noticed a caddis fly land on my hand while I was re-rigging but realized that my box with the few caddis larva I had was still in the car. I had intended to bring it, but forgot.
I fished this area until roughly 4:00 PM before finally giving up, and deciding to head back down to the car. I also still wanted to try the riffles off the small islands I had seen on the way up. At this point, I was expecting to go home empty handed but I decided I had a ½ mile to go so I might as well take the shotgun approach and cover as much water as I could while walking back downstream. Sometimes you get lucky just by covering enough water.
The last 2 flies I had tied on were a Sexy Walt’s worm(this is a heavy Euro nymph) and a Mercury Flashback pheasant tail. Being tired and somewhat pessimistic at this point, I left them on and started casting to the middle of the river as I was walking downstream. About ¾ of the way down the river, my indicator bobbed under and I set the hook. I could feel the fish on the end of my line, and the whole time I was bringing it in, I was repeating under my breath “please be a trout, please be a trout”. To my delight, when I got it to the net it was indeed a roughly 7 inch rainbow and the final fish I needed to complete the trout slam. I looked at my watch and it was 4:24 PM, just a few more minutes of daylight. I breathed a sigh of relief as I felt I had pulled this one out by the skin of my teeth for that day.
I went ahead and fished the rest of the way down to my car but didn’t have any more takes after that. Regardless, I had caught my fish and was now at gold level for the Missouri Trout Slam.
I hope that others have enjoyed my journey on this at least to some extent.