Barry County, Missouri
On The Fly Freshwater
Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs.
It is said that the best surprises sometimes come in the smallest packages. In this instance, the diminutive surprise was a roughly 5-inch rainbow trout. What made it special was where this trout had been caught.
The On The Fly South crew was admiring the little fish while standing on a gravel bar along the Roaring River, deep in the Ozark Region of Barry County, Missouri. We had spent the previous couple of days fishing this river upstream in Roaring River State Trout Park. The fishing there had been outstanding, particularly on the fly-fishing-only section of the river (See that story at Roaring River Trout Fishing, June 2021). On the other hand, the part of the stream in the state park gets a lot of fishing pressure and you are rarely out of sight of other anglers.
Against that back drop of circumstances, we decided to venture far downstream out of the park and into the Roaring River Conservation Area. Here the amenities were much less prevalent than in the state park. In fact, the only facilities were a gravel parking lot and a path that led roughly a quarter mile through the woods to the river bank. Once there, we discovered ourselves on a rather high and steep bluff over the water. The last few yards of the trail required picking our way down a rocky incline.
The surrounding terrain was much different from what we had experienced in the park. Here the banks rose 10 to 20 feet straight up and the overall feel was one of being in a wilder area.
The stream bottom on this portion of the Roaring River was virtually all gravel, with the water flowing down a relatively flat valley. That water also was crystal clear and cold, even though we were a couple of miles downstream of the spring bubbling out of a cave at the river’s origin in the park. Additionally, much of the river was quite shallow, offering few good deeper runs for the trout.
When you did find holding water, however, there was likely to be a hungry trout in it. The first of these encountered as we moved downstream featured an overhanging rock that the current flowed under, formed an eddie and then escaped on down the river. Casting an Adams Parachute into the current to drift up under the rock shelf produced a rise and our first fish. The rainbow was feisty, but also missing a front fin, which meant it was a stocker that had dropped down from the park. Indeed, that is all we expected to find in the river.
It was couple of similar fish and several hundred yards downstream when Associate Editor Polly Dean caught the small rainbow that opened this story. Since the state park stocks catchable-sized trout, this little guy indicated that the river had some stream-bred wild fish in it as well. That is always a welcome discovery.
After catching the little guy, Polly’s next encounter was a bit different. Fishing in a riffle, just downstream of an undercut root ball on the far shore, she raised a much better fish. This one far outstripped the 10- to 14-inchers we had been finding. After flashing his broad side while taking the fly, the fish quickly shook the hook loose, leaving Polly forlornly staring at the roiling water it left in its wake.
The final fish we brought to the net before heading back to the car added even more appeal to this part of the Roaring River. This fish was a sleek, 13-inch, heavily spotted rainbow with full fins, hinting that it might also have been a wild fish.
While angling action was no where near as fast as we had experienced in the stocked waters of the park, the conservation area provided a more natural surrounding and enough trout to make for an interesting day on the water. Overall, it was a more difficult area to reach, but the natural beauty of the Ozark scenery and the willingness of the fish we did find to bite even made the climb back up the bluff to our vehicle worth the effort.
For more details on the Roaring River Conservation Area, a website is provided that includes maps of the area. Be aware that deer hunts take place on the tract in the fall and turkey hunters may be present in the spring time. Dates of those hunts are provided on the website. For extended stays, primitive camping is allowed in the area at the parking lot.