Missouri trout parks prepare for opening day Friday

NEAR CASSVILLE, Mo. -- It's a long-standing understanding in the Ozarks that March 1 marks the unofficial start of spring for area anglers with the opening of trout season at Missouri's state parks.

At Roaring River State Park near Cassville, last minute preparations are being made. But the campers were already arriving during the day on Thursday for the big celebration on Friday where over 2,000 anglers are expected to stand side-by-side and fish.

"I haven's missed one in over 20 years," said Greg Privett, who had already set up camp with Brad Klausner and Matt Privett on a chilly Thursday afternoon.

"Tradition," said Roaring River Hatchery manager Paul Spurgeon. "That's the first word that pops into everybody's mind when they come out here."

It's a tradition that goes on no matter the weather.

"We've had 20-some-odd inches of snow a couple of times," Spurgeon said. "We've seen people here during catch-and-release season when it's below-zero trying to fish and it' really neat to see that."

"My goal is if I can get down here, I'm good," Greg Privett added. "I'll get out when I can get out."

Greg and his buddies are prime examples of the hardy anglers who've made it a yearly pilgrimage for those who not only want to catch fish, but reunite with like-minded people.

"A lot of people you see down here every year," Greg said. "So you get to catch up with everybody."

Joel Topham will be experiencing his first opening day as Roaring River's park supervisor, but he's been coming here ever since he was a child and becoming so engrained in the tradition that he promised his grandfather he'd run the park some day.

So now that it's happened?

"I think grandpa's doing cart-wheels in heaven now," Topham said with a smile.

Joel has now passed the tradition on to his 21 year-old son.

"Roaring River means a lot to a great many people," Topham said. "It is a place for solitude to enjoy the outdoors and just get away."

What binds all these visitors to the park together is the chance to go fishing for the 6,000 trout that have been stocked here including 100 lunkers that usually come from Roaring River's hatchery. But this year, because the hatchery is being refurbished, the trout are coming from Montauk State Park.

But don't worry.

"We got plenty of fish," Spurgeon said. "And we don't expect the fishermen to have any problems whatsoever."

The only thing you do need to worry about is that if you called in sick at work, don't get caught on camera at the park.

"I came down with a gentleman one time who was a school teacher and had called in sick," Greg Privett recalled. "He didn't know it but one of the newspapers from Arkansas was down on the bank and they got a picture of him catching a fish. It showed up in the newspaper. He heard a few things about that but it was pretty funny."

KY3 will have live coverage of the opening of trout season during Ozarks Today on Friday morning.