Roaring River State Park preparing for beginning of trout season

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NEAR CASSVILLE, Mo. -- Sunday March 1 is always a red-letter day for fishing fans in the Ozarks. It marks the opening of trout season in Missouri, a long-standing tradition. And at Roaring River State Park near Cassville the delayed renovation of the hatchery has not affected the much-anticipated event.

There will still be plenty of fish ready to catch at the opening of trout season at Roaring River State Park near Cassville. The hatchery has been closed for $2 million worth of renovations for over a year-and-a-half, much to the disappointment of many of the half-million visitors who come to the park each year.

The reopening is way behind schedule.

"We've been dealing with a lot of wet weather which has really slowed us down," explained Paul Spurgeon, the hatchery's manager.

But the project to replace the plumbing supply that feeds the century-old hatchery from the cave entrance spring is "critical" according to Spurgeon.

"Any hatchery has to have clean water in order to operate," he said. "This will insure we actually have filtered water coming in from the spring that's not contaiminated."

In the meantime the park is getting 7,000 trout from Montauk Park near Salem to stock the river.

Some of those coming to the event have already arrived. Mark Rockwell of Rogers, Arkansas has been coming to the opening of trout season for 17 years. He arrived on Tuesday, five days early for the chance to stand side-by-side with other enthusiasts who share his love for this tradition.

"We call it combat fishing," he said with a laugh about the elbow-to-elbow crowd.

And while Roaring River has produced the largest rainbow trout ever caught in the state at 18 pounds, 1 once, Mark says it's what else you may fish out of the river that makes for good stories.

"Every year there's some people who drank too much the night before and you have to fish them out," he said. "They lean over a little bit too far."

Opening day coming on a Sunday with nice weather should produce a huge turnout although Spurgeon said, "If it was 20 below zero, there will be people here."

And if you're looking to catch that big one and are wondering what to use?

"The best thing to catch trout with is a net," Spurgeon said with a sly smile.

When asked if that was legal?

"Only if you don't get caught," he replied.

There are three state parks for trout fishing in the Ozarks. They include Roaring River, Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon and Montauk near Salem (Mo.).