Ozarks Trout Fishing: Some Helpful Tips for Newcomers
Powerbait Fishing From the Bank: the Easiest Way to Catch Trout
Here are some helpful tips for Ozarks trout fishing newcomers. Keep in mind while reading this that each trout reserve is different (as well as each breed’s feeding and spawning habits) and I can only properly advise on how to fish for trout in the Ozarks. Also I will mention that I am no expert anymore than the next guy on the stream.
I grew up in the Ozarks and have spent many years fishing for trout on our local streams (Niangua, Eleven Point, Roubideaux, Current, White rivers and Lake Tanycomo) but there are plenty of things I haven’t learned yet. For instance, I have watched people use fly rods for years and can give some sound advice about “fly flinging," but I wouldn’t attempt an article about fly fishing with my current knowledge. I will try to keep it to the simple concept that at least in most ways a trout is instinctively a trout.
So on to what I do know about: Ultralight tackle and maribou jigs, fishing Trout Parks (Missouri has several), catching a quick creel vs. sight fishing for lunkers, and Powerbait/natural bait fishing (among other tidbits).
The Basics of Trout Fishing
Trout are creatures of habit. In nature they have a set course that they follow. They are born, they travel downstream to a larger area where they mature, and then they go back to the place where they were born to spawn the next generation. After so many of these cycles, they simply die. The trout in Missouri are unable to complete this life cycle, so it does tend to confuse them. But they still do what they know. Because their lives are based around (and ultimately defined by) these ancient habits, there are some basic rules of thumb that apply to Trout almost all the time.
How Trout Feed
Trout follow the barometer; if it is on the rise, so are the fish (feeding near the top); if it is falling, the fish will hug the bottom. This is due to the oxygen content in the water: the lower the barometric pressure, the lower the oxygen sits in the water.
Trout feed in the currents. More specifically, trout tend to stage up behind a slack water in the current of the stream (like a log or rock that slows the current). This can make it difficult to catch one without catching your fair share of rocks and limbs. The point is that you must target them in these places and learn to flip and toss your lure or fly in such a way to draw the fish out of their holding hole. I feel this finesse strategy is the main reason why people fish for trout with fly rods rather than other types of pole setups.
Trout feed on “the hatch”, that is to say, they feed on whatever bugs and larvae are currently hatching in the water (off the bottom or off the surface), or whatever is most plentiful. If the water is inundated with brown bugs (like every night just before dark, when the stream is all of a sudden just covered with bugs hovering over the surface) then you had better be tying on a brown lure or fly.
When feeding off the bottom, trout are soft biters. At their least aggressive, they will feel like a slight bump from the bottom (that just keeps bumping till it spits out the hook), and at their most aggressive they still don’t set the hook themselves, so a strong tug is needed in order to sink the hook and keep the fish on. This is the reason for using light tackle (like 1-4 pound test on a 5-foot ultra-light fishing pole, small hooks and light sinkers) and tends to be the reason that most novice fisherman say that trout are hard to catch. Chances are you would have caught ten times as many if you had just set the hook!
There are exceptions to all of these “rules of thumb”, but this article is mainly to give a basic concept of how the fish feed. They do not, for instance, congregate in slow moving pools like perch or bass. They don’t travel in packs (so just cause you caught one doesn’t mean there are 50 more in that hole), and they don’t normally try to eat lures that are half as big as them (an infamous bass trait)… And if you ever do get a trout to go outside these basic “rules of thumb," chances are he is a Monster!
Trout Tackle for Beginners
If you have never fished before and want to try your hand at fishing, I suggest these things first.
Do not attempt if you have zero patience. Fishing is all about being patient, learning your prey, and not losing your temper. Sit back and relax. This is why I suggest powerbait for first timers. If you are okay with suggestion #1, then get yourself to Wal-Mart with a fifty dollar bill and we’ll have you catching trout in no time with the rest of these tips.
- Once in Wal-Mart’s outdoor section, go to the fishing rods and pick out an “UltraLight” pole. If you need help, just ask the clerk. I have always used the Shakespeare Ugly Stick ultra light with 4 lb test line. These are very reliable poles and they aren’t expensive. I use the open bail (you can see the line), but for beginners you might want to try the closed face reel (Sometimes called a “bullet bail” because it looks like a big bullet)
- Next, pick up a can of White Powerbait (brand name of trout bait) and a can of Rainbow Colored powerbait, one bag of split shots (1/16th or 1/8th ounce) and a small container or bag of “Salmon Egg” hooks, or small Snell hooks (I like the #4 and #6 sizes).
- Collect a folding chair and a cooler from the house, and head for the trout park!
- When tying the line, make sure that you use a good fisherman’s knot (several ways to tie that) and place your sinker (1 or 2, depending upon how fast the water is flowing and how much you want the bait to move) about a foot above the bait. This way, when the sinker hits the bottom, the bait will be in the fish’s face. The faster the water is flowing, the longer the lead (the space between your sinker and your bait) should be.
- The bait, Powerbait, usually comes in a solid, slightly sticky goop. You want to pick a little of that out of that jar, rub it between your palms into a ball, stick your hook into it, and then put it back between your palms and rub it into a cigar type shape (this allows the bait to flutter in the current and incites strikes from the fish). Make sure that the line is sticking out of one end of the powerbait and that the hook is not exposed.
- When casting the bait in, try and pick a spot where the faster water opens up into a deeper hole. Position yourself just above the hole so that when your line comes to a rest it is pointing slightly downstream from you and tight with the rod tip very slightly bent. Set the pole up and wait for a strike!
- Always keep the rod tip high and the line tight.
- Remember that the fish strike very light, and they will spit the hook of you don’t set it, so make sure that you yank the pole when you get a solid bite (the tip of the pole will dip down).
- Sometimes the fish won’t hit the powerbait unless it’s moving. This is the point where you either switch to a moving lure of some type, or take off some weight from the powerbait line and proceed as follows:
- Cast the bait out in the same manner, but when the line reached the bottom then when the line settles and is tight to the bottom, tug it slightly so that the sinker picks up off the bottom and moves downstream a foot or two. It is during this time that you usually get a bite, so don’t mistake it for a rock! If the line bumps hard (you will have to get a feel for it) or takes off (they usually hit and turn their heads to go back downstream into the hole they were sitting in), set the hook!
- Natural baits (minnows, worms, grubs, etc) are pretty much just like powerbait in their function and technique.
If you do decide to venture into the realm of fishing with lures, here’s some key advice to get you started:
- You do not need big lures to catch big fish. 1/16th ounce marabou jigs will work great, just cast them out into the hole and bounce them around. They sink very slowly, so as long as you are moving them or reeling them you won’t have to worry about getting hung on anything but a fish.
- If you prefer swimmers, try an imitation Rapala Crawdad. Remember smaller is okay. Cast out slightly upstream from your position and reel the lure downstream quickly until in passes you in the stream, then switch the rod to the other side of your body and slow down the reel. The point where the lure turns or hesitates in the stream is usually the point where you hook up. Remember that these crawdads float, so the slower you reel the higher they stay, the faster you reel the lower they will swim in the water. As a general rule you don’t want a swimmer to hit the top or the bottom, but somewhere in between. The more aggressive fish tend to “chase” lures like the crawdad.
- If all else fails, try switching colors. Remember when I said that trout are creatures of habit? They all tend to go for the same color at the same time, so having a variety of colors of the same jig or lure can work wonders for your fishing experience. If they were hitting on the jig in white and then suddenly shut off, oftentimes it’s simply a matter of figuring out which color they went to. One or two switches in color usually does the trick.
- Fishing with lures is finesse fishing at its finest. That deserves an article to itself, but the main idea is that you really have to have a good feel for what's going on at the other end of your fishing line. If you can't do that yet, keep practicing with the powerbait and minnows and try again later.
Missouri Trout Parks
Here in Missouri we have a variety of trout parks. All require a Missouri fishing license (resident or out of state, prices vary), a daily tag (purchased at their store), and a healthy respect for their specific rules in order to fish there. Most parks have similar rules, and a separated out into different zones to optimize your fishing experience. For instance, most have separate areas for fly-type fishing and for natural bait fishing. The main reason for this is because different fishing techniques and methods require different amounts of space and different structures to fish over.
The “natural bait” spots tend to have congregations of people with a hook, line and sinker stretched out into the water. Using a fly rod in these areas can prove quite cumbersome. The "fly" areas tend to have a fisherman every 20-50 feet, spread out and flipping their flies back and forth. "Fly" refers to the type of lure, not the type of rod used, so you can use a spin caster in the “fly” areas as long as you are using a lure that is classified as a “fly” by the MDC.
NOTE: Be careful where you walk in the fly areas. Any space within 20 feet behind a fly rod fisherman is a bad spot to stand while he is working the fly rod.
All Missouri Trout parks are located on beautiful springs, including some of the largest springs (based upon daily discharge) in the USA. This means that not only is the water very cold (a constant temperature, regardless of season) and the levels much more constant, but it’s also some of the most beautiful scenery to be found in the Ozarks.
The parks work on a stocking system. Some parks (such as Bennett Springs State Park) have a series of raceways that they grow fish in, others (such as Mermac Springs Park) grow their fish in a sectioned-off portion of the spring. They not only stock the park, but also the river below the park, with trout as much as twice a week during heavy traffic periods. All parks post this information in the park store, so you can call and find out if they stocked recently. The sooner you can get out there after they stock, the better your chances of catching quality fish.
There are many other things I could point out about trout parks, but I will simply put a list of links to Missouri Trout Parks and MDC regulations, as well as a box for comments and questions about Trout Parks.
More Info on Missouri Trout Parks
- Privately Operated Missouri Trout Parks
Guide to Missouri's various privately owned trout parks.
- Ozark Anglers - Comprehensive Fishing News and Reports for the Ozark Region
- Trout Fishing in Missouri
- Fishing the Missouri Trout Parks
Guide to fishing Bennett Spring State Park, Maramec Spring Park, Montauk State Park, and Roaring River State Park
Missouri Trout Streams
These bountiful streams are usually located just below a Missouri Trout Park (such as the Niangua just below Bennett Springs State Park), but they are always located near a spring (such as the Eleven Point River below Greer Springs in Alton, Missouri). This is because trout are cold water fish. MDC also stocks many lakes and ponds near larger cities in Missouri, but only for a few of the colder months out of the year. If the fish don’t get caught from these lakes and ponds, they die.
Missouri Trout Streams are designated as Blue Ribbon, White Ribbon, or Yellow Ribbon and each has separate rules for what bait or lures you can fish with (similar to the regulations at the trout parks). Do yourself a favor and DO NOT go outside of these guidelines. If the MDC doesn’t catch you directly, you WILL be turned in by one of the locals who don’t take to kindly to anyone breaking the rules. Mainly, the rules are there for a reason and should be honored. All public access points to the streams, lakes, and ponds will have big yellow signs that explain what (if any) regulations are enforced. Some streams have particular regulations for a 2-5 mile section of the stream, then no special trout regulations below or above that. Pay attention to the signs! When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask! Better to study the area in advance and come prepared. Keep in mind that it isn’t illegal to possess the tackle (I.E. a treble hook lure in a single hook zone); it’s only illegal to use it.
Most Missouri trout streams have some form of fishing and/or floating outfitter that can put you into a stream and take you back out. All you need to bring is the basics with you; these guys will take care of the rest. You can even hire a guide for these streams, which is always a good suggestion if you are a novice.