Sunday, March 29, 2015

Trip Summary - Blue Springs Creek and Maramec Spring Park, March 2015

I'm currently writing this post out by hand on a yellow legal pad, sitting in the back of a hotel conference room in Chesterfield, Missouri, listening to some schmuck drone on and on about the exciting new developments in family law, and how mortgage refinancing rules are affecting divorce cases in the state of Utah. Barf. (Note: I'm at home now transcribing these notes on blogger and my left hand is killing me. I haven't written this much since . . . the LSAT? I'm not sure when.) As a condition of maintaining my license to practice law in Missouri, I am required to complete a certain number of continuing legal educations (CLE) hours per year (15 hours, to be exact). This means that once a year, I have to take a vacation day on a Friday and sit through nine hours of inapplicable legal training - a vacation day that I could have spent out on a stream somewhere. Hell, I'd even rather be at work than at this seminar. At least work has wifi and fewer lawyers.

Handwritten notes of this blog post
What one all-day CLE seminar's worth of hand-written fishing stories looks like.
Two weeks ago, in mid-March however, I did take a proper vacation day and did get some fishing in. It wasn't the perfect day of fishing, or even necessarily a good day of fishing, but at least it wasn't a law seminar. I'd planned on writing about the trip weeks ago, right after it happened, but it seems that it's taken me longer to write about it than I thought it would. I could blame it on something superficial like being too busy with work or life, but that wouldn't necessarily be true.

If you read this whole post (and sorry in advance for the lack of pictures) you'll see that I talk about impatience more than once. One of, if not my main problem when fishing (aside from lack of funds), is that I have a tendency to feel rushed. I rush to drive to the stream, rush to rig up, rush to wade to a spot, then rush to catch something. There's the problem. I fish too fast too often. I don't spend enough time with my fly actually out on the water. And honestly, I don't want to make the same mistake with this blog. Admittedly, when I started it a few weeks back, I was in a rush to add as much content as I could, but I don't want to feel that rush each time I have an idea to write on and post. So I'm trying to slow down, both with fishing and writing, and give each post the attention it deserves. Although I didn't get a chance to snap any pictures on this trip, there were a few things worth writing down. Any pictures would have been crappy anyway. The weather was miserable. If you really want to see pictures of Maramec Spring, I have a gallery from last month. I did want to write about this trip though because it was my first fishing excursion of 2015, and the first time I've ever fished with my own flies.

The Plan

My plan was to wake up in the middle of the night so I could drive out to the middle of nowhere and make this a two-stream day. First, I'd leave home early enough in time to drive to Bourbon, MO and get to Blue Springs Creek by dawn. I would park at the mouth of the creek at the Meramec River and wade upstream as far as I could in order to find some good pools. Blue Springs Creek is the closest "wild" trout population to Saint Louis, and I wanted to cover as much of it as I could.

If the fishing was lousy in Blue Springs Creek in the morning, I would drive the 20 minutes over to St. James, MO and go fishing at Maramec Spring, the trout park there. Somewhere in the middle, I'd find a spot to eat lunch. I had a tuna melt craving. No idea why. It was a Friday in Lent, and Mrs. Voss' baby boy wasn't about to go eat meat that day.

Blue Springs Creek

I started off the day according to plan, and loaded all of my gear into my pickup truck. There's something special about driving your truck to a stream instead of your wife's Prius. Gas mileage be damned. Already by 5:00 a.m. when I left Saint Louis, the rain was fairly steady. As I laid in bed the night before, I could hear fat wet drops hitting my aluminum awning outside of my bedroom window. The forecast was bleak but I did my best not to lose my resolve. Blue Springs Creek is only a 90 minutes drive from my house, so I was able to stick to the plan and get there a little before dawn.

When I parked my truck near the mouth of the stream, it was still too dark to begin stringing up my rod, and I'd forgotten my headlamp at home. So I rolled down my window, set my seat back, and relaxed. I decompressed from the quick drive and just listened to the stream. It was one of the rare, still moments in life where you can listen to the woods begin to wake up as the sun rises. All in all, not a bad way to begin a day. Soon enough, there was enough light to begin getting my gear out and I could squeeze into my waders.

As I said, today would be my first time fishing with my own flies. I had spent the better part of the winter months learning and practicing some bread & butter, basic patterns, and I was anxious to see how these flies would perform; whether I would be able to fool a fish into thinking that a hook wrapped in thread, feather, and fur was actually a bug. I was using a size #14 Pheasant Tail Nymph. This was the pattern that I practiced the most on, and due to practicing on this pattern so much, I had an entire fly box full of these things.

As disclosed on the MDC website, Blue Springs Creek can be very narrow and very shallow. There's not a ton of room for false casting here. The overhang isn't terrible, but there are parts of the stream that are blocked by fallen trees that you have to maneuver over. In most spots, water is only ankle deep, and the deepest spot I've seen in the entire thing only came up to my navel. Even in the pale morning light, I could see that, per usual, the stream was low. There is a lot of wading/hiking involved in order to get upstream far enough to find a pool that could hold any fish. This involved several instances of me embarrassingly trying to get over, or under, the above-mentioned fallen trees, and doing my best not to re-split open my newly repaired waders.

Speaking of which, the repair job I did on my waders using the Shoe Goo seemed to do the trick. As I mentioned, at one point, I was up to my navel in the stream and my crotch and legs all remained reasonably dry. At the end of the day, there was that general moist feeling of sweat and/or condensation, but certainly not at the level of wetness that I felt when I ripped the seam in the first place. That was a terrible, freezing surprise that I wouldn't wish on anyone. Nothing like wearing soaking wet jeans in the middle on November.

After what felt like miles of wading, but was probably just a couple hundred yards, I found a decent run that was deep and slow enough to possibly hold some trout. The run was probably about 50 yards long, and maybe three to four feet at its deepest. The . . . east(?) bank had a small bank with some over hanging trees, and lots of places for fish to live and hide. I was using the Pheasant Tail Nymph patterns I had tied and was casting upstream towards the east bank. I did not have any indicators in my vest, and hadn't had a chance to resupply at a fly shop, so I was using the end of my fly line as an indicator to determine if I had a strike. It only took a few minutes until I had a fish on. It didn't put up much of a fight, and I was able to strip the line in without using the reel. It was no surprise given the fish's size. It was, at most, an eight-inch rainbow. The fly was pretty far down his throat, and it's a miracle he could even fit it in his mouth. I got the fly out with as little trauma as possible, and released the fish.

I fished the same run for a while longer with no luck. I'm sure I could have stayed and fished it for a much longer period, but I was impatient and wanted to keep moving upstream. I'm not exactly sure what I thought would be up there, as if I was only yards away from some magical pool with huge hog trout in it. That small run was probably the best water I saw all day on the stream, and I blew past it far too quickly. A bit farther upstream, I came to what I thought was a gravel island, but ended up being a fork in the stream, and of course I took the wrong way.

Almost instantly, the clear, spring fed stream turned brown and murky. It narrowed and grew even more shallow. It turned out that I was following a storm drain runoff and that the path I took doesn't even show up on maps. Wonderful. I was a little uncomfortable about not knowing exactly where I was, but I figured if worse came to worse, I would just have to backtrack downstream to where I parked. Eventually, I did find myself back at the highway. I had to decide then if I wanted to double back and try the other fork, or to walk the highway back to the parking lot where I left my truck. I eventually decided on the highway.

It must've looked funny for the few cars that drove past me on my walk back to the truck, to see this big bearded guy in waders holding a fly rod, walking down a highway that didn't seem to be anywhere near a stream.

It probably looked like this. It was a very long legal seminar.
Silver lining, on the walk back to the truck, I found a second parking lot that I didn't know existed, and it's much closer to the source of the spring. There's still a lot of water that I didn't get to cover that day, and parking at this newly discovered lot is going to make getting to is a lot easier. By the time I did finally get back to my truck, I a frustrated from all of the walking and lack of actual fishing. I was sore, tired, bitter, and hungry. It was time to head for St. James.

Maramec Spring Park

Fun fact about St. James, in addition to their well-known winery and trout park, they also appear to have two, completely unrelated, competing flag pole stores not 50 feet from each other. Very odd. My first stop in St. James was the small county cafe just past the main stretch of town. I was craving a tuna melt and a cup of coffee, and they obliged me. The coffee was hot and the tuna melt was about as good as you'd expect at a place like this. Soggy and too much mayo, but still kind of perfect. I'd review this place on yelp, but I don't know if it actually has a name, and I doubt anyone there would ever see it.

I rolled into the trout park around noon, and the rain was beginning to pick at this point after a fairly dry morning. Even with the mediocre weather, and the weekend not technically having started at this point, the park was still fairly crowded. I shouldn't be surprised by this. The season had only been open for 12 days at this point. Getting my gear ready in the parking lot, I somehow managed to break my prescription sunglasses. With the rain, it was gloomy enough to reduce a lot of glare from the water, but my visibility would still be greatly limited. I'd be limited to using dry flies or nymphs and an indicator (I was able to buy a few from the lodge at the park). Either way, there would be more guess work than I had hoped, both with hitting strikes and finding good spots.

There seemed to be a lot more people using ultra-light combos than I remember seeing in past trips. I only recall seeing three or four other guys in the whole park using fly rods that day. The trees there were littered with jigs, bobbers, flies, and indicators from the opening week. It was a forest of macabre Christmas trees littered with lost fishing tackle. I only contributed one Adams Parachute that day. By this point, I'd given up on only using my own flies.

All of the usual spots in the park, where the fish are clearly visible, were crowded with ultra-light fishers. I don't know what was more frustrating to me, not being able to get the space and seclusion I desired, or seeing how many fish these ultra-lights were pulling in. Didn't they have any respect for fly-fishing? Enough to know it's rude to catch fish on their ultra-lights, when I wasn't able to on my fly rod? I found myself growing more impatient, and walking back and forth from different spots. I was wasting time tying on different flies, messing with knots, and not having my fly in the water.

There wasn't too much action here to be honest, and I wasn't having a lot of luck. Thinking back on it now a few weeks later, I can't even recall if I had any strikes that day. Towards the end of the day, I finally snagged a good spot near one of the small dams. There was a good, slow drift and lots of visible fish about 18-24 inches under the surface, a perfect scenario for nymph drifting. I felt like I was finally finding my groove, when a woman came and stood about five feet upstream from me, and began casting over my fly line. It was incredibly frustrating, and she was either ignoring or not picking up on my passive aggressive dirty looks.

The more I fish, the more I'm realizing that I want the seclusion of the wilderness, but the fish quantity of a trout park. Is that so much to ask? It's a classic paradox. More fish bring more crowds. More crowds make worse fishing. I honestly don't know if such a place exists, especially in Missouri in the spring. I've only experienced this once, and it was during catch and release season at Montauk. Mind you, this was early November, it was snowing, and it was opening weekend of deer hunting. The place was practically empty. Still, even then the fish seemed smaller than they do in the spring and summer. I think the solution is hitting the trout parks on a Tuesday or Wednesday, to truly avoid the weekend crowds. This means using more vacation days, and making more single day trips.

By design, fishing is a single-person activity, like driving or using a keyboard. That is, aside from someone helping you net a fish, it's essentially a one-man job. Even when I do fish with friends, we rarely stick together. This of course has it's drawbacks, such as the time I waited in my car after the closing bell rang waiting for my buddy to come back from fishing so we could go back to the cabin. What I didn't know is that he had given up much earlier in the day and walked back to the cabin to take a nap. I thought he had managed to drown himself, and was relieved to find him alive when I finally gave up and headed back without him. I guess it is nice though to have someone there fishing with you though, if only to notify your next of kin when you do drown. But fishing with a friend is a lot different than fishing with a crowd. Maybe it's just a lot easier to ignore someone you know, instead of the annoying lady breathing down your neck.

Looking back on it, and reflecting while typing up these hand-written legal pad pages, I realize that the entire day ended up being one big case study on the flaws with Missouri's trout waters. On the "wild" streams (which aren't technically wild, since trout aren't native to Missouri), you will find beautiful scenic shots of Missouri's forests and hills, and there won't be another soul in sight. However, there won't be many trout in sight either, and the ones you do manage to catch will be about the size of a bratwurst. The trout parks have tones of fish, but tons of people and not enough square feet of water.

I think what I need is warm spring day and to head out on a pond in a john-boat and catch a few dozen bluegill. Filling a cooler with fish that my brother-in-law Steve and I can clean and fry might be just what I need to shake this feeling of frustration and impatience. I'd be able to fish these with pretty much the same tackle. I might even do some research and practice some blue-gill specific flies. Best of all, the odds of some woman coming up and fishing from behind me would be pretty unlikely. I don't know if a trip like that would necessarily give me any experience that would help with trout fishing, but it might bring me some inner-peace. 

Finally, big thanks to my buddy, Phil, who sat next to me at the legal seminar all day and watched me write all this out. I'm pretty sure at first he thought I was taking notes on the seminar. He looked relieved when I told him what I was actually writing, I suppose reassuring him that a studious parasite hadn't infected my brain and taken over my body. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

You May Also Enjoy: