I made a cross stream cast as the current was flowing moderately from my left to right; I watched as my brown wooly bugger crossed in front of a large downed tree…and then disappeared. The abrupt tug on the other end sent my senses into high gear as I made a powerful strip with my left hand and felt resistance on the other end. The water in the Meramec River was gin clear and the flash that I could see was a large one; my first thought was I had hooked a big brown as the fish gave me several head shakes and from many other fish I knew this was the signature of a bruiser. The air temperature was 22 degrees and I knew I needed to get this fish on my reel; the problem was my reel was frozen. As they say, this wasn’t my first rodeo and I took the time to lower my reel in the river and in seconds I had my fish on the reel and headed my way. I slanted my rod to the left and started to back the fish out of the hole and away from the downed tree that had been his lair. It was at this moment that I could see that my brown was not a brown but a spectacular smallmouth…and not too happy about being fooled by my fly.
I continued to back my way out of the deep water and dunked my reel once again so that the drag could do its job; the picture of this bronze colored fish in the bluish water of the river was one of those pictures that will be etched in my mind for many years to come. Rarely do I have a net while smallmouth fishing but on this day I had my stream net and unleashed it and had it ready, after another run of a few feet I had my fish close and slid the net under the reason that I go a long ways and get up early on cold days; it was a solid smallie of 18 inches that I estimated would go a good three pounds. I readied my camera and quickly placed him beside my 6 weight rod and reel and snapped the photo that you see here. I had caught other fish this morning, several rainbows and a couple other smallies but this bronze bruiser was as near perfection as it gets.
If you know your geography then you will know that the Meramec River flows from southwest to northeast toward St. Louis; you probably have driven over it on I-44? Its origin is somewhere in the Ozarks just south into Dent County and as it travels northeast it picks up volume and just south of St. James Missouri the Meramec Spring dumps millions of gallons of cold, pure spring water into it daily. Now this water is a constant 54 to 56 degrees and in the summer is a cool relief from the warm river water but in the winter the same mid-fifty water temperature draws fish out of the river and away from the 40 degree water of the river; this migration is what brings trout and smallmouths to the confluence of the spring and the river….and is what brought me to fish this area.
In the day and a half that I fished the area I encountered about 10 other fishermen total and most of those were fishing within the confines of the Meramec Spring Park itself. Parking during the winter catch and release season is free and if you are looking for a nice place to spend a few hours and catch a few trout and even a few smallmouths…then this is the place for you. The town of St. James is at exit 195 on I-44 and has everything that you would need, in fact we stayed at the Days Inn located right at exit 195 and found it to be a very nice hotel, clean, well maintained and with a staff that was very friendly. When Vickie and I arrived, Carly and her manager Annette answered all our questions and pointed us to Country Bob’s for supper. Country Bob’s was a meager looking establishment just about a mile north from the hotel…but meager is not the description of the food; for $9 dollars we enjoyed a country buffet that would have mirrored my grandma Carmichael’s cooking! In fact they had stewed apples on the salad bar that was an exact replica of grandma’s from many years ago…ah the memories!
If those mid-winter blues have caught up with you and the few extra pounds since Christmas is a bother then grab your gear and head to a little spot just about 90 miles west of St. Louis where you can watch eagles, herons and many other river birds….all while catching hard fighting Ozark trout and smallmouth. This is one of those areas that hasn’t yet been spoiled and the people of the area are polite and caring. I think you will find relaxation will set in as you Enjoy the Great Outdoors.