Fishing is more than just a hobby; it’s a way of life for many. For those who find joy in angling, keeping up with regulations can seem daunting. The last thing you want to worry about when reeling in a trout is whether you’ve adhered to the rules of the state and local jurisdictions. Fortunately, the rules for trout fishing in Missouri are fairly straightforward and angler-friendly. This guide will provide everything you need to know about trout fishing in Missouri, along with a few tips to help you land the big catch when you venture out onto the state’s waterways.
Understanding Trout Season in Missouri
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of fishing is knowing the appropriate season. After all, you don’t want to find yourself on the wrong side of a conservation fine. Some of these tickets can cost upwards of $200 for a first offense, which can put a serious damper on your relaxing weekend plans. So, when is trout season in Missouri?
Missouri is a paradise for trout anglers. The trout season lasts from March 1 to October 31, providing a full eight months to catch these beautiful fish for your mantle or dinner plate. This is significantly longer than deer season, which only lasts about three months and has substantial restrictions on the weapons you can use.
What makes trout fishing in Missouri even more exciting is the off-season catch-and-release program. This program allows you to continue angling where permitted even during the colder months, from the second Friday in November to the second Monday in February. However, all fish must be immediately released, and only flies are allowed.
Identifying Trout Species in Missouri Waterways
Successful trout fishing requires more than just a pole, lure, and knowledge of when you’re allowed to fish. You need to understand the animal you’re trying to catch. Every fish is different, requiring anglers to use different techniques and lures depending on their target.
In Missouri, anglers primarily encounter two types of trout: brown trout and rainbow trout. Understanding these species can better prepare you for the catch of a lifetime.
Rainbow Trout Fishing in Missouri
Rainbow trout are the most common species you’ll encounter when fishing for trout in Missouri. They were first introduced into the state’s cold-water streams back in the 1880s. Any sizable rainbow trout you catch likely came from a hatchery.
Wild rainbow trout are typically smaller than their hatchery-raised counterparts, but they still grow to impressive sizes. They eat insects until they’re 17 inches. Once they grow to this size, they go after non-insect prey and scavenge in slack water. Hatchery-raised fish are more likely to respond to bait, dough, corn, and other human food since they’re raised on these items.
Brown Trout Fishing in Missouri
Brown trout were imported from Europe during the 1890s, a few years after rainbow trout made their debut in Missouri’s waterways. They can tolerate warmer water temperatures than some other trout, but even when it’s warm, fishermen still see this species as a challenge to catch. One main reason is there are much fewer of them out there.
The Missouri Department of Conservation raises about 300,000 brown trout per year, compared to between 1.5 and 2 million rainbow trout. This species is also more difficult to catch because their diet includes larger prey like crayfish and sculpin. This means they’ll stay stuffed for hours following a meal.
However, don’t let this dissuade you from going after the brown trout. They’re still opportunistic feeders, so with the right bait drifting technique, you may still score a catch. If they’ve recently eaten, though, it’s unlikely they’ll go after a fly or lure. If you’re hoping to catch a beautiful brown trout, you’ll need to keep this in mind when mapping out your strategy.
Where to Fish for Trout in Missouri
Missouri offers a plethora of locations for trout fishing, from state parks and rivers to streams and the Ozarks. Understanding the three trout areas—White Ribbon, Red Ribbon, and Blue Ribbon—can help you plan your fishing day to meet your goals.
White Ribbon Trout Areas
White Ribbon areas have relatively few restrictions. You can use any type of bait, but there’s a daily limit of four trout. This applies to brown trout that are at least 15 inches and rainbow trout of any size. The state stocks these areas once every few weeks, offering great opportunities for trout fishing in Missouri.
Red Ribbon Trout Areas
Red Ribbon areas have a daily limit of two trout that have reached at least 15 inches in length. They’re mostly stocked with brown trout. Soft plastics are prohibited, and you can only use lures or flies in these locations.
Blue Ribbon Trout Areas
Blue Ribbon trout areas are all about quality. Unfortunately, you’ll run into a daily limit in these areas of a single trout that’s at least 18 inches. Like Red Ribbon areas, soft plastics are prohibited and only lures and flies are allowed. The habitats are immaculate, though, and support wild reproduction and large trout.
In addition to the three ribbon areas, there are locations without spring-fed streams where the state stocks trout starting in November. These Winter Trout Lakes have varying limitations on harvesting. For instance, some areas have a catch-and-release period early in the season. Regulations and even the waterways that qualify can change.
Special Area Regulations for Trout Fishing in Missouri
Anyone fishing for trout in Missouri must abide by a number of regulations. For instance, you must return a trout to the water immediately if you don’t hook it by the mouth or jaw. There are also no alternate methods of fishing — such as snares or atlatls — allowed for catching trout. These and other general rules are pretty basic, but some places are more restrictive than others.
Best Trout Fishing Spots in Missouri
There is no shortage of places in Missouri to enjoy trout fishing. However, not all fishing spots are created equally. If you’re looking for a particularly exciting day on the water, consider hitting the following locations:
- Lake Taneycomo: These waters are stocked with about 10,000 brown trout and 600,000 rainbow trout every year.
- Maramec Spring Park: Between March and October, rainbow trout are stocked daily. In the fall, large fish from the Maramec River migrate to the area.
- Montauk State Park: This park is great for year-round trout fishing in Missouri. It has three designated areas — one of which is catch-and-release — so make sure you know where you are.
- Bennett Spring State Park: Clear water, shallow conditions, and daily trout stocking lasting from March to October make this one of the most popular places in Missouri for trout fishing. All three fishing zones exist in this park, so you can pick a spot based on how you want to fish.
- Little Piney Creek: You’ll find wild trout and hatchery-raised fish in this creek. Even if you snag one of the smaller wild trout, they can still grow over 20 inches.
While these are certainly some of the most popular places for trout fishing in Missouri, this list is far from exhaustive. The Missouri Department of Conservation lists dozens of spots on its website, and these are just those located in state parks and major waterways. The moral of the story: Missouri offers countless opportunities for great trout fishing.
While this guide may seem extensive, it’s simply in-depth for your benefit. Much of the information you’ve learned — such as when you can take your catch home and when you have to release — is something you’ll only need to learn once. While the rules of your outing could vary based on location, you now know the basics of trout fishing in Missouri!
The most important thing to remember, though, is to simply enjoy yourself. In a state where 18-pound rainbow trout and 40-pound brown trout have been pulled from the waters, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to create your own big fish tale. Even if you don’t reach these record-breaking levels, though, Missouri offers some of the best trout fishing in the world.