What it is and Why It’s a Good Place
Now, let me be honest- when I go fishing, I don’t like to be in the company of strangers. I don’t like crowds when I’m fishing. And the concept of state parks with full facilities for campers, tourists, and drive-in visitors doesn’t really appeal to me- for the most part.
However, the Missouri Trout Parks are a great idea and are done very well in general, and the Montauk State Park in particular is a very, very nice place.
This park which offers full camping and lodging for visitors is a prime place for city-dwellers to find a quiet, nature-oriented spot for some downtime and recovery from city life while also giving anglers the chance to catch some very respectable trout.
And taken together with the Blue-Ribbon waters of the Current River below the park boundaries, Midwest fly anglers are going to look hard to find a better place to be.
Where it is- close to Civilization, but Far Away
Montauk Park is, in the words of Mark Twain, located “in the wilds of Missouri” about equally distant from the small town of Salem and the even smaller town of Licking. Located in Dent County, Missouri, the park can be reached from either the east or the west quite easily.
From I-44 anglers can exit at Rolla, drive south on Hwy 63 to Licking and take Hwy 32 east for 11 miles to Hwy 119 which will lead to the park. Good signage makes the finding of the park quite easy.
From either Springfield or St. Louis, the drive to Montauk is less than three hours on a normal traffic day, and visitors can find general supplies and groceries in either Licking or Salem.
The park itself is located in a gorgeous Ozark valley with abundant wildlife- beavers, muskrats, deer, and loads of birds- including bald eagles- are commonly seen and encountered in the park and on the shores of the river.
How to fish It- Basic Fly Techniques will Work
The waters of the upper Current River are spring-fed, so this is a year-round fishery. There are periodic hatches of smaller mayflies and other aquatic bugs, but by far the most effective way to catch the park trout- and the trout in the Blue Ribbon waters below the park- is to drift nymphs and other sinking flies in the deeper pockets and below riffles.
A 3 or 4 weight fly rod is perfect for this fishery. Short casts are the order here, but in general, the stream has good clearance for back casts of some distance. Fishing water with shade from overhead branches is always a good idea, and it’s critical here.
There are definite start-times on the park waters- a loud horn will signal that it’s fishing time in the morning, and anglers who are ready at first sound of the horn generally catch fish.
Even though the park trout are hatchery fish, they are still trout, and they still have a good degree of caution. The bigger hold-over trout are especially hard to fool. Sloppy casts and obviously wrong fly offerings will not catch many fish. Basic good fly fishing technique- short, accurate casts, good line control to minimize drag from the current, and slow fishing deeper holes and pockets will produce more trout. And there are some quite large trout in the park waters. Seven and eight pounders and larger are caught by fly anglers.
Below the park boundary the Current River runs all the way to the Arkansas border, and in the upper reaches, it’s a Blue-Ribbon Trout Stream, which means strict limits are in place, but there are some gorgeous wild native brown trout in these waters. My best brown I have caught there was a late-fall skinny two-pounder that had just finished spawning yet still weighed a good solid two-pounds. This lovely fish took a dark streamer fished in a shaded pocket where the current dropped off a gravel bar into deeper water.
According to state sampling of the upper Current River, anglers can expect to find 277 wild brown trout per mile of the upper Current and for nine miles downstream. And there are good smallmouth bass here, too.
Brown trout and brown bass- what more could any angler need?
What’s There- and How Nice it Is
Let me tell you about my last trip to Montauk. We arrived at the park after a long day of driving. I was tired, and I was not happy. We got a room at the lodge- which is very nice and totally set up for fly anglers including rod holders on the wall. We had a very good meal at the park’s restaurant, visited the park’s tackle shop where I loaded up on license, mini-jigs and other sub-surface flies, and we made our way back to the room. I was feeling better.
After full dark, we went out on the deck and listened to the whippoorwills as they called back and forth. The woods behind our lodge room were alive with the blinking lights of fireflies in great abundance.
We let the night go on and we sat quietly in the comfortable deck chairs and listened to the night birds and watched the waves of flashing lights from the bugs. Even though we were in peak season of a busy state park, it was quiet.
In the morning, I left the room and drove up the short gravel road to the spring areas where the park waters start. A beaver was making its way down the stream. Birds were singling loudly in the early June morning. I waded to a smooth gravel bar which gave me good access to some nice looking water.
I tied on a small light-colored weighted nymph. When the horn blew, I cast across stream to the dark run of the water as it moved past a sunken log. And as the fly drifted past the end of the log, a shadow darted out and took the fly.
I had a very nice struggle on my 3-weight rod and light leader, but I got the beautiful fish up on the gravel bar where I was standing. It was a pound and a half rainbow.
Now, if that’s not enough to get a fly angler in a better mood, I guess things are just not going to be happy.
But it’s certainly enough for me.
For more information about Montauk State Trout Park:
345 CR 6670
Salem, MO 65560
Park Office- 573-548-2201
Nature center- 573-548-2225