By Andrea Sullins
It was a beautiful morning for the opening day of trout season March 1. The season runs from March 1-Oct. 31. The streams were lined with people of all ages ready for the pop, pop, pop of the gun, and for the horn to blow at Montauk State Park signaling for lines to start being casted out from the eager fishermen and women. Hatchery Manager Tom Whelan made his way to the center of the bridge a couple minutes before the designated time, along with Jim Freeman, a Salem resident who had the honors of firing the gun. A few conservation department staff followed them, as everyone eagerly waited for the time to come. Freeman has been fishing at Montauk since 1978, and celebrated his 40th opener by being the lucky person to fire the starting gun.
Precisely as the clock struck 6:30 a.m., shots rang and lines were flying. Within a matter of minutes, a couple tangles were underway and a few trout were already being caught. Whelan then presented Freeman with a fishing pass for the year of 2018. When asked how many people were expected, Whelan stated they expect around 1,800 fishermen and women judging from previous years.
“Usually there’s around 60 percent from Missouri, and the other 40 percent travel from out of state to be here today,” said Whelan.
As I walked along the bank taking pictures, everyone seemed so peaceful, calm, and quiet. Within 30 minutes, some were walking away with their stringer limit of four trout and packing up their fishing gear. On a small sandbar, I had the pleasure of talking with three ladies about their experience and where they resided. They had drove down from St. Louis the night before with a group, and wanted to experience the anomaly of opening day at Montauk. They had been told by a friend years ago of the experience, and finally decided to make the trip and see for themselves. While their partners were fishing for actual fish, they claimed to be fishing for memories of earlier years they had visited Montauk State Park.
Janet Crane had visited the park over 50 years ago and was a member of the last family to be able to camp on an island that Montauk had before the flash flood took that privilege away from campers. She told me of memories from that night, hoping to make it through the storm with her family.
“This is definitely not something you will see up in St. Louis,” one woman claimed.
We talked further of the differences in culture and people while we watched fish after fish getting reeled in to the banks.
As I approached Montauk, and saw all the vehicles and people, I realized I was about to witness something incredible that not everyone gets to see with their own eyes, instead of in a video or hear about it someone else. If you don’t have a fishing fascination, I still recommend making the trip down to Montauk to see the ones that do, and feel the peaceful energy you are surrounded by as you walk along the banks of the streams. Good luck to all the fishermen and women out there this season!