Field notes by Jeff Cantrell, photos curtesy of the Missouri Dept. of Conservation

Although hardcore avid anglers have been wetting their fishing line throughout the winter, most people yield to fishing fever as March unfolds. March officially starts for some with a loud whistle/signal at the state’s trout parks. 

Locally, Roaring River and Bennett Springs State Park have been catch-and-release November through mid-February, but when the whistle sounds March 1, fishermen may cast a line in hopes of bringing dinner home. Catch-and-keep for trout season is certainly a great example of a field or stream to table connection for Missourians. And trout fishing activities add a contribution of millions of dollars to the state’s economy each year. I also use these state parks in other ways through the year, including teacher trainings in Discover Nature Schools (DNS) curriculum, school field trips, education programs and hiking gorgeous trails. 

Trout are not native to these cold waters, so the conservation department in partnership with state parks established hatcheries to supply these popular fisheries. Trout fishing-centered picture albums of holidays and outings are prized family possessions, and they highlight the importance of this recreation for our outdoor heritage.  

Other fish-related pursuits will soon begin for us all. Native fishes might not have a state park devoted to them, but they still cultivate a nice following from naturalists/anglers. Subtle changes in water temperature and organic-chemical cues aligned with increasing photoperiods trigger increased activity in our aquatic life. One of these actions is referred to as white-bass running, or you may hear people this month ask, “Are the white bass running yet?” 

Historically, Missouri’s white bass were restricted to the Mississippi River and adjacent incoming waters, but now they are found throughout impoundments and reservoirs in the Ozarks. Much of the year, white bass are located in the deep, clear waters, and spawning adults enter the tributary streams in the early spring. Ozark anglers love the excitement of these active, schooling fish. 

The “runs” refer to the mature fish, usually males first migrating into the headwaters to feed heavily and eventually spawn. Males may move into the spawning grounds two to four weeks prior to the females, and anglers may locate them in vibrant water over a firm sandy or clean gravel bottom. A true phenomenon to witness, the schooling fish feed vigorously on crayfish and small stream fishes, often rushing shiners and stonerollers to break the water surface and make a commotion. The feeding uproar continues until the food abundance moderates and schooling frenzy just continues upstream seeking more prey. It’s a lot of fun to cast a line into the active food chain of events like that!

So, as the hints of spring ascend, let’s grab our fishing gear, purchase the appropriate fishing licenses (supporting the aquatic management and science understanding of our fish species and waters) and ENJOY. It’s easy to notice the series of events always taking place in nature … one thing often leading to another. I consider the recreation of stream fishing the same way; the white bass pursuit might be the gateway to crappie fishing just a few warmer weeks into our future.

Have an amazing start to spring, and I hope to see you at Roaring River or your favorite fishing spot. – Jeff

Jeff Cantrell ([email protected]) is an outdoor educator and naturalist. He invites you to drop by the Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center, Joplin, Missouri, to pick up the fishing prospects booklet.