By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
CASSVILLE, Mo. —
CASSVILLE, Mo. — Just before 7 a.m. Friday, Cassville sixth-grader Jozi Stehlik seemed to be searching for something, or someone, along the banks of Roaring River. She held a full stringer of trout — four rainbows of decent size — and wore a smile.
“I’m looking for a TV person or something,” she said. “I want to be on the news. Look what I caught!”
Stehlik, like most area youths, has shown up every year for opening day of catch-and-keep trout season for as long as she can remember.
Most of the older anglers say they have been, too. Like brothers Chuck and Jerry Martin, now retired, who began coming to the park as children with their parents to spend summer days fishing, camping and swimming. They say this makes about their 50th opening day.
“I’ve fished all over the U.S. But this is it. This is the place to be,” said Jerry, 61, as he warmed his hands by a fire barrel. He passed out breakfast burritos that Chuck had rolled at midnight in preparation for their early morning arrival.
Chuck, 63, said that he feels such a connection to the place, he wants to have some of his ashes scattered at Roaring River some day.
“It’s just been our favorite place, all of our lives,” he said. “A lot of great memories here. We wouldn’t miss it.”
Not everyone at Roaring River Friday was a veteran angler, however.
“This is my very first one, so I’m excited,” said Joseph Thomas, 31, of Kansas City. “My family has been coming here since I was 5, but never on opening day.”
Also new to the scene was Debra Hall, an Olathe, Kan., resident who married Monett native Jeff Hobson. She wound up reeling in the lunker of the day for the women’s division, a 2.86-pounder she caught using a rooster tail.
“This is only my third time to fish here,” she said after receiving her award at the weigh-in station. “I’m not pretending that I’m a savvy fisherperson, by any means.”
Her father-in-law, Doug Hobson, of Monett, joked that her success probably was because of the lucky fishing vest he lent to her.
Amy Li, a Pittsburg (Kan.) State University student from Taiwan, was among a group of 10 students brought by their photojournalism instructor, Mike Gullet. They left Pittsburg at 4 a.m. and came not to fish, but to document the event as a real-world exercise.
Li said she got some good shots with her 35 mm film camera, but thought the Americans who lined the banks were a bit “crazy.”
“They got here in the dark,” she laughed. “It’s freezing cold, and they are out here fishing.”
Temperatures held right at 30 degrees throughout the morning, with overcast skies and occasional snowflakes.
But by 5:30 a.m., a steady stream of anglers was hitting the park store for daily trout tags. By noon, 1,280 adults and 270 youths had purchased tags and still more anglers were coming in for afternoon fishing.
Jason Shrum, 29, of Washburn, was one who showed up the night before for his tag.
“I’ve been coming to opening day 13 years in a row,” he said. Every year, he stakes a claim at the same spot and uses the same thing: brown salmon eggs.
“I’m at the second hole from the bridge, and it must be a good spot, because I’ve caught four lunkers on opening days.”
Also by 5:30 a.m., Mindi Atherton, director of the Cassville Chamber of Commerce, had handed out all 750 keepsake mugs, something the organization has been doing for years.
“People line up for them,” she said.
Atherton said visitors to the park also line up at local businesses.
“For our local economy, this day is huge,” she said. “Businesses get excited. They put out welcome messages on their marquees. People are coming in from Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, all over. And they’ll keep coming, throughout the season.”
Park Superintendent Dusty Reid, who has been fishing at Roaring River since he was a young boy, said because opening day fell on a Friday, he will have three days of full campgrounds.
“They’re coming in from everywhere,” he said.
One of them was Thaddeus Wright, a former Neosho resident now living in Texas, who caught a flight from Dallas to Joplin to fish his eighth opening day.
“The guys here, we’re not actually related, but they’re my family,” he said of buddies huddled around a fire barrel telling tall tales and eating breakfast off of a truck tailgate.
A group of Springfield women who described themselves as “friends forever” said they were having a great opening day — their 16th. By 8 a.m., they had filled their stringers, but each tossed one back and just kept three.
“We want to fish more this afternoon,” Julie Edmondson said.
“The first year we came down here, we had no clue,” she said. “We started learning, just trial and error, visited with Tim up at Tim’s Fly Shop, and learned when to use what. Now, we’re pretty good.”
So good that one in the group, Kristin Basnett, weighed in what she hoped was a lunker.
“It’s 2.58 pounds,” Don Bowen told her at the weigh-in station.
Basnett, smiling, still posed for a photo.
“It’s a lunker to me,” she said.
Doug Sageser, of Sarcoxie, did catch a trout that at 3.62 pounds qualified for the lunker list, but he wasn’t headed to the cleaning station with it.
“This is going in my family room — it’s my trophy room,” he said as he showed it off on his stringer. “This is my largest catch to date, and I know just the spot for it once it’s mounted.”
No one out-caught Jeff Greer. The Joplin resident out-fished his brother, Rob Greer, and nephew Josh Greer in an opening day contest that’s been going on for years. He out-fished everyone else, too, with the lunker of the day weighing in at 5.76 pounds. Josh had a 3.52-pounder and Rob had a 3.90-pounder.