I have been trying to get a trip down to Bennett's and the Niangua to fish the catch and release for trout and try to get a couple new species for my 2017 season, particularly rock bass or redhorse suckers. I was also hoping to catch at least 15 fish in order to finish 2017 with over 900 fish caught. I knew that it was going to be a bit cold. Instead of leaving by 5 am and potentially hit ice, I left my house at 8. I hit some flurries between Camdenton and Lebanon. Didn't know what to expect in terms of the number of fishermen. I drove through the park and down to the Niangua to see where folks were fishing. Only saw about 6 or 7 people, a couple above the spillway and four or so around the hatchery outlets and none between the whistle bridge and the confluence. As I headed back into the park, I met two fawns feeding. This one was only 20 feet from my car and the other was even closer. They didn't seem to care as I stopped and took their pictures, even the radio noise did not deter them from putting away some grass.
I hit the water about 10:30 and fished downstream of the spring. I was spin fishing and using mircrojigs mostly. I typically sight fish with these microjigs, I watch the response of the fish, focus on those that are tightly turning around or following the bait on the drop, and set the hook as I anticipate the strike. With the snow, fog, pipe smoke from the flyfisherman upwind from me, and wind disturbing the water surface, it was hard to judge when a fish had the bait and get a good hooks set. I caught one rainbow and missed two others on white, then lost one on a salmon colored microjig. I missed two, lost one, and landed one on a John Deere microjig. I switched to a 1/64 oz cinnamon marabou jig and lost two rainbows on that jig. I put on a tricolored egg and missed at least two strikes. On one drift I kept the egg high in the water and had a rainbow come from 8 to 10 feet determined to take the bait. She was about 15" in length and thin. It was the largest trout that I caught.
I moved downstream and fished above and below the whistle bridge. I caught one other rainbow on the John Deere and got a couple of more misses. I wasn't seeing more than 8 to 10 trout at any one time. I switched to a yellow chenille grub microjig. I missed one or two trout strikes, but did start getting the attention of the local sculpin population. Since I had only caught 4 fish thus far, it was not hard to switch to microfishing to get a few more numbers. Lots of sculpin were interested and I landed four above the bridge and three large ones in the deep pool just below the bridge. I was fishing from a sycamore root wad and got the attention of two of the large suckers but missed getting a hook set one either of them. Those two moved downstream and the others did pay my hopping grub any attention. That hopping got the attention of a fish up under the roots that darted out and grabbed my bait. I was able to hook and land my first rock bass for 2017.
I moved again and started catching striped shiners on the grub. A few of these guys were over 6" in length. I moved again down the confluence spring branch and the Niangua. I caught a bunch more striped shiners on the grub just above the bridge. I ended up with 13 striped shiners for the day. I didn't see any sculpin near the bridge, but did have some darters interested in the grub, but that jig was too large for them to bite.
I left the park and fished the Niangua below the bridge. I was trying to drift a worm under a deep undercut below a large sycamore tree. I didn't get any strikes, but when reeling in my line I had a sculpin holding onto the worm. I also caught another on the grub bait. I am pretty certain that it was a mottled sculpin, which would be another species for 2017. From my position I just could not get a good drift and decided just to fish from that sycamore. I saw a couple of suckers in a log jam below the sycamore. I could not get a bait positioned where it would be upstream of these fish and I could actually pull it out if I got bit. I made a cast and positioned the rod in amongst the roots as a rod holder and was going to fish the grub in the rootwad. As I picked up the grub rod, I had a big hit on the worm. I picked up the worm rod and got hit again. Unfortunately I broke off just as I set the hook. I had moved the fish and could see it in the water. It was either a large trout >16" or a sucker. I retied and fished a while longer. I couldn't get another substantial bite. I did catch a couple of hornyhead chubs and two more sculpin.
I ended the day around 3:30 pm. The temp was dropping and was in the high teens as I left the water. I caught one of the two species that I had hoped for on this trip. I will determine if the sculpin that I caught in the Niangua were mottled sculpin and that may be another species for the year. I also landed 30 fish to end 2017 with 915 fish. Not a bad day.