Well, with all the rain that we've been having the last few weeks...my chances to fish have been few and far between. This past week we really got hammered by rain which left all the tailwaters at full generation, rivers and streams blown out, etc. This scenario doesn't really work out too well for a guy who's on the edge of going crazy if he doesn't get to cast a fly.
Well, I'd been kicking around the idea of going to Missouri all last week if ANY river or stream came down enough to make for fishable conditions. I watched the USGS site all weekend and it wasn't looking promising. I'd pretty much given up hope when I got a message on Facebook from Joey Cloer saying that they were going to hit up Crane Creek on Saturday and Sunday. I checked with Tim and he even said that Crane should be good, if not great by Sunday. That was enough for me! Which this decision was made at about 10:30 at night and I had nothing packed or organized. At midnight, I loaded up the last piece of my small pile of gear into the truck. I was set to head off to Crane after work on Saturday.
I left work and pointed the ol' Dodge for Roaring River State Park. The plan was to setup basecamp there and do some fishing saturday evening if the river was fishable. I arrived at RRSP to find the river up still a bit and just a touch off color. I set up camp and just decided to walk around the river for a while, waiting on Joey to meet me there. Joey got there shortly afterwards and we finished setting up camp, then headed into Cassville for some dinner. It was a cold night for camping, easily down into the 30s. We woke up at 7:00 to frost on our tents, it was a chilly night to say the least.
To give you a rundown on Crane Creek...its a small stream just outside of Crane, Missouri that has 2 conservation area access points that allow you to access the stream to fish for pure strain McCloud rainbows. The fish were originally stocked in the late 1800s and, I believe, the last supplemental stocking was in the early 1920s. So basically these fish have been here for over a 100 years, reproducing naturally in this little stream. They have been through everything...drought, flood, poaching, and still they survive! And are surviving in good numbers from what we found!
We arrived at the lower access on Crane just after 8:00am and geared up. We hiked downstream just a bit and put in a nice hole that had a lot of water running through it from the previous weeks rains. This created several nice seams that we fished out but didn't get any strikes. I came into this trip with an open mind on fishing Crane as I'd heard many stories about how tough this lil' creek is to fish but also how rewarding it can be when you catch one of these beautiful wild fish. We moved down to the next hole and Joey put in just below it, trying to be as stealthy as possible. On the 3rd cast, he got a hook-up with a nice McCloud. We didn't get a good look at the fish for sometime as he kept himself in the main current, down deep! These fish are VERY strong and scrappy fighters, especially on a 3wt! We finally got him to the net and he was definitely an awesome fish! The fish was easily pushing 18 inches...a real toad of a fish for this stream.
The fish was released un-harmed and dove right back into the run he came from. A few casts later, Joey was hooked up again with another McCloud! This fish was a little smaller but had a lot more color to 'em. Just a beautiful fish. We continued making our way downstream, fishing all the primo water that we found. The lower section looked awesome with tons of little holes and nice runs provide plenty of habitat for these trout. I was really amazed at how pretty this little creek is.
You really second-guess the fact that you're in Missouri, chasing wild trout! Joey made the comment several times that Crane reminded him of chasing brooke trout in Tennessee with how the way Crane is laid out. You get that feeling with the wildness of the place and the solitude you can get with fishing this little creek.
Oddly enough, we didn't catch a single fish after Joey caught those 1st couple fish after we made the trek down the creek to where it widens out, gets very deep, and you reall can't wade anymore. We were really stumped to say the least. We worked all the quality water over with our fly rods like a fine-toothed comb. My thought was that we made the mistake of fishing our way downstream which could of very well spooked the fish before we even got a fly in their face. Who knows. We packed up and headed back to town for some lunch.
After a quick stop at the local choke n' puke for some groceries, we laid a game plan and headed for the upper access of Crane. As we were pulling in, the access road runs right next to a section of the creek and you get a peak at what your in for. The stream is very different in the upper stretches. Lots of skinny water with loads of little holes and pocket water for fish to hang out in along with the odd log-jam that creates a moderately deep hole. We geared up and took the hiking trail upstream just a little ways before we put in just below a couple of nice looking holes. Stealth was going to be a huge factor here, no doubt about it.
Joey took a shot first at a small little run and on the 2nd drift, plucked a little 8 inch McCloud from the water. This fish was amazing in color. Lots of par marks, beautifully red and white tipped fins, and just a very clean fish. Healthy too! I couldn't believe how fat this little fish was...this high water musta really put some bugs in the water for these guys. After a quick release, I moved up to the next hole and crouched down behind a tree to make a cast next to a small undercut bank. On the 1st drift, wam! Pulled a little McCloud out that was basically the same size as Joeys. Same color and just as healthy, a great sign for generations of trout to come.
We moved our way on upstream, picking up trout just about out of every likely looking piece of quality water. The stream just seemed to get better and better the further we went. We found deep runs, pocket water, log jams, etc...and they all held trout. It was really amazing to see after hearing all the stories about how tough this fishery is. In 2 particular runs, we pulled 4 trout out of each run...ranging from 8-12 inches.
We spotted a nice fish that was probably pushing 18" in a deep hole just in front of a log jam. I re-rigged with more split shot and tied on a tungsten bead san juan worm to get the fly down quick to where the fish was because there was no room to make any kind of cast hardly at all. On the 3rd drift, the fish ate and I set the hook but I pulled the fly from the fish. It didn't spook so we waited a few minutes before making another cast. I bombed anothe cast up ahead of him and he ate it again! I set the hook and had him...for about 3 seconds and the tippet broke! My heart sank...it broke just above the split shot so who knows what happened. The fish was definitely spooked so we continued our trek upstream.
Like I said, this stream just seemed to get better and better. I was very impressed with this little creek. We spooked out several fish, a couple more probably in the 18-20" class! This little stream has so much character. We finally hiked up far enough that we figured we were getting pretty close to the conservation area boundary so we started our way back down. We hit a few spots that we'd skipped over and literally caught fish out of potholes that I woulda never dreamed a fish woulda been hiding in.
We ended the day with a nice fish that Joey caught out of a random hole that had just enough depth and cover to hold 1 trout! This fish put up an awesome fight...its amazing how scrappy these lil' wild fish are. I definitely can't wait to get back to Crane. This past sunday was easily a day you could describe as "epic" in my books. It really is a little gem in the middle of the Ozarks of Missouri...