Angler Doug Palermo casts his line while fly fishing in the fall at Montauk State Park. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

Summer trout fishing for many is about getting up before dawn and squeezing in a final cast near dark. But the pace slows when temperatures cool and leaves turn gold and red.

There’s a certain peace to trout fishing in the fall. As anglers cast into what they hope is a lucky hole, rattling leaves twirl and twist to the ground in a gust of wind. Dried wildflowers line streambanks beyond the tap, tap, tap of an angler’s feathered fly as it lightly touches the water’s surface, attempting to lure a bite. Heads turn as a rod bends: He caught one! Is it a keeper?

Why fish in the fall

Through Oct. 31, state trout parks operate much as they do during the summer, with hatcheries stocking streams daily. Then, after a short ban on fishing while parks transition signage to late fall and winter regulations, anglers can return starting Nov. 11 for catch-and-release trout fishing every Friday through Monday until Feb. 13, 2023.

Bennett Spring, Montauk and Roaring River state parks are closest to Springfield for trout fishing. Bennett Spring stays busy all year, but the clientele changes from season to season, says Bennett’s hatchery manager Ben Havens with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

How do I get fishing permits online or through an app? (Click to expand)

Brad Farwell, hatchery manager for Roaring River State Park, recommends anglers obtain fishing permits through the state’s new Mo Fishing app. The app taps information about your previous permits and issues current permits quickly. Plus, those permits are saved on the app, so you always have them handy, he says.

To download the Mo Fishing app to your phone, go here To obtain permits online without the app, go here.

“The fall can be a great time to fish the parks, and a lot of folks take advantage of the great weather and beautiful scenery,” Havens says.

While fly fisherman Doug Palermo loves casting for trout every summer, fishing in the fall is more relaxed, says Palermo who lives near Kansas City but often visits Missouri state parks, especially Montauk and Roaring River.

For one thing, he likes that fewer anglers line the stream banks — about three miles long in Montauk and roughly a mile-and-a-half to two miles in Roaring River and Bennett Spring according to the MDC. Plus, he and his angler wife, along with friends, like to stay overnight. They also like to hike. Camping and cabin or lodge rentals are one benefit of fishing in state parks; another is the addition of interesting trails, especially at Roaring River and Bennett Spring.

“It’s cooler, the trees are turning, and it’s much prettier,” Palermo says. “And it’s usually less crowded.”

How many anglers are in the parks? (Click to expand story)

Brad Farwell, hatchery manager for Roaring River State Park, confirms the average number of anglers fishing in October at Roaring River has been 10,000 to 14,000, compared to 18,000 to 20,000 in July. But fall numbers are trending up, he says. Last year in October, 14,300 people fished at Roaring River, the most they’d seen in 21 years — likely a rebound from COVID. “Everybody’s been wanting to get out and do stuff,” he says. “And the other part of that is, I think that people just like to come in October because the weather is a lot nicer and cooler.” 

Fewer hours, changing regulations

One change between summer and fall is the number of hours you can fish between horns. Compared to mid-June when Palermo rises before dawn and gets off the river each evening at 8:30 p.m., fishing in October takes place between 7:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., and between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. during catch-and-release months.

Palermo doesn’t mind shorter fishing hours. In fact, that’s part of the appeal. “I’m hardcore,” he laughs. “So I’m up with the horn and off the river with the horn, which in summer is all day into night. It’s nice when you don’t have to get up as early, and you get off the river at 6:30. So you can eat dinner and spend the rest of the night around a campfire telling stories.”

The trade-off in fall is fewer stocked trout — especially during catch-and-release months. From March 1 to Oct. 31, trout are stocked daily based on an estimate of anglers derived from average tag sales on a particular day over four to five years, says Tom Whelan, hatchery manager for Montauk State Park and Maramec Spring Park. The stocking rate is roughly 2.25 fish per expected angler, he says.

Trout swim in a hatchery pool at Montauk State Park. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

For catch and release, parks stock significantly fewer — between 3,000 and 4,000 trout total, starting with up to a third of that before it starts. Then they stock a few hundred up to a couple of times a month, Whelan says. “You know, these fish during catch and release, you hook them a few times and they get smart,” he says. “They get more selective on what they will hit. So you freshen it up by putting some new fish out there, to try to keep the success rate up.”

Zone regulations for each park change in November too. From March through October, each park designates three zones for various kinds of bait and flies, for instance allowing power bait in some areas while requiring flies only in others. (Don’t assume each park uses the same zone system, Whelan cautions.) For catch and release, flies are required for every area.

If you like more solitude, you’ll find it between November and February, Whelan says. “If you can brave the elements, you may be one of the handful that’s out there if it’s a real brisk day. And if you’re wanting to learn or sharpen your skills on fly fishing, it’s a good time of the year to do that because there are fewer people.”

Need to know details about state park fishing in the fall and winter

Montauk, Roaring River and Bennett Spring state parks are owned and operated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The hatcheries plus fishing regulations and licenses are operated by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Fishing hours, requirements and details for the three state parks are as follows:

Through October 31

Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily

License requirements: Missouri fishing license with daily purchase of a $4 trout tag

Trout stocked: Daily

Daily limits: 4 fish in possession

Fishing zones: 3 in each park regulating bait; they vary by park

Camping: Yes, if not full

Rentals: Yes, if not full

Nov. 11 through Feb. 13, 2023

Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday through Monday

License requirements: Missouri fishing license with annual trout permit (no daily tag purchase)

Trout stocked: Roughly twice a month

Daily limits: Catch and release only

Fishing zones: Flies only

Camping: Yes, if not full (Roaring River is more limited)

Rentals: Yes in Montauk and Bennett Spring parks, if not full

(For information about trout fishing at the privately owned Maramec Spring Park, closer to St. Louis, go here. For information about trout fishing at Lake Taneycomo, go here. For information about trout fishing on Missouri rivers outside of parks, go here.

Sony Hocklander

Sony Hocklander is a freelance journalist, video storyteller and photographer who produces creative content through her small solo business, Sony Hocklander Creative LLC. When she’s not telling community stories, she loves wandering the Ozarks outdoors with a camera in hand. You can follow her on Twitter @SonyHocklander and on Instagram @shocklander or email her at: sonyhocklander@gmail.com More by Sony Hocklander