The alarm was set for 5 a.m. and it did its job without fail. We got up and began getting ready.
The car was packed the night before with all the fishing gear and clothes, so the only thing that needed to be taken to the car this morning was the cooler after we got the ice and other stuff out of the fridge.
The car had a full tank of gas and was also raring to go. It was the 23rd of October and we were headed for Montauk State Park for our last trip of the trout season, which ends at the end of the month.
It is a tradition for us to close out the fishing season in this way and we normally do it at the very end of the month, but this year the 23rd was working best for us.
We live in Crystal City, Mo., so our route to Montauk entails traveling south on Highway 21 to Highway 32, and then west to Salem and Montauk shortly afterward. The drive is three hours but I don’t mind it.
We’ve tried the Interstate 44 route, which involves getting off at Rolla and then heading south, and it still takes three hours but you don’t experience the nice drive through the countryside and as an extra bonus at this time of year, there’s all the impressive fall colors.
Also, the Interstate 44 route involves getting into the middle of a lot of rush hour St. Louis traffic, especially at the time of morning that we like to leave.
I have always been a fan of small towns so I also particularly like all the small towns through which we pass, some of which are Hillsboro, DeSoto, Old Mines, Potosi, Caledonia, Bixby, Boss, and Salem.
On our first leg of the trip, going south on Highway 21, we met a lot of cars heading north to St. Louis taking their drivers and passengers to work. We were reminded of how nice it is to be retired and heading toward a fishing hole instead of off to work.
Our first stop along the way, a tradition for us, was at the Hardee’s at Potosi. My wife likes their biscuits and gravy and I, with my sweet tooth, like their cinnamon and raisin biscuits. We got fresh coffee for our travel mugs and we were off again.
The next interesting small town is Caledonia, population 130. This town was laid out in 1819 and features a lot of old, historic homes that have been restored. Every time we go through this town, I think that it would be a good place to retire.
The speed limit is 30mph through the town and I always slow down, not only out of respect for the law but also out of respect for the town itself. It is a neat town.
After Caledonia, the turnoff on Highway 32 is not too far away. The first sight after turning onto 32 is a school on the right. We see several country schools on our trip. Country schools always seemed to me to have more personality than those in the city.
I’ve often wondered what it was like to attend one of those one-room schoolhouses of the past. I’m sure those teachers earned every cent they were paid.
The leg of the trip along Highway 32 is the longest part of the trip. It is a very curvy road and we often comment that if it was straightened out, it would knock at least an hour off the trip, maybe more.
Several small towns dot this leg of the trip. If fall colors are to your liking, then this route is an ideal place for you to be at this time of year.
Salem finally fell into view and it seemed like a big city compared to the small towns we had seen. Sometimes we stop at the McDonald’s there and sometimes not. It depends on how large our coffee intake has been.
Leaving Salem, we continued on Highway 32. We could go all the way to Highway 119 which takes you all the way to the entrance of the park, but my son worked out a shorter route and we turned off onto Highway F, just a few miles out of Salem, which ends at Highway E.
Turn right and we end at Highway 119. Turn left and its only 5 miles or so to the park.
We arrived at the park and our first stop was at the lodge to get our daily trout tags. I have one of those plastic see-through tag holders that is attached to the back of my vest.
We then made it to the parking lot near our favorite spot and commenced getting the rods ready and donning our waders. My wife started with an orange mop fly and I started with an olive mohair leech.
I enjoy this ritual of getting ready to fish as much as I enjoy the drive here. I have had a great day thus far and we haven’t even got into the water yet.
The fish weren’t exactly jumping into our arms that morning but we did manage to catch and release a few before breaking for lunch. We usually pack a picnic lunch on these trips but since we were just going to be here for the day, we thought we’d enjoy lunch at the lodge.
The special of the day was sloppy joes and they were tasty and very large. You always get big servings at the lodge dining room.
After lunch, I fished a while longer and before leaving, I got some nice photos of the stream and some of the fall colors. We had a great time. The temperature was a little chilly, forcing us to keep our sweat shirts on all day, but it was certainly not unbearable.
It was sunny. The sky a brilliant blue. All the fall colors made it a great day to be outside and when you toss in a few feisty trout to boot, you have all the makings of a good day.
Before we left, I thumbed through the trout tags that had accumulated in my vest. A lot of those days, it was just my wife and I but in May, we were here with my son and his family, and our daughter, which was a great time.
In July, it was an all-guys trip with just myself, my son, and two grandsons for three days… also a great time. A lot of memories have been made this past year and over the many years that we have been coming to this place… fifty years and counting to be exact.
At first, it was when the kids were little and we were into tent camping. The kids loved it. Tent camping is no longer an option for my wife and I as we enjoy the comfortable accommodations of a room at the lodge.
Nevertheless, my wife and I are big fans of this place and definitely plan to keep coming here for many more years to come.
I’ll probably make some trips down here this winter for the catch and release season. My wife always bows out of those trips. She’s a very good fishing buddy but doesn’t like fishing in the cold weather.
Come springtime, though, another year of fishing will begin and without a doubt there will be more wonderful memories made at this wonderful trout fishing haven.
(Bill Oder can be reached at email@example.com.)