Rainbows Over St. Louis

The popular children's story maintains that a pot of gold is at the end of the rainbow. But for St. Louis winter anglers, rainbows are the pot of gold. Rainbow trout, that is.

The Conservation Department has stocked rainbow trout in some St. Louis Urban Fishing Program lakes since 1990. Since then, we have added several lakes and special catch-and-release regulations on some lakes to create a collection of close-to-home winter trout fishing opportunities.

In St. Louis, four area lakes (Lakes 21 and 28 on the August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area, Tilles Park Lake in St. Louis County and Walker Lake in Kirkwood) offer catch-and-release, artificial lures-only fishing (Nov. 1 through Jan. 31). Natural baits or scented plastic baits are not allowed until trout harvest begins on Feb. 1.

How can you cash in on this golden opportunity? Though it depends on your fishing preference—catch-and-release or harvest—some basic tips may help you catch more winter rainbows.

Think light, as in light lines, small baits and sensitive fishing poles. Lines should be no bigger than 6-pound test, but I've found thinner works better. My favorite is 2-pound test. When using line this thin, it is important to make sure the line is fresh and without nicks.

I've always maintained that anglers should use baits and lures they feel confident using. If you have confidence in a certain bait, you are more likely to fish it correctly and probably will have better luck.

Anglers using fly or spinning gear have a variety of flies and lures to choose from. Woolly buggers or woolly worms are good choices for fly anglers. Darker colors work well when tied to a size 14 or 16 hook. Small jigs (down to 1/80-ounce) suspended from floats can work well. Spoons (less than 1/8-ounce), in-line spinners (1/16-ounce) and unscented, 1/32-ounce plastic baits can be great fun to fish right after stocking.

If you use floats, the smaller the better. Trout can sense large floats and usually will drop the offering. Micro-floats work well. I prefer small slip bobbers so I can easily change depths without damaging fishing line.

Bait users (after Feb. 1 on some lakes) should consider using prepared baits. Fished below floats or on the bottom, these marshmallow-like baits are effective in a number of colors. Corn, worms, cheese and minnows also work well. Minnows suspended from floats can attract fish well after stocking dates.

Though some urban lakes don't have much fish cover, trout often congregate around what is available. Aerators provide some current, which seems to attract fish. But be careful not to snag the aerator or you'll soon be retying your line.

Rock attracts trout within days of stocking. Check lake dams and shorelines with exposed rock, making casts parallel to the rocks. Newly stocked trout tend to suspend near the lake surface (looking for the next feeding from hatchery staff). Small dark baits, fished within 18 inches of the surface will prove productive.

Since this is winter fishing, anglers should dress for the cold. Neoprene or heavy wool gloves help keep fingers warm, while allowing for baiting, untangling line and other tasks. I recommend wearing a heavy cap that covers your ears. Insulated boots will allow anglers to stand for several hours without getting cold feet. And, of course, layered clothing keeps you warmest, while allowing for plenty of movement. Don't worry about looking like the Michelin man; the object is to stay warm and have fun!

Who knows what makes winter trout fishing so popular. Maybe it's the refreshing bit of cold after a hot, soupy summer. Or perhaps, the crisp strike of a brightly-colored projectile from the deep keeps bringing urban anglers back. One thing is for sure. More and more St. Louis anglers look for rainbows over St. Louis each year. And many of them find their pot of gold during winter fishing trips.

We do not announce trout stocking dates ahead of time, but immediately report stockings to the Fish Stocking Hotline at (636) 300-9651.

You can receive a free map, complete with St. Louis area trout fishing locations and regulations, by calling the St. Louis Regional Office at (636) 300-1953 or Powder Valley Nature Center and asking for the "Fish St. Louis" brochure.