A Frigid Day on the Meramec River


A cold, windy day finds most people resting peacefully on the couch watching football. I’m not programmed in that manner. I found myself recently floating and fishing the Meramec River with well-known fly-fishing guide Damon Spurgeon. Weather never seems to be a deterrent for him when it comes to fishing.

Temperatures hovered in the upper twenties when we shoved off from the Highway Eight Access, just east of Maramec Spring Park in the Missouri Ozarks in Spurgeon’s Clack-a-craft drift raft. A stiff north wind pushed the windchill to near teens.

Neither of us are strangers to cold weather floating and fishing. I have enjoyed these extreme trips for four decades, making a regularly scheduled float trip during the January thaw each year. I’d longed to make a trip with Spurgeon in his new float boat, and jumped at the chance when he extended an invitation to tag along.

We’ve developed an interesting relationship, since he began his Cardiac Mountain Guide service a year ago. The name of his business alone is intriguing. Meramec River anglers are all too familiar with the name. Cardiac Mountain is the name of another access to the river several miles below the Highway 8 Access.        The climb down Cardiac Mountain to the river, and back up, is not for the weak of heart. I haven’t made that climb in over 20 years. I prefer to float by it.

Leeches in the current

Spurgeon rigged a couple of Sage fly rods before we pushed off into the cold current. One he rigged with a ginger bunny leech pattern and the other with a Cerci worm. Spurgeon fishes as often as possible and knows what trout are hitting on.

The Meramec had recently been on fire. Spurgeon regularly posts photos on Facebook of successful clients and their catch. Brilliantly colored rainbow trout had been stacking up like cordwood, all having fallen to Spurgeon’s superb trout-fishing techniques. The occasional Brown trout added to my growing desire to get on the river with Damon.

The brisk North winds chilled us as it blew straight into our faces. Spurgeon steadily worked the oars of the raft to push us through the first two miles of the river flow. At the juncture of the Maramec Spring Branch and the Meramec River, the river takes a 90-degree turn to the East. Once we reached that point, we moved out of the cold wind.

Spurgeon anchored the raft 10 feet offshore as soon as we rounded the bend. I quickly reached for the fly rod rigged with the short leach pattern and began stripping line.

Fooling trout

“Cast 45-degrees upstream and to the edge of the seam between the currents,” Damon instructed. “Mend hard to get your fly ahead of the line and complete the drift to the tail of the pool.”

It all sounded easy enough, but in the strong current extra hard mends were necessary to get the right drift to prevent drag on the fly line and the fly itself. A drag-free drift is absolutely necessary to fool the wary Meramec River trout.

You can be among the first to get the latest info on where to go, what to use and how to use it!

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

It took a few minutes for me to get the drift down. I actually had to raise the rod enough to flip the indicator upstream of the curling fly line. During the millisecond the indicator was airborne, the fly line and leader would float out front and drift downstream in the desired fashion. Only then did I begin to get strikes.

“There’s a hit.” Damon yelled. “I was looking downstream,” I rebutted.

Another came quickly. My reflexes were still stymied by the cold North winds we had endured for the first two miles of the trip.

Spurgeon drifted the raft downstream another 15-yards and re-anchored. “Cast towards that dark rock,” he said. “There’s a hump there, and you should connect with a fish just below it.”

I felt confident as the fly line laid out across the moving surface. Mend. Mend again. Perfect looking drift. Strike. Hookset. Head thrashing. Limp line. It ended as quickly as it had started. “That fish felt good,” I muttered.

Minutes later, I placed my cast further downstream to drift to the pool tailout. As the drift neared it it’s end, a jolting strike reverberated up the Sage rod. I lifted the rod while pulling line. A scrappy rainbow trout danced at the other end.

A trip worth taking

Damon and I marveled at the incredible beauty of this river creature. A bright crimson stripe followed the lateral line, while pink fins outlined in white shined like neon. I slipped the sleek fish back into the water.

My next cast brought a repeat. Spurgeon had the formula down perfect. We each landed several more fish before drifting further downstream.

Our bellies growled. We pulled ashore and I began a lunch of steak fajitas, while Damon worked the water with euronymphing class. Within minutes he whooped his success as another brilliantly colored Meramec River rainbow fell to his charms. A small campfire and a hot lunch chased away the chills and we continued fishing.