January, with its cold and dreary days, can cause outdoor-minded people to get cabin fever, but it doesn't have to be that way. There are many ways to enjoy the month while waiting for the good fishing, mushroom and turkey hunting come April or the trout parks opener in March.
Hunters still have a few days to hunt including quail, ducks in the south zone, snow geese, squirrels, rabbits and coyote. Fishing never stops in the state, including catch and release in the trout parks. The parks are open to fishing on weekends through early February.
The winter season allows anglers who know how to dress for cold weather to have a lot of fun. Many catch more than a dozen trout, with a chance to hook a lunker thrown in for good measure. Some brown trout are included along with the rainbows.
Tackle for the winter catch and release season is restricted to flies only, and all fish must be returned to the water immediately after the catch. Anglers are required to have a Missouri fishing permit, a $5-yearly 'no creel' fishing permit and a no-charge daily fishing tag. Headquarters for winter fishing is generally the hatchery building. Jigs on single-point hooks meet the definition of a fly and are probably the most effective lures for trout park winter fishing. Mini jigs of 1/32nd to 1/100th ounce work best and can be fished on a fly rod or an ultralight spinning rod. Black and yellow as well as black and white are the favorite color combinations for mini jigs.
The best fishing is generally before noon, although anglers catch trout all through the day. Any weekend during the winter fishing at the trout parks, when the daily temperature high is predicted to be around 40 degrees, is prime fishing weather.
During this special winter fishing season, it is especially important to release the trout in good shape. Squeeze the barb flat on your hook with pliers. Don't play with the fish until exhaustion, handle the fish as little as possible and release those you catch immediately. These tips are ways to help keep the fish alive to fight again.
Another winter activity during late January and February is hunting shed whitetail deer antlers. With most hunting seasons closed or about to close, and with weather less than inviting, hunting shed antlers is an incentive to venture outdoors. Starting around the first of the year, whitetail bucks begin dropping the antlers they grew for the fall rut. The exact timing varies from place to place and from year to year, but you can be sure there are antlers on the ground throughout the state. Looking for them puts you in much closer touch with nature. If you are a deer hunter, it also provides clues to the locations and habits of bucks who survived the deer seasons.
The annual migration show has been going on this winter as a variety of waterfowl pass through on their way south along with bald eagles which follow. In various places across Missouri, special Eagle Days are held at some of the popular areas around our large lakes including Stockton, Truman and Pomme de Terre. Missouri is a growing spot for bald eagles during the winter months, so it is a good time to see out nation's symbol close up.
Outdoor people who have cabin fever might get some relief attending the boat and sport shows opening during this month. There, fishing seminars draw anglers waiting to get out and cast a line. Both hunters and anglers can discover information about the many activities available in our state.
High on the list of things for hunters and anglers to do during the winter months include getting their gear cleaned up and ready in anticipation of heading out in the spring to enjoy their sport.
White, a Stockton resident, has a versatile background in the outdoors as a participant and journalist. His column appears weekly.