The legacy of fishing Roaring River on Opening Day
March 2, 2016
Each March first, anglers line the banks of Roaring River, awaiting the opening gunshot to signal the a-okay to cast their lines in to rushing waters of hungry rainbow trout. For many of those fishing with the same adage as the post office, come rain, snow or sleet, the warmth of the tradition is enough to pull them out of bed while it’s still dark to stake their claim at their favorite fishing hole at the park and catch their limit that first day of trout season.
Jim Williams, of Cassville, has been one of those fishermen since 1961, priding himself in only missing seven times in the past 55 years. Two of those times were excused absences by most standards while he served in the U.S. Navy during Vietnam. Williams said, “They wouldn’t put the war on hold to send me home to fish.”
He also excused himself last year with the snow and ice all over the roads. “My son from Carthage made it, but I stayed home. I’m older and wiser, I think,” he chuckled.
Williams started the Roaring River Opening Day tradition when he moved to Barry County from Cape Fair. Since then, he’s picked his favorite spot, the first spot right next to bridge so that no one casts over him from the right. He said, “99 percent of the time, I catch my limit. On Opening Day, it’s almost always. If I go over 20 minutes to catch my limit, it’s a bad year.”
This year was apparently a slow one as it took 35 minutes to fill his stringer, but a broken rod was mostly to blame. Another fisherman stepped on his rod and broke it, but in true Roaring River Opening Day fashion, the spirit of those who brave the elements to participate in a time honored tradition, he gave Williams his rod to replace the broken one.
Kindness of strangers and a common nod of acknowledgment to the familiar faces of other anglers that come year in and year out builds a rapport that someone who hasn’t been to Opening Day doesn’t understand. Williams and many like him understand.
He said, “There are a group of guys from around Webb City who come every year and cook breakfast. I’ve gotten to talking with them, too. I’ve met a lot of people down there.” That breakfast was extended to this journalist, too. A refill of coffee, some toast and a bit of conversation was welcome while waiting for the governor to arrive to fire the ceremonial gun was much appreciated.
Over the years, Williams has perfected his own art of fishing. And like most fishermen, he has his white whale, but he actually caught his, and it’s mounted on the wall. He shared, “On Mother’s Day in 1977, I caught a 34 inch, 8.75 pounder.” When asked what he was fishing with, he replied, “I’ve caught a lot with different things, but it was a moss green jig on two-pound test line. When you catch one that’s as long as your leg, you remember.”
Roaring River was a tradition for Williams, then his two sons, and now his sons and five grandkids. It’s a family affair like it is for many of those at the park each March 1.
With 55 years of fishing under his belt and a whopper on his wall, Williams has earned his stripes at Roaring River. He said one day he fished from whistle to whistle and reeled in 101 trout. He said, “I walked back and forth all day long along the river.” But now, he isn’t looking for numbers.
Williams said, “I stop counting at 25 now.” Sometimes, you’ve proven your worth and can sit back and enjoy the river without keeping score.