COLUMBIA — From Nov. 1 until the last day of January, about 2,400 rainbow trout can live in the Cosmo-Bethel lake without the fear of becoming someone’s dinner. But on Feb. 1 — the end of catch-and-release season — all trout become fair game.
“In February, it's harvest season,” said Michael Riley, president of the Mid-Missouri Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “There will be 30 or so people out there at any given time, and 95 percent of the trout will be gone in two weeks.”
The excitement from winter trout fishing at Cosmo-Bethel lake was absent last season. In the midst of a tight fiscal year, city funding for the program was cut, and it was forced to go on a one-year hiatus. But this year, the Mid-Missouri Chapter of Trout Unlimited took on some of the financial burden to bring the program back.
“We solicited some of our members for private donations,” Riley said.
The chapter raised $1,000, which was used to help fund the city’s $2,300 bill for the trout. The city agreed to pay the remaining $1,300 of the bill. The Missouri Department of Conservation will fund the remainder of the program, which generally costs in the range of $5,000 to $6,000, depending on the amount and size of the stocked trout.
Mike Griggs, parks services manager at the Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation, hopes the return of the program will be followed by a return to fiscal normalcy.
“We didn’t have the program last year, and it was really missed by those who used it,” Griggs said. “Now that we’ve got the program re-established, we hope the finances will be there the next fiscal year.”
In past years, when the city budget was not so tight, the city of Columbia and the Missouri Department of Conservation shared the cost of the program equally, and the city has been able to fund the program without private donations.
Jeff Kuse, a Columbia resident and member of Mid-Missouri Trout Unlimited, was glad to be back fishing on the lake Saturday morning. As someone who has fished at the pond since he moved to Columbia in 2007, Kuse was among those who missed having the program last winter.
"I was really disappointed," Kuse said, between casts of a neon-green fishing line. "[The program] gets people out of the house in the winter, which is a good thing."
Kuse added that the ability to fish for trout locally is not something to take for granted. Fishermen may have to travel two or three hours to get a spot like this for rainbow trout, he said.
"When I lived in New York and California, I always just fished in the ocean," Kuse said. "But when I moved here, I was stymied over where to go fishing, so I'm glad we have this here."
Griggs hopes the return of full public funding for the program is in order. He said this will allow the Mid-Missouri Chapter of Trout Unlimited to conduct more of its educational pursuits.
“I would hope that we as a city can continue to sponsor the program,” Griggs said. “[Mid-Missouri Chapter of Trout’s] focus is on conservation methods, interpretation and fishing programs. We hope they would be able to spend their money on these educational components.”