Winter trout fishing underway at Columbia park

Monday, December 2, 2013 | 6:47 p.m. CST; updated 10:20 p.m. CST, Monday, December 2, 2013
Ben McCullough went trout fishing Monday at Cosmo-Bethel Park.

COLUMBIA — Nick Harper whipped his fishing rod back over his head before flinging the line out into the cold morning air. It made a zipping sound before plopping into the murky green water of Cosmo-Bethel Lake. As soon as the lure hit the water, he slowly reeled it back.

Harper was one of the Columbia residents who took advantage of an unseasonably warm December morning to go trout fishing.

Every year, Columbia Parks and Recreation Department stocks 2,400 trout in the pond at Cosmo-Bethel Park as part of the Winter Trout Fishing Program. The program seeks to "increase fishing opportunities and species diversity in urban lakes," according to a department news release.

On Sunday, Harper, who works as an assistant forester for the department, pointed across the water at the only other fisherman at the lake. He seemed to be struggling with his fly-fishing rod.

"He hooked himself on the back earlier," Harper said, laughing.

But Harper's wife, Katie Harper, harangued him to be more sympathetic.

"Oh, he's just learning," she said.

This is the first year the Harpers have participated in the event, though it's been held since 2003. Harper said he learned about the event this year from working at the department.

They and the man struggling with his line across the pond were soon joined by another fisherman.

"Are they biting?" asked Jim Schumer, a fly-fisherman arriving for the day.

"I've caught two and missed several more," Harper said before turning back the water.

He bagged his third a few minutes after Schumer walked away, bringing his weekend total to 12 trout. Katie Harper stood up with the camera ready to snap her husband's picture before he dropped the small fish back into the water.

The fishing at Cosmo-Bethel Park is catch and release through Jan. 31. Beginning in February, fishers can keep up to four trout caught in the pond. There is no end date for the program; it all depends on the speed at which the fish are caught, said Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Tammy Miller.

It's free to fish, but a valid Missouri fishing permit is required. And a donation box is available at Cosmo-Bethel to help cut down the program's cost, which usually runs between $5,000 and $6,000.

"It's a really good program, really cool," Harper said.

Schumer, too, said he enjoys the program, especially how quiet the fishing is. He won't be coming back once the catch and release season is over.

"I won't be here," he said. "It gets more crowded, and I like fishing in quite places."

Supervising editor is Edward Hart.

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