CASSVILLE — Leo Steinbrecher didn't expect to blend into the crowd at the March 1's trout opener at Roaring River State Park.
"I think I've fished longer than a lot of these people have been alive," Steinbrecher, 93, said of the other 1,600 fishermen who showed up. "I've fished here long enough that I can remember when there was a lake that you could take boats out on.
"And before that, I would fish Bennett Spring. I go back so far that I can remember fishing with some of the Bennetts (who donated their land to the state to make the park and public fishing area).
"That's a lot of trout."
That's not the only way Steinbrecher dates himself. He can tell stories of hitting the beach in Italy in World War II.
"My friend who was standing right next to me took a German bullet," Steinbrecher said. "He died that day. It was a terrible thing.
"I keep thinking, 'That could have been me.' "
But Steinbrecher went on to lead a great life, much of which has been devoted to Ozarks fishing.
When he returned home from the service, his wife, Marilyn, taught him to fish. She is from a family that was active in the outdoors, and she soon had a new fishing partner.
The Steinbrechers so loved the Ozarks that they left their home in St. Louis and settled in southern Missouri. There, they had their pick of places to fish.
They lived on Table Rock Lake and enjoyed tangling with largemouth and white bass there. Leo also spent a lot of time on Bull Shoals Lake, where he caught some huge fish.
"I remember the day when he caught two big spotted bass — one 7 pounds, 4 ounces, the other 7 pounds, 2 ounces," said Mike Steinbrecher, Leo's son. "He never registered them, but I think they might have been state records at the time.
"He had one of them mounted. He ate the other one."
Along the way, Steinbrecher also developed a love for Roaring River State Park and its breathtaking trout stream set in a deep valley. He started fishing it regularly with a fly rod and began tying his own flies.
"Want to know a secret?" he said in hushed tones. "A friend of mine showed me how to take an old burlap sack and cut it into pieces and make flies out of it.
"I make scuds out of them. They're great flies. I've caught a lot of trout on them."
That's what he was casting when he waded into the crowd for a few minutes after opening the season.
He had a bite on his first cast but missed the fish. Minutes later, he watched as his son landed a nice-sized rainbow, and he smiled.
"We usually don't fish on the opener," said Steinbrecher, who lives on Holiday Island in northern Arkansas. "I don't like fishing in a crowd, but since we were here, we had to take a few casts."
When Steinbrecher got cold, father and son decided it was time to leave. But not without some good memories.
Steinbrecher looked at the tag that was marked with the number "001," and smiled.
"I'm going to have to frame this," he said. "It meant a lot to me that they would pick me to open the season."
The day also was memorable for Chris Adamson of Monett. Fishing below the outflow from the hatchery, he benefited from a lack of sleep. He had gotten to the park early to reserve his favorite spot. When the season opened, it paid off.
"We got here at 3 this morning," he said. "If you want to get one of the good spots, you have to get here early.
"We almost always catch our limit in this spot."
Steinbrecher stood in the background, watched as others caught fish and basked in the moment.
"I always love coming back here," he said. "I've fished here for a long time. And I'm not done yet. I still have some more casts in me."