For the past 10 years, Tony Flood has traveled to Bennett Spring State Park to fly fish for trout. Now, the Hallsville resident heads to Columbia’s Cosmo-Bethel Lake to pursue his hobby. This week he was fishing on his lunch break from a local construction site.
“They put some really nice trout in here,” Flood said. “Some weigh as much as 6 pounds, and some are 17 inches long.”
A few months ago, if Columbia anglers like Flood wanted to go trout fishing, their best option was driving to Bennett Spring State Park or one of the other trout parks in the Ozarks. Now, they don’t even have to leave the city.
Anglers have been trying their luck since Nov. 1 on the 2,400 rainbow trout stocked in Cosmo-Bethel Lake. Any trout caught must be released until Feb. 1, when the catch and keep season opens at the lake.
About 20 people came out for the season opening, with the lake averaging between five and nine trout fishers during the week and even more on the weekends, according to estimates by the Missouri Department of Conservation and accounts by several local fly-fishers.
“It has surprised us how much interest there is, especially this time of year when we are competing with the hunting interests,” said Tim Grace, fisheries regional supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Trout fishing at Cosmo-Bethel Lake has been equally popular with experienced anglers and newcomers, said Kent Campbell, manager of Clearwater Outfitters, which has seen an increase in business and inquiries from people interested in the sport.
“There are definitely a bunch of people who are going out and enjoying it,” Campbell said.
Allen Carothers of Columbia is one of those fishers taking advantage of the winter fishery. So far, he has fished nine times for trout at Cosmo-Bethel Lake and hopes to take his 9-year-old granddaughter with him soon.
“It think it’s great for the kids,” Carothers said. “It gives them the idea that there are things to do other than soccer and football.”
Campbell thinks the lake’s popularity is not limited to Columbia residents. “People have been coming in here from Jefferson City, Centralia and Hallsville, and people in Cape Girardeau and Jefferson City have expressed interest in starting their own winter trout fishery,” he said.
The size of some of the trout has helped generate excitement. A significant percentage of the fish are larger than those traditionally stocked at the Ozark trout parks, said Jeff Witten, president of Mid-Missouri Trout Unlimited.
Despite enthusiasm for the sport, questions remain about how long the trout will be able to live in the lake once temperatures heat up to 72 degrees, the threshold for survival of rainbow trout. “When you put a cold water fish into a warm water lake, you know at some point in time they will die,” Campbell said.
Witten agrees, but he thinks it’s likely that all of the fish will be caught early on in the catch-and-keep season, a prediction he makes based on contacts with the popular urban fisheries programs in St. Louis and Kansas City, after which the Cosmo-Bethel Lake fishery is modeled.
The Missouri Department of Conservation partnered with Columbia Parks and Recreation and Mid-Missouri Trout Unlimited to share the cost of about $4,000 to stock the lake.
Organizers hope the program will not only become a tradition in Columbia but also an educational experience.
“Our deep down hope is that residents will develop a respect and affection for trout fishing and get involved in the conservation of the fish rather than just taking them out and keeping them,” Witten said.