In Part 1 – The Origin of the Legend; we learned how this little Ozark stream became a part of fishing legend. Read on to discover more about the stream itself, and maybe the technique that will help one create a memory.
Crane Creek wanders through the Ozark countryside, its direction determined by geography, flooding, and sometimes by man. It is a small stream, often a mere 10 feet across, although closer to its outsource at the James River, it has gained some shoulders, and might push 30 feet wide. Flow is gentle and primarily from underground springs along its length, although it is supplemented by rainwater runoff, and in one case, the outflow from Crane’s own sewage treatment plant.
The banks are often high and deeply wooded with Oak, Sycamore, Cedar, Boxelder, Pawpaw, River Birch, Hickory, Black Walnut, and the poorly named Honey Locust. Underbrush adds to the confusion, with Virginia Creeper and grape vines draping the trees, Dog Roses snagging at one’s legs, and Poison Ivy looking for an opportunity to provide a nasty rash. All this vegetation produces a shaded corridor under which Crane Creek flows, thereby adding a much needed asset to a near perfect environment for trout.
The countryside abounds with Ticks and Chiggers, and one should expect to encounter snakes of various species. Many stories are told about the abundance of Cottonmouth snakes on Crane Creek, although it has been the author’s experience that these venomous creatures are often confused with the very common Northern Water Snake. While the stream’s flow is normally very gentle, heavy rain can cause flash flooding and the high banks are testament to the increased flow during these events.
Why would someone choose to fish such a place with its obvious difficulties and possibilities of a snake bite or dose of Poison Ivy? Many don’t, preferring the sanitized setting of a Missouri Trout Park, like Roaring River or Bennet Springs. The person who chooses to fish Crane Creek is someone who is seeking the chance to catch (and release) a truly wild trout in Missouri rather than Montana.
It doesn’t take much research to find articles that suggest “Ninja” like stealth is required to catch Crane Creek trout and it is certainly true that many people leave the stream never having seen a fish, no mind catching one. Certainly the fish are truly wild and have survived for many years, so they have developed a good level of self-preservation. One can’t expect to approach the stream with the same tactics used in a Trout Park, although it might not be necessary to don a Ninja outfit!
Trout have eyes very similar to humans, with rods and cones, and while color may be of little importance, they certainly react to movement. An understanding of how a trout surveys its surrounding would be helpful, and probably less obvious clothing colors would be useful. Movement is the fly fisher’s biggest enemy when approaching wild trout, so slow and gentle is the technique for these situations.
An approach from downstream is always the primary choice as trout will generally face into the flow. Remember though, that Crane Creek does not flow strongly, and there are such things as back eddies which may mean the fish facing downstream.
Casting across the stream is almost impossible because of surrounding vegetation, so producing a cast along the line of the stream will generally be favored. With a stream that averages only 20 feet wide, a short cast is always going to be in order. The author’s own preference is for Double Taper fly line on a 3 Weight fly rod, although obviously a conventional spinning rod will be very successful in these circumstances if one is of that persuasion. Trout will naturally seek cover, be it a sunken log, or undercut bank, although they are predators and ready to pounce on suitable prey or even a correctly presented fly or lure.
Many who fish Crane Creek will wade the stream, and in certain circumstances this is unavoidable. The author would recommend anyone fishing the stream endeavors to stay out of the water. Trout have a highly tuned sense of hearing, not of sound, but vibration. Therefore, entering the stream will always put the angler at a disadvantage. In addition, wading can severely affect the habitat and even introduce invasive species to a delicate ecosystem.
The author’s personal choice of fly for Crane Creek has always been a dry fly rather than anything presented subsurface. This not to say that those kinds of fly will not be successful, it is just a matter of preference, and fishing in what I believe is the correct manner for such a gem of a stream. Hatch charts can be found online and recommendations for flies are freely available. I have found that with the abundance of food available to the fish, they are not “picky” and will take a correctly presented dry fly. When in doubt, look around and “match the hatch”.
During a recent survey conducted by the Missouri Department of Conservation, it was found that Crane Creek still held trout in the region of 20–24 inches, although these fish will have highly tuned self-preservation. Most commonly the fish caught are small, although any fish caught should be considered a memory to be treasured. Regulations allow keeping one daily fish in excess of 18 inches, although the use of bait is prohibited. Most people who fish Crane Creek choose to practice “Catch and Release” thereby allowing another adventurer the opportunity of catching one of the stream’s beautiful inhabitants. The World renowned fly fisher, Lee Wulff once said “Game fish are too important a commodity to be only caught once!”
Access to public fishing is generally good, with the Missouri Conservation Department providing two portions, referred to as the Upper and Lower Wire Road Accesses. A leaflet can be acquired from the Department giving locations and restrictions. The stream also runs through the town of Crane’s city park, thereby providing a third option. The rest of the stream flows through private property and landowner’s rights should be respected. Crane Creek is also listed as a “non-navigable” stream, which means that Missouri Law precludes wading access through private land. My advice is to arrive early and if the parking lots for any of the accesses contain more than half a dozen cars, forget fishing and check out the little town of Crane where you can get a hand scooped ice-cream at the Classy Corner Ice Cream Parlor.
In the late Fall when air temperatures drop, causing the water temperature to approach the threshold when the wild trout of Crane Creek begin to spawn. Females begin excavating their nests or “Redds” so it is not advisable to enter the stream during this period, thereby ensuring maximum reproduction.
So have these articles induced the reader to visit this little bit of fishing folklore? The author apologizes if he has dispelled some of the myths and stories attached to the stream, although the records are not totally complete, so who knows? A little imagination may conjure up images of men wearing Northern Blue and Southern Grey, fighting along the old Wire Road as the fate of a Nation was decided. Or maybe an Iron Horse chugging along the Crane branch, and then stopping for a few moments atop the trestle, while glistening little jewels were unceremoniously dumped into little old Crane Creek and into fishing folklore.