The return of trout to Ottumwa was a boon for area anglers, but I never can watch the stocking of the ponds without recalling a scout trip I went on more than two decades ago.

The troop spent a weekend at Meramec Spring, a large park known for its trout fishing. We planned to go, spend a couple days fishing and exploring a nearby cave and, with a bit of luck, have some fish for our campfires.

The fishing was good. One scout reeled in a trout and had another swim into his net as he scooped out the fish he had caught. He wasn’t using the net to fish, but the fish had remarkably good (or bad, depending on the perspective) timing.

Another one caught a fish less than 30 seconds after he dropped his line into the water at the start of the day Sunday. So did the angler next to me, though he wasn’t with the troop. The fish were clearly biting.

You wouldn’t know that by watching my line, though.

I spent about 15 hours fishing that weekend. The best I got was a little wiggle in the line as the trout looked at it, laughed, and swam away. I didn’t come up with a single fish all weekend.

I was disappointed, sure. But I had never been big on fishing. I went a few times with my dad when I was young, but neither of us was taken with the sport the way some people are. We’d have rather caught a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium. We’d probably prefer watching a game on TV, for that matter.

I probably appreciate the idea of fishing more than actually putting a line into the water. I can see the appeal. There’s definitely strategy involved. You have to know which fish prefer which bait, and there are differences in how you present the bait that can change whether you go home with a meal or not.

There’s a definite advantage to spending the time outside. People simply feel different when they’re not on the couch in front of a television, even if what all they’re doing is sitting in a chair waiting for a tug on their lure. There’s a genuine shift in people’s attitudes when they’re exposed to nature, even if only for an afternoon.

It’s also clear the biannual trout stocking in Ottumwa has brought an element to town that people enjoy. It’s something Ottumwa would not otherwise have, an attraction for people from the area and a good introduction for youth who might catch the fishing bug a bit better than I ever did.

Even with the chill on the air Friday morning, there were a handful of enthusiasts ready to go. They had their bait in the water before the Iowa Department of Natural Resources finished unloading the pond’s new residents. Most of the fish probably won’t make it all that long before winding up on someone’s plate, but there will still be enough to give ice fishers a challenge later this winter.

I doubt I’ll be going after the trout, though. If you ever see me with a fishing rod in hand, I’m probably after catfish. They’re a lot less picky than trout.

I’ve even caught a few of them on occasion.

— Matt Milner can be reached at and followed on Twitter @mwmilner

Managing Editor

Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.

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