By Bill Cooper
The biggest outdoor news to hit the news in decades appeared nationwide recently as the U.S. House of Representatives passed the landmark legislation to promote conservation and access to public lands on a bipartisan vote of 310 to 107. Passage of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) represents the single largest financial commitment to increasing public land access and opportunities for sportsman and women in a lifetime.
The GAOA, which passed the Senate last month on a strong 73-25 vote, will provide $9.5 billion over five years to address the crumbling infrastructure on America’s public lands and waterways. The National Park Service, which has been building a backlog of maintenance problems for decades, will receive $6.5 billion in funding. Another $3 billion will go to the Bureau of Land Management , U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service, agencies that provide critically important recreational opportunities for America’s sportsmen and women.
The inclusion of funds for BLM, USFWS, and USFS lands and waters will ensure that Americans have the ability to access critically important hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting opportunities. Over 246 million acres, 99 percent of BLM lands are open to hunting and fishing, while the USFS reports 99 percent of the 193 million acres it administers are open to hunting and at least 99 percent of USFS administered rivers, streams, and lakes are open to fishing. Collectively, BLM, USFWS, and USFS annually support more than 25 million hunting days and nearly 45 million fishing days, highlighting the importance of these lands for America’s sportsmen and women as well as the outdoor economy. Too, funding to address the maintenance backlog of these agencies will create over 100,000 employment opportunities.
Equally important the GAOA also provides full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually. LWCF has proven to be one of the most successful and influential conservation programs in the history of our nation. Incredibly, the LWCF has completed a conservation, recreation, or access project in every single county in the country. GAOA also will provide $15 million annually to increase public access for hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and other forms of outdoor recreation.
The GAOA now awaits President Trump’s signature to become established law.
On the local scene, participation in fishing has continued to rise in the face of COVID-19. A visit to a sporting goods store will easily establish the fact that more people are outdoors taking advantage of time off work. Many shelves that held fishing supplies are virtually empty. Some manufacturers are having difficulties keeping up with the demand for their products.
I’ve enjoyed my fair share of fishing trips this summer. My latest involved a trip to Maramec Spring Park, one of four trout fishing parks in Missouri. Maramec is owned and operated by the James Foundation. There is a modest entrance fee.
Maramec Spring Park is involved with an experimental trout fishing program with the Missouri Department of Conservation this year. The other three trout parks have a four fish per day limit. MDC is offering a five fish per day limit at Maramec for $5.
Anglers seem to be enjoying the five-fish limit. Five rainbow trout for $5 is considered a sweet deal by most fishermen. Private trout fishing resorts are forced to charge much higher fees.
I arrived at Maramec Spring Park around noon with my fly rod in hand. After a discussion with park employees to catch up, I headed to the Step Hole, a popular spot among local fishermen. Only one fisherman was there, my neighbor Roy King.
Roy is a bit of a celebrity in the area. He began manufacturing trout jigs several decades ago, and they quickly became the favorite jig of local trout fishermen.
Roy and his family branched out, however. Roy and his wife, Sherry, travel to other trout fishing areas often and have made many friends over the years. The Kings attract attention everywhere they fish, because of their fishing prowess. They often catch fish when not else does.
“People often ask me what I’m fishing with,” Roy said. “I always show them and often give them a jig or two. I like to see people catch fish, especially kids.”
King is not allowed to sell jigs while fishing in the trout parks, but the family maintains a website at www.troutjigs.com where they can be ordered. They come in a wide variety of colors, but the favorite at Maramec Spring Park for many years is a green jig body with white rubber legs.
I waded across the spring branch to fish downstream from Roy. He was busy catching suckers when I arrived. He turned one way to fish for suckers. Once they tired of his offerings, he turned 180 degrees to fish in the main channel of the branch for trout. He caught one on his first cast.
King is meticulous about his jigs, with making them and fishing them. He’s a big guy but operates a jig with smooth precision. He often sight fishes, placing his jig near the nose of a trout. “It’s all in the action,” King says. “Slightly jiggle on of my jigs and trout will hit it.”
Roy and I chatted as I watched him finish his limit of five trout. I had caught two on a shimmer minnow. I never asked Roy what he was using, because I knew he would tell me before he left.
Sure enough Roy spoke. “Bill, come over here and I will show you my secret weapon.” He regularly has a new secret weapon.
He handed over a couple of small jigs and swore me to secrecy. Roy tarried a few minutes to give me a few instructions. I soon caught my first fish on his secret weapon. Roy said, “you are on your own now, Cooper.” He's said that to untold thousands of anglers, whom he has helped over several decades.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award-winning outdoor writer and member of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and lives in rural St. James. He is host of “Outside Again Adventures TV-Online” and “Wild at Heart” on ESPN 107.3FM in Rolla. You can follow Cooper at www.facebook.com/OutsideAlways, www.aoutdoorstv.com and www.espn1073.com.