KW Morrow, White River

May 10th, 2004

Crane Creek No More?
By KW Morrow (silvermallard)

Crane Creek is a spring creek running through the sleepy little town of Crane, Missouri, in the heart of the Southwest Missouri dairy country. The creek empties into the James River, which then forms one arm of Table Rock Lake about fifteen miles downstream. The creek is the last refuge of pure-strain McCloud Rainbows in the United States, and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) acquired the majority of the riparian zone years ago for preservation purposes. Anglers have had access via these public lands for many years, and the fishery was highly regarded as a rarity in the heartland of America: wild trout in a natural spring-fed watershed. The McCloud Rainbows were stocked by rail car once in the late 1800s, and no subsequent stockings are known to have taken place. MDC has managed the small fishery for years as a Wild Trout Management Area, with strict "flies-only" and catch-and-release policies.

I had not fished Crane Creek for at least three years. I began hearing disturbing stories about how the fishery was "dead" from a few different people scattered out here and there over the past couple of months. When I asked one of the local fly shop owners and fly-fishing legends about the creek, his reply was "Crane Creek's always good." So I decided I needed to go see for myself. And that is precisely what I did yesterday. I packed a 7 ˝ foot 4-weight Redington rod and reel, my waders, my WilliamJoseph chest pack, and a digital camera into the Jeep and pointed it toward Crane. I arrived at the streamside parking area inside the Wire Road Conservation Area about noon. I decided to walk the stream for a while and just get a feel for what kind of shape she was really in. What I saw was not encouraging. No, it was down right discouraging.

I'm no hydrologist, but it seems to me that the flow rate had dropped by at least fifty percent from what I knew to be "normal" three years ago. Only a handful of very small fishable pools remained, and flow was all but interrupted in several places. The old streambed was overgrown with sedges and other plants along most of the length of the stream, living testament to the absence of flowing water for quite some time. I'm also not a fisheries biologist, but I didn't see anything along the more than two miles of stream I inspected that looked like a cold-water fishery. I did see some trout. I saw one Rainbow over six inches long. I saw hundreds of what can only be described as fry…evidence that there are some breeders...somewhere. In one fishable pool (the one containing the six inch fish), I wet a line. My optimism was rewarded with the smallest trout I have ever caught, a fish that would barely measure three inches. The only other thing I caught was a mild case of depression and a curiosity as to what the experts charged with preserving this once-robust fishery currently think and are doing about what is obviously a distressed stream. The moss and algae growth seemed to approach that found in warm water streams. There was a plethora of sculpins. Insects were hatching everywhere. And tiny fish were frequently striking at insects unlucky enough to hit the water. But still pools, shallow shoals, a general lack of flow, and strong signals of high nitrate content all seemed to spell "trouble" to my untrained eye. Worst of all: the utter lack of mature trout.

To me, it would be a terrible shame to lose such a rarity as the McCloud Rainbows of Crane Creek. I plan to contact the MDC officials responsible for the stream and find out what they think about what is going on there. Perhaps what I witnessed is but a normal part of the life cycle of the fishery, but I doubt it. It would be a terrible shame to lose such a fishery without a fight. If any of the readers out there know what's going on at Crane Creek, please contact me and share what you know. But I wouldn't plan a fishing trip to Crane anytime soon. ~ Ken

About Ken:

Ken graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1988, and spent the next several years serving in the United States Navy as an intelligence analyst and Russian Language translator. He is a veteran of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Leaving the nation's service in 1993.

Ken is also a published outdoor writer and historian, having penned articles and stories that have appeared in several national hunting publications like North American Hunter magazine, on GunMuse.com, in regional and local newspapers, and historical and literary journals. He also provides hunting and dog training seminars for Bass Pro Shops and other sporting goods retailers nationwide and works with other outdoors businesses and conservation organizations in the fields of public relations, promotional marketing, fund-raising, and advertising. He also is a partner in Silver Mallard Properties, LLC. He currently resides with his wife, Wilma, their Weimaraner, Smoky Joe, and their Labrador Retriever, Jake, in Branson, Missouri, where he founded the Branson/Tri-Lakes Chapter of Ducks Unlimited in 1998.


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