Outdoors With Mike

Cardiac Hill

Cardiac Hill…Fact or Fiction

By Michael Dixon

     Missouri residents are fortunate to have a variety of streams with some top notch fishing.  Four are in Missouri’s trout parks, and numerous others are fed by the many natural springs found in the Southern half of the state.  Add to that the outstanding efforts of the Missouri Deptartment of Conservation and we have some fisheries that are second to none.  I fly fish, and I’ve spent most of my life fishing Bennett Spring State Park.  I’ve never felt there was  a good reason to fish anywhere else, until a friend convinced me to fish the Upper Meramec below Meramec Spring Park.  Living near Elsberry, I could make it a “day trip” to fish there.  
     Our routine was simple.  Drive to Meramec Spring Park and leave the truck there.  We would walk to the end of the park stream, then fish downstream from the confluence of the park stream and the Meramec River below the swinging bridge.  Our quarry was trout, and anything else that would take our fly seemed like an aggravation. We had heard of access points farther downstream, but hadn’t looked very hard to find them.  Cardiac Hill, and Suicide Hill?  The names alone sounded like a warning.  Why should a couple of older guys risk life and limb, just to fish a different part of the same river!    
    
The other evening I received a phone call from my friend.  He sounded out of breath as he explained how he had just checked out Cardiac Hill.  He described how the walk down to the stream wasn’t bad at all, but the hike back up the hill was a real challenge!  I asked about the fishing part of the ordeal, and he informed me he didn’t have his fly rod with him.  He just wanted to check out the stream, and see how bad the walk in and out really is.
    
Now, I’m a retired scientist, and I found myself struggling to identify any logic in what I had just been told.  To me, exploring an access trail named “Cardiac Hill” without taking a fly rod is like hitting your thumb with a hammer to see how bad it will hurt in case you have an accident later!  That being said, I figured since he’s older than me and he survived the treck, then I probably could too.  And since he wanted to do it again (taking a fly rod this time), then I would give it a try.  We made plans for early the next morning.
    
The alarm clock sounded at 4:30, and I was on the road at 5:00.  I met my friend in Sullivan, MO, and we continued our journey from there.  When we arrived, there were no signs telling us we were in fact at Cardiac Hill, only a sign indicating that somewhere down the hill is a “red ribbon” trout stream.  The regulations were clearly displayed: Flies and artificial lures only, no natural bait or soft plastics, and a reminder that the daily limit is only two trout that must be at least fifteen inches long (each, not laid end to end).  As I read that part, I thought to myself that the limit is most likely a theoretical number, but I regarded it as a challenge!  The stream is known for Brown Trout.  Big Brown Trout,  and Cardiac Hill was waiting.  I didn’t see a portable defibrillation machine or CPR instructions posted anywhere, so it can’t be too bad. Right?
    
After a very short hike from the parking area through the woods, we reached a gravel road.  The road led us down the hill to the bottom, where, again, we hiked along a small trail to the river.  A quick survey of the area from that point indicated crossing to the other side would be best.  Roots and rocks served as steps for the final descent into the water.    The current was swift where the trail ended, and rocks on the bottom made crossing a little tricky, but crossing was the only good option. 
    
We fished about three hours before deciding it was time to attack the hill and return to the truck. I was right about one thing, the two trout limit was a theoretical number that day.  Forget the length limit.
    
We climbed the roots and rocks to get out of the water, then walked along the trail to the road.  That’s when it became apparent how the hill got it’s name!
    
Up the road we walked.  The grade was as steep as thirty degrees in some areas, and appeared to be steeper in others.  As I walked, I was reminded of another scientific principle.  I’m a scientist, remember?  Wet wading boots weigh more than dry wading boots!  It would have been nicer if they were wet walking down the hill, and dry walking back up, but streams tend to be found in the valleys (yet another scientific observation). 
    
After a series of walk a while, rest a while, walk a while, etc. we made it back to the top of the hill and the truck.
    
I learned a few things on this trip, and I feel they are worth sharing. 
    
Driving directions to the parking area can be found online at www.missouritrouthunter.com/.
    
Take some walking shoes down the hill to the river.  There is a large log near the water that can serve as a chair.  After fishing, change into the comfortable shoes for the walk back up the hill and carry your waders.
    
Pack a snack and drink in your vest.  It’s a long walk back to the parking area for a break, so take the break at the stream.  You’ll be able to fish longer, and enjoy the time more.  Just be sure to carry the empty containers out with you!
    
Take your time walking back to the parking area.  Fly fishing is not about being in a hurry, and the walk back should be approached with the same attitude.  Pause frequently and watch for wildlife.  If you have a camera with you, use it.
    
Catching trout isn’t everything!  In all fairness, I did see trout.  They just weren’t interested in what we were offering at that particular time.  We did catch a few Goggleye and sunfish that morning, and had a good time doing it.  Smallmouth bass are also plentiful in the stream. 
    
We were there on a weekday in September, and didn’t see another human the entire morning.  Half of the time I couldn’t even see my fishing partner!  Be aware, though, that the Meramec is a popular canoeing river during the summer.   
    
As an end note, Missouri’s four trout parks require a daily trout tag.  Any time you fish in designated trout water outside of a park, an annual trout permit is required in addition to the annual fishing license if you plan to keep the trout you catch.  Also, waders with soles made of felt or other porus materials are prohibited in designated trout waters.  A quick check at www.mdc.mo.gov will answer all your questions.
    
I’ve been told that “Suicide Hill”, which is a little further downstream, requires the abilities of a mountain goat.  I’ll leave that adventure to the younger enthusiasts.
 


This article was first published in Driftwood Outdoors, November/December, 2012

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