Opening day for the catch-and-keep trout season at Missouri's four trout parks is March 1. Anglers are eagerly awaiting the 6 a.m. siren that signals the start of the new season. Meanwhile, they are examining their gear, practicing their casting, and checking the weather forecast.

Another way to get psyched for the season is to take a fly-tying class this weekend at Echo Bluff State Park, the park near the Current River that opened last July. Mark Van Patten, of Feather Cutter Farm School of Fly Fishing, is a nationally recognized fly fishing and fly tying instructor, and former host of a PBS series on fly tying called The Tying Bench, which aired for 13 seasons across the United States. Mark, a streams biologist, recently retired from the Missouri Department of Conservation and moved to the Current River area.

The Fly Tying 101 class will be this Sunday, Feb. 26, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the lodge at Echo Bluff. Cost for the class, which includes lunch and all supplies, is $60. Space is limited so instruction can be hands on. To register for the class, contact the park at 844-322-3246. The class is geared to people age 12 and up; youth ages 12-16 must be accompanied by a paying adult.

Echo Bluff is between Salem and Eminence on Highway 19. For more information about the park, visit www.echobluffstatepark.com. Additional classes on fly tying and fly fishing may be scheduled.

Trout Parks

Missouri is fortunate to have four trout parks. Bennett Spring, Roaring River and Montauk are state parks, and are operated by the Department of Natural Resources. The fourth park is Maramec Spring Park near St. James; it is privately operated by the James Foundation.

The trout hatcheries at the four trout parks are operated by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), as is the Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery on Lake Taneycomo near Branson. Tours are available at each hatchery.

MDC releases millions of rainbow and brown trout each year, making the parks a trout fisherman's paradise.

While many people enjoy the elbow-to-elbow atmosphere on opening day and some weekends, other anglers prefer calmer and less crowded fishing during the week. The catch-and-keep season runs from March through October. Catch-and-release season is in the winter. A trout stamp is necessary, in addition to a fishing license. Both can be purchased at the park stores.

Classes at Bennett Spring and Montauk

Whether you're a beginner or an experienced angler, chances are you could benefit from some instruction on fly fishing and fly tying. It is available throughout the season at Bennett Spring and Montauk state parks by two expert instructors.

In addition to Van Patten's classes at Echo Bluff State Park (see above), he will be teaching a series of classes at Montauk State Park, which is at the headwaters of the Current River, between Salem and Licking. Van Patten is a life member of the Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF) and past president of the Southern Council of FFF.

The classes will be the fourth Saturday of the month, from March through October. Fly tying will be March 25, April 22 and Oct. 28. Fly fishing will be May 27, June 24, July 22, Aug. 26 and Sept. 23. For more information, call Montauk State Park at 573-548-2434.

At Bennett Spring State Park, on the Niangua River near Lebanon, the Jim Rogers School of Fly Fishing offers classes. Rogers, the concessionaire at Bennett Spring and Roaring River state parks, has been teaching fly fishing since 1975. He is one of few international instructors to hold a Master Certification in fly fishing instruction from the Federation of Fly Fishers. He has won many contests for both distance and accuracy in fly casting.

Rogers will teach fly fishing at Bennett Spring on April 22, May 20, June 3, July 8 and Sept. 23. Group classes also can be arranged at Roaring River State Park, near Cassville. For more information, call Bennett Spring State Park at 417-532-4307.

In addition, Rogers is always eager to help with your fishing and casting problems at no charge, anytime he is available at the park. He sometimes offers fly tying classes, as well.

For more information:

Bennett Spring State Park, www.bennettspringstatepark.com.

Montauk State Park, www.montauklodge.com.

Roaring River State Park, www.roaringriverstatepark.com.

Maramec Spring Park, www.maramecspringpark.com.