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Driftwood Outdoors: Meramec River trout trip kicks off midlife retirement

Driftwood Outdoors: Meramec River trout trip kicks off midlife retirement

February 10th, 2019 by Brandon Butler in Sports

Damon Spurgeon of Cardiac Mountain Outfitters guides Brandon Butler on the Meramec River.

Photo by Contributed photo

Retirement is amazing.

You hear a lot about people experiencing a midlife crisis. Instead, I enjoyed a midlife retirement. It only lasted 11 days, but I did my best to pack as much as I could into the week and half I had between jobs. So much so, I'm going to have to write about it in a four-part series, beginning this week with a fly fishing adventure on the Meramec River.

As soon as the clock struck 5 p.m. on my final day at the Conservation Federation, I turned the lights out one last time in a very historic office. Took a deep breath, said a little prayer and headed south to my Shannon County hideaway in the woods.

I spent time alone that night next to a campfire reminiscing about the last five years and how fast they went. Retirement leaves you with a lot of opportunity to reflect.

The next day, Friday, was spent doing a few chores around the cabin while waiting on my pal Nathan "Shags" McLeod to show up. Once he arrived, we suited up in our waders and hit a creek, not to be named, for some late evening smallmouth fishing. Turned out the water was too high to cross in my waders, so while trying to descend a small bluff I took a tumble into the water ending up completely submerged. February 1 is my new record for the first swim of the year.

A warm fire in the wood stove and a gigantic bone-in ribeye eased my cold bones and bruised ego.

The next morning found Shags and I headed north bright and early to meet Damon Spurgeon of Cardiac Mountain Outfitters and the legendary Gravel Bar Gourmet, Bill Cooper. We met up at Maramec Springs Park, which is one of Missouri's four trout parks.

It's the only one that is not a state park, but is certainly just as nice. From there, we launched Damon's really nice two-man fishing raft and Cooper's canoe. I rode with Damon, and Shags with Cooper.

In no time, we were into fish. Right where the spring branch dumps into the river was a hot and popular spot. A number of anglers were set up there fishing from both banks and they were catching a lot of fish, but we had a serious advantage being able to fish from the middle of the river.

Damon knew right where the trout were holding along a shelf, and we picked up quite a few. Shags was using a spinning rod, while I was fly fishing. He out- caught me 6-1.

Damon taught me a lot in just one day about fishing deep holes for big browns with fly fishing equipment. We used sinking lines and large, heavy streamers to get down to the bottom where the big boys hold.

Although we didn't land any behemoths on our trip, we caught some nice browns and I can definitely see how his tactics would pay off over time. Damon is an expert fly fisherman. I was really impressed by his skill, but also his commitment to conservation. He grew up on the Meramec River, and keeping the water clean and the fish populations healthy means as much to him as catching fish.

He's a true ambassador for the resource and I highly recommend him as a guide you would enjoy spending a day with, because you're not going to just catch fish, you're going to learn a lot about the river and why the Meramec is so special.

Bill Cooper never ceases to impress with his shore lunches. On this trip, he fried steak sandwiches with all the trimmings. It was ridiculously good. Cooper is certainly one of the best all around outdoorsmen I have ever met, but what I like most about spending time with him is he really knows how to slow down and soak it all in. He eats well and sleeps well, and hammers fish and game in between. He is a guy an aspiring retiree can really look to for guidance. This shore lunch was so good, I had to lay down right on the gravel bar and rest my head on a little log and take a quick nap in the sun.

I know a lot of retired folk take naps, and now I understand why. Just a 20-minute power nap charges you back up to finish any task, even catching trout from the Meramec River.

See you down the trail,

III

Brandon Butler, the director of communications for Roeslein Alternative Energy, is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at outdoors@newstribune.com.