Chet Snyder of Grandview loves being part of the crowd each March 1 at Bennett Spring State Park.
On opening day of the trout season, tradition always lures him back. So it figures that health problems weren’t going to keep him away Sunday.
“He was in the hospital less than a week ago after he had a seizure, and I didn’t think he was going to make it here for the opener,” said Snyder’s son, Chuck. “But the doctor said it was all right, as long as he didn’t drive. And he really wanted to come, so here we are.”
Snyder, 81, has fished the trout opener at Bennett Spring since the late 1930s. But he had extra incentive to make this year’s event.
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The Missouri Department of Conservation, which stocks the stream, chose Snyder to be the honorary starter. Snyder’s longtime fishing partner, Tom Harber of Leawood, was supposed to be part of the festivities, closing out the day.
But health problems kept Harber away, so Snyder did the honors on his own.
“I miss him,” Snyder said shortly after he sounded the siren that starts the season. “We met through our wives, and we became fishing buddies.
“We started going to openers together in the 1950s, and we wouldn’t miss them. I remember one year when it was snowing so hard that he we had a couple of inches on our caps. But we kept fishing.”
Snyder paused and added, “It doesn’t feel the same without him. But I guess we’re both getting old.”
Maybe, but Snyder had a burst of youthful enthusiasm Sunday.
He reveled in the spotlight, talking to dignitaries before he pushed the button to sound the siren. Then he, his son and other relatives rushed down to their favorite place to cast for trout.
“If I’m going to be here, I’m going to fish,” Snyder said.
Snyder didn’t have to fight the customary crowds at the opener. Attendance at Bennett was the lowest it has been in recent years after a snowstorm and bad road conditions Saturday kept people away.
When the season opened at 6:30 a.m., only about 890 tags had been sold. But for those who made it, that was a blessing. The Department of Conservation stocked three trout per anticipated angler, based on past Sunday records. That meant there were plenty of trout for those who did show up.
Ben Holt and Glenn Vreeland, longtime fishing buddies from Independence, were among the fishermen enjoying the elbow room on the stream.
Holt caught and released 25 trout in the first 45 minutes of the season, and Vreeland wasn’t far behind.
They used a tricolor egg-pattern fly that they tied, slowly retrieving them under bright-red strike indicators. Time and time again, they used their fly rods to cast out their hand-tied flies, then watched as their strike indicators immediately went under.
“With all the fishing pressure these trout get at Bennett, you have to come up with something new, something they haven’t seen before, “ Vreeland said. “That’s why we came up with these new colors.”
And what colors are those? Holt just laughed and said, “We don’t want that in the paper.”
Holt and Vreeland have been getting together for the trout opener for 24 consecutive years. They weren’t about to let the snow and ice keep them from attending another.
“We drove down at midnight so we wouldn’t have to put up with traffic,” Holt said. “The roads weren’t great, but we just took our time.
“No matter what, we were going to get down here. You can’t miss the opener.”