- Fishing the Opener is Tradition
- Opening Day Fishing, About Making Memories
- Memories With Friends Last for All Time
By Brent Frazee
When Chet Snyder had a seizure in the winter of 2015, he had one pressing question for his doctor.
“Can I go fishing two days from now?”
Understand, this was no ordinary fishing trip. Snyder was chosen to be the honorary starter of the 2015 trout season at his beloved Bennett Spring State Park in south-central Missouri. And Snyder considered that a priority.
The doctor gave his approval, so Snyder’s family and friends made sure he got there.
“The doctor said I could go, as long as I didn’t drive,” said Snyder, now 82 and living in Grandview, Mo.. “That wasn’t a problem. So, I made it to another opener.”
By that point, fishing the trout opener had become tradition for Snyder. He and his good friend, Tom Harber, had attended every opener together since 1956.
The plan that day called for Snyder to sound the opening siren and for Harber to sound the closing signal. But Harber’s failing health didn’t allow him to attend, so Snyder was a one-man show.
Harber passed away in 2016, leaving a huge void in Snyder’s life. But he still has plenty of great memories and he plans to carry on with tradition.
A large photo of Snyder sounding the siren to open the 2015 trout season is a centerpiece in his home, a reminder of the day he was a celebrity at the park he loves.
“That really was a special day,” Snyder recalled. “It was cold and snowy and it wasn’t easy getting down there.
“But fishing the opener is about tradition. No matter what Mother Nature throws at you, you have to be down there.”
Few fishermen have followed that tradition as long as Snyder has. He has been going to Bennett Spring since his childhood days, when he would tag along with his mom and dad to the beautiful park.
Bennett was far different then. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked to build some of the stone buildings, cabins, bridges and roads that still cut through the park.
Crowds were nowhere near as large as they are today, and the fishing was far different, though the waters were still stocked by the state.
“I remember falling off a stool and cracking my head open,” Snyder recalled. “There was a doctor there and he stitched me up, and we went on fishing.”
Snyder also remembers one of the first days he helped with the driving.
“I was 16 and I had just started driving,” he said with a laugh. “I was driving home while my dad slept.
“Well, it started snowing and the roads got icy. My dad woke up and he said, ‘Why didn’t you wake me up?’ “
Snyder’s wife, Jo Ann, also remembers another opening day, when she felt obligated to go with the guys to see what the excitement was all about.
“It was in 1958, a year after we got married, and it was cold,” she said. “We tried to sleep in a pup tent, but it was so cold that we couldn’t get to sleep.
“So we were up all night, staying by the fire.”
Jo Ann tried fly fishing for the first time the following morning, but it wasn’t a great experience.
“I hooked more men than trout,” she said. “That was it for me.”
Jo Ann still looks forward to March 1, when her husband can join thousands of others at Missouri’s four trout parks – Bennett Spring, Roaring River, Montauk and Maramec Spring -- for the opener.
“March first is always a big day around here,” she said. “Chet’s always back at Bennett, fishing.
“That’s just a family tradition with us.”
Brent Frazee retired from The Kansas City Star in 2016 after 36 years as the outdoors editor. You can read more of his work on his website, brentfrazee.com. He can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.