Nate Hagen is feeling the pressure. It’s 6:29 a.m., and in less than 60 seconds the trout siren at Montauk State Park in Salem, Mo., will sound. Dressed in flip-flops and a T-shirt with the arms cut off, Hagen, a small-town preacher from Illinois, is watching over a small army: his wife, Vicki; their three sons, Jarrett, Patrick, and Brandt (all under 10 years old); and longtime pal Bill Holeman. They’ve claimed a coveted position at the Social Hole, a slick, mossy pool just a few hundred feet from where the Current River bubbles out of the ground.
“Come on, honey,” Nate says to Vicki. “We just got one minute left.” “Calm down, honey,” Vicki replies. Her face shaded by a straw cowboy hat, she sits in a camp chair surrounded by kids’ fishing rods, boxes of Little Debbie Nutty Bars, and a block of Velveeta. White-bread crusts are heaped at her feet. Her mama cut off the bread crusts for her own cheeseball baits, Vicki tells me, so it’s only fitting that she do the same for her kids. Vicki simultaneously unsnarls a fish stringer from Jarrett’s legs, rigs three hooks with cheeseballs, and ties a “gut bug” to another line. At Montauk, trout are cleaned streamside and the heads and entrails flung back into the water. The gut bug, a small jig tied with red and white feathers, mimics, I learn, a piece of trout bladder or a chunk of stomach.