by Wes Zacher
Fishing for a good time? Nestled in the tranquil seclusion of the Ozark Mountains, southeast of Springfield, Missouri is the Rockbridge Rainbow Trout Ranch, consisting of over 2000 acres of wooded land, rivers, and nature trails. This retreat is a worthwhile excursion for anyone wanting to relieve themselves of commotional city life.
The modern retreat was founded in 1954 by the Amyx family to preserve the enriching history of the property. Before it became a popular Ozarks attraction, it was merely the small community of Rockbridge, consisting of a bank, a gas station, a church, a post office, a school, and the infamous gristmill for which Rockbridge is known. The mill closed in the late 1940s, but remains a historic treasure of Rockbridge, as it was once the center of the small community. It was the location where many came together to vote in elections, socialize with friends and family, and purchase their flour. The strong history is one of the many reasons people visit, aside from the serene environment it has to offer.
“[Rockbridge] is quiet, fun, and it definitely has a long history. It’s simply a unique, first-class place,” said long-time visitor Mark, who has been familiar with the ranch for fifteen years. “The fish are definitely bigger, too.”
There is a reason the trout are significantly larger than other fishing areas, and it is due to the manner in which they are bred.
“We take our own eggs and fertilize them, which a lot of hatcheries don’t do anymore, surprisingly. We do it all,” says Dave Cahoon, an employee of the ranch for fourteen years and a resident of Ozark County. “We raise them and feed them well until they’re large enough to be fished up.”
The large fish aren’t the only reason people are astounded by the resort. They are intrigued by the peace and scenery. The resort sits approximately twenty miles from the nearest town, but that is what customers enjoy about it. Locals and employees claim that this is the one place where they can truly enjoy the essence of life and become one with nature, without being burdened by other matters.
“Here you can enjoy life instead of being a part of the rush you have in the city. It’s peaceful,” Cahoon states. “You can enjoy the wildlife and the birds, like the eagles and blue heron.”
The area is filled with various species of birds, deer, badgers, groundhogs, and trout, of course. The rivers that run through the retreat are stocked with the largest trout in the county. If you are new to fishing and lack the necessary equipment, fishing poles are available to rent in the bait and tackle shop. Additionally, the shop carries clothing and merchandise to purchase as memorabilia from your trip.
In addition to the shop is the esteemed restaurant enjoyed by many locals and tourists daily, especially during the spring and summer months. The restaurant serves a variety of breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. Several fan-favorite dinner options include the grilled lemon pepper trout, the blackened trout, and the prime rib. The restaurant also offers unique homemade soups which are made from their own secret recipe.
Business thrives between the months of April and September. For example, Rockbridge proudly hosts an Independence Day celebration annually, consisting of vendors, games, and horseback rides. The eventful day ends with a large fireworks display. Beginning this summer, they started hosting movie nights for children. Although attendance declines during the autumn and winter, Rockbridge gets creative to keep business healthy. In October, they hosted a fall festival that featured hayrides, bounce houses, live music, vendors, and costume contests. They even host a week for grandparents, where they can spend quality time fishing with their grandchildren. In December, children can enjoy a special breakfast with Santa.
A lot of locals are very dedicated to trout fishing, even during the winter months when business declines. Trout is a favorite for many people in the area, not just for eating, but for recreation.
“Trout are funner to fish up and put up a better fight,” Cahoon claims. “It smokes so well, too.”
A visit to Rockbridge wouldn’t be complete without experiencing an adventurous horseback ride through the trails. Rockbridge has a staff of experienced riders that can assist anybody who hasn’t been horseback riding to assure they have a proper Ozarks experience. Rides often last about an hour and can be scheduled daily for anyone ages 12 and up. Those under the age of 12, however, can experience corral rides, which are supervised by guides. Children are taken into the field to ride around and experience the joy of a horseback ride safely.
The Rockbridge Rainbow Trout Ranch has become a popular attraction in Southern Missouri. This is not only due to the various activities available for visitors to experience but also because of the sincere and genuine staff that keep the resort running. Upon entering the restaurant and shop, you will be welcomed by courteous and hospitable employees who are always striving to satisfy the customers.
“The staff gets along great with each other and the customers. We try to give customers everything they need and more,” says Thomas Barnett, who has held various positions at the Rockbridge Trout Ranch. “That’s what makes it such a nice place to work for me.”
Anyone who was raised in a small town knows that the people within the community become more than acquaintances. At a place like Rockbridge, every individual is treated like a loving family member, even if the visitors are from a distant place. This sentiment is shared by many, if not almost all of the staff members.
“Rockbridge is like a big family. I’ve seen a lot of the same guests we have had for twenty to thirty years. Lately, I’ve seen a lot of new faces too,” says Lonnie Welch, who works at the front desk with check-in. “Additionally, we always have something going on here, and I think that’s why this place thrives.”
Regardless of where you are from or how much experience you have with country life, anybody who wants to truly connect with nature is invited to visit the Rockbridge Rainbow Trout Ranch for a memorable Ozarks experience.