| For more than a half-century, guests have flocked to the Rainbow Trout & Game Ranch at Rockbridge to relax from their busy routines and fish for spectacular rainbow trout. Rockbridge’s iconic gristmill on Spring Creek has stood since 1868. When the ranch first opened, the fish hatchery was located in the lower level. Today, the Grist Mill Club calls the building home. Buy a print of this photo.
It’s only a couple miles off Highway 95 in Ozark County, but the journey up the blacktop road to the hamlet of Rockbridge seemingly transports you back in time.
Here, old men still sit on the front porch of the general store swapping lies. Kids ride bikes and play in the stream. Little brother in tow, a teenage girl strolls down the road past the old bank. Tackle boxes and fishing rods in hand, they head to their favorite hole below the old gristmill. A neighbor picking up her mail at the post office waves and says hello.
Since 1954, the Amyx family has preserved a slower pace at Rockbridge and the Rainbow Trout & Game Ranch that occupies it. Though the rest of world may be in a hurry, generations of families have retreated to this quaint village in the valley seeking respite.
“There are no distractions here,” says Ray Amyx, whose parents Lile and Edith, along with his uncle Clay, created the trout fishing resort, which is served by White River Valley Electric Cooperative. “There’s no TV, no cell phones. It’s a place to kick back and relax.”
Indeed, this picturesque getaway in the Ozark hills not only offers hard-fighting rainbow trout, but it also allows families the opportunity to be families.
“The kids tell me that at home, their moms and dads are going every direction. Dad’s on this shift, Mom’s on this shift, kids have these things going. Nobody ever sits together, eats together,” says Sandy Amyx, who moved to Rockbridge in 1969 and has spent the past 25 years as postmaster. “At Rockbridge, they play games together, they eat together, they fish together. They do it all together.”
|Jim Kuhn of St. Charles enjoys a round of sporting clays on the ranch’s challenging 10-station course.
Long before the trout ranch opened, Rockbridge was a destination for families. Originally located at the confluence of Spring and Bryant creeks, the mill town flourished as the first county seat of Ozark County, serving people within a 75-mile radius.
However, Rockbridge lost its status as county seat to Gainesville in 1857, and the village quickly declined. By the Civil War, only a few buildings remained, which guerrilla bands burned.
Following the war, a new mill was built at its current location, along with a general store, bank, church, school and blacksmith shop. Rockbridge once again became a gathering place.
It was during this era that the Amyx family first moved to Rockbridge. Ray’s grandparents, Sidney and Edgie Amyx, married in the village in 1895 and began homesteading the land above Rockbridge Spring.
The town remained a bustling community until the 1930s when gasoline and diesel engines made water power obsolete. By 1940, Rockbridge was essentially a ghost town; only the general store and post office survived.
In 1946, the Amyx son, Lile, returned to Rockbridge with his wife, Edith. They opened the Rainbow Trout Ranch in 1954, which today stocks 50,000 to 80,000 rainbow trout a year along a two-mile stretch of Spring Creek.
“We have great fighting fish. I attribute most of that to the water,” says Alicia Amyx, Ray and Sandy’s daughter. “We have clean, fresh spring water, totally uncontaminated. It’s a wonderful habitat for trout, and that’s what makes them taste so good.”
| Brian Reiter of House Springs casts his fly rod near Rockbridge Spring where trout tend to congregate.
Each day, 15 to 18 million gallons of water flow from the main spring, spilling over the dam at the gristmill. The falling action helps oxygenate the 56- to 58-degree water, making it ideal for trout. Another 2 to 3 million gallons of water flow daily from Rockbridge Spring farther down the creek.
Trout fishing at Rockbridge doesn’t require a state-issued fishing license or a trout stamp. Visitors instead purchase a permit from the ranch, then they pay a per-pound fee for the fish they catch.
“The state hatcheries do a wonderful job, but they want to sell you a chance to catch a fish,” Ray says. “Here, we want to sell you fish.”
Currently, the standard fishing permit is $25 per angler per day, and the trout costs $4.20 per pound live weight. Cleaning, packaging and freezing your catch is included in the fee.
The rainbows stocked in Spring Creek each day are not run-of-the-mill pan-sized trout. These feisty fish have an average weight of 2.5 pounds each, a size that practically qualifies every trout as a lunker.
“We call this catching fish, not fishing,” says Steve Jones of Chesterfield, who fishes often at trout parks in Missouri. “I think the biggest I’ve ever caught at Maramec Spring Park is 4.5 pounds. Last year at Rockbridge, I had one a little over 7 pounds, and yesterday I caught one that was 5.5 pounds.
“Where else are you going to catch fish this big? For most people, these are once-in-a-lifetime fish. You can come to Rockbridge and catch 10 of them.”
|The average trout stocked at Rockbridge tips the scale at 2.5 pounds, and many more are even larger. Buy a print of this photo.
Fly-fishing is the most popular method of catching trout at Rockbridge, though spin casting is just as effective. Ray says that on more than one occasion, he’s watched as a youngster with a Snoopy pole has hauled in a 10-pound trout.
“He’s usually standing next to a guy fishing with a couple thousand dollars worth of the best Orvis gear,” he laughs. “You should see the look on his face when that kid lands that fish.”
The ranch does offer a catch-and-release permit if that is your preference. Or, if you’ve never been fly-fishing, you can book a day with one of Rockbridge’s guides and learn the basics.
Fishing may be the first pursuit of those who visit Rockbridge, but the ranch offers activities away from the water. Enjoy a horseback ride or a hike on the ranch’s trails. Or, test your shooting skills on the ranch’s sporting clays or five-stand courses.
You can fish for just a day at Rockbridge, but if you prefer to stay overnight, the ranch offers a variety of accommodations, from motel-style rooms to entire houses. Ralph’s Ridge Condos — which are built on the site of the original Amyx homestead — are the latest addition for a luxurious getaway. Named for Ray’s uncle, they feature three bedrooms with private baths, as well as a full kitchen, great room with stone fireplace, plasma TV and laundry.
The resort’s restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, including many fresh trout entrées. Rockbridge also markets smoked trout fillets.
After spending a day hip-deep in Spring Creek, many guests relax in the Grist Mill Club, a pub inside the original mill. Here, you can enjoy your favorite beverage while watching others fish.
|Since 1954, the Amyx family has provided guests to their resort with first-class fishing, superb dining and comfortable accommodations. Today, from left, Sandy Amyx, daughter Alicia Amyx and Ray Amyx carry on the tradition.
As a fourth generation of the Amyx family now welcomes visitors to Rockbridge — Alicia’s 15-year-old daughter Darian works in the restaurant — the resort tries to change appropriately to please customers without allowing them to see the change.
“We try to add the small touches, but we very much hope that it stays the same,” says Alicia, noting in the past few years, they have added satellite TV in the conference room (but not in guest rooms), as well as wireless Internet for checking e-mail.
For many families, a trip to Rockbridge is a tradition that reaches back for decades. Tom May of St. Charles has been visiting Rockbridge since the 1960s. He says four generations of his family have fished the waters of Spring Creek.
“Just settling into this environment — the stream, the atmosphere, the people that run the operation — that’s why we come back year after year,” he says. “I have a picture of Alicia in her playpen way back when. They’re like family.”
Joe Glik of St. Louis agrees. “It’s a unique place. They have great food and nice lodging. And this is about as pretty a spot as you’ll find anywhere.”
Learn more about the Rainbow Trout & Game Ranch online at www.rockbridgemo.com or call 417-679-3619.