CLAYTON, Ill. -- The hook and bait hit the water with the familiar "ploop" sound and sent a circle of ripples spreading out across the top of the Siloam Springs State Park lake.
Cliff Scott's first cast of the day broke the silence and the serenity of the most beautiful morning trout anglers have had.
The lake reflected the rising sun like a mirror without a shimmer or shake. The only sounds were the songbirds serenading the waking woods.
"Pristine," Scott said. "This is a pristine morning."
He had set up on the bank of the lake a few hundred yards away from the docks. He had been the first to arrive, although others were coming. After casting his line and positioning himself comfortably on a stool, Scott pointed in the direction of the boat house.
"You can hear them coming," he said. "They'll be launching their boats soon."
Sure enough, a pick-up towing a boat trailer pulled through the parking lot and backed its way down to the lake. There's a small lane east of the boat house where boaters can launch their vessel and tie it up to one of the docks.
One angler hopped out of the truck, pushed the boat off the trailer and tied it up. He climbed in, started the small trolling motor and waited for his fishing partner to park. Minutes later, they were off to a part of the lake only accessible by boat.
They waved from afar as they passed by.
"First boat I've seen," Scott said. "I don't think too many people like fishing in the cold."
It was 46 degrees that morning, a stark contrast to the first couple days Scott tried to fish.
The spring trout season opened last Saturday with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources stocking 54 ponds, lakes and streams throughout the state with more than 80,000 rainbow trout. Siloam Springs, Horton Lake at Nauvoo State Park and Kings Park Pond in Pittsfield are among the facilities that get stocked.
None of those places enjoyed a fruitful opening weekend.
"I've fished the opening day at Horton Lake probably eight of the last 10 years," said Simon Appletree, a Hancock County resident. "And I've always landed a lunker or two. This year, I didn't catch anything. So I decided I'd try Siloam Springs the next day even though it's a bit of a drive.
"I changed my mind that morning. Fish aren't biting when it's snowing."
They might, but most anglers aren't around to find out.
"I drove through the park on Sunday and had all my fishing gear in the back of the truck," said Jim Jansen, a retired construction worker who said he likes to fish everyday. "It wasn't snowing, but it didn't look like much fun to sit there and wait for a bite. I went home."
The snow eventually fell, but had melted within 24 hours. By Wednesday morning, with the sun shining brightly, activity around the lake picked up.
"I bet if you sat here all day, you'd have an angler to talk to all the time," Jansen said. "I sit for three or four hours usually. There's always someone here when I get here, and there's someone showing up just as I leave."
Being able to catch fish keeps them coming back.
Scott had sat for about 20 minutes without a bite, but he wasn't getting antsy. He poured a second cup of coffee from his thermos, pulled a donut from his satchel and enjoyed the sun and the morning breeze. He was completely content.
"Catching a fish would make the day complete," he said.
A few minutes passed before Scott saw the tip of his rod twitch. Something was toying with the bait, and it grabbed his complete attention. He lifted his rod out of its holder and gave his reel a couple of slow turns to take some slack out of his line.
"See how soft that is?" Scott said motioning to the occasional dip in the tip of his rod. "Something is nibbling on the bait but not grabbing the hook."
A moment later, the fish went for the hook and pulled hard on the line. Scott set the hook and methodically reeled in his catch. It was a small rainbow trout, nothing worth keeping but a catch nonetheless.
"Reel in a few of these and you'll come back all the time," Scott said. "Reel in a keeper and you'll end up like me, sitting here watching the sun rise every chance you get."
The weather finally is affording him that chance.