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In considering what our fall fishing season might look like here on Lake Taneycomo, I look at a couple of things. First is the water levels of the lakes above our lake on Table Rock and Beaver lakes. With the recent rains and more forecasted, we should expect heavy flows for at least through the first part of September. But as we know, the clouds can dry up tomorrow and not rain again until Christmas… you never know.
When most anglers think of the fall season on our lake, they think of our brown trout spawning run. We start seeing a few browns move up above Fall Creek and the trophy area as early as the first of September, but the main run doesn’t take place until later in October and into November. I was just told Sunday of a big brown pushing 30 pounds sighted in the Fall Creek area.
We’ve seen a very big increase in the number of brown trout caught in the lake this summer. The Missouri Department of Conservation increased the number of browns stocked in Lake Taneycomo a few years back, and we’re starting to see the fruit of that increase.
The fall brown trout season has not been too spectacular really since the 1980′s and 1990′s when we’d see numerous browns caught in the 25-to 30-inch range. I don’t think anyone has come up with a good reason for their decrease, but the good news is that trend is starting to change.
Another favorite on our trout waters is dry fly fishing. August kicks off hopper season on all of our tailwaters, including Beaver and Bull Shoals tailwaters as well as the Norfork, all three in Arkansas. But Taneycomo holds its own when it comes to fly fishing with topwater flies like stimulators, hoppers, beetles, ants and parachutes.
There’s nothing like executing a good fly cast close to cover and seeing a big trout nose out of the water to slurp a hopper off the surface. And most of the trout we catch on hoppers are bigger fish for some reason. My personal best is a 23-inch brown caught a couple of summers ago on Taneycomo, but I’ve caught numerous 20-inch-plus browns on hoppers on the White River below Bull Shoals Dam.
There really isn’t anything like fishing late in summer or in autumn when the leaves are changing. The mornings dawn crisp and cold, and the bite of winter seems to be anticipated in the air. It makes venturing out on the water all the more sweeter. Hope you can join us!
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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the dam facility. It throws the switches. The Southwest Power Administration coordinates and brokers the power generated by a grid of dams and coal burning plants in several midwestern states. These agencies together consider three major priorities when managing water:
1. Flood Control
And in that order are they ranked.
Schedules? When are “they” going to run water? Southwest Power Administration has a link posted each day on their site that will give us a generation schedule for the following day but this schedule isn’t 100% acurate. They could change it as any time. You can also look at the pattern. Look at the lake levels- Table Rock and Beaver. If the lakes are high (above power pool levels) and we’re in a rainy season with rain in the forecast, you can bet they will run water. If it’s real hot or real cold, there’s a good chance they will run water. But. . . . there’s more electricity used during weekdays than on weekends, so there may be less generation during the weekends than weekdays, sometimes. Monday and Fridays carry the hardest flows, as a rule.
When operating a boat on this lake when the Corps is running water, you must give the current proper respect. When drifting, be aware of obstacles next to shore such as over-hanging and fallen trees and flooded islands with trees. Do not tie up to anything in fast, moving water or use an anchor in moving water at all! Every year, boats are pulled under while dragging anchors in current to keep their boats straight. An anchor hangs up on the bottom, pulling the boat under the surface of the water at the point where the anchor rope is attached. The boat fills with water so fast that often the operator doesn’t have time to cut the anchor rope.
Don’t use anchors in moving water!
Shallow gravel bars can make
Four main ingredients are needed for a successful trout fishing trip:
1. Two- to four-pound line is a must when using almost any kind of trout bait or lures. There are a few exceptions. Bigger crank baits like Rapalas and Rogues and larger spoons and spinners require heavier line such as six- or eight-pound test. The line should be green or clear, not incandescent or blue. Monofilament is good. Fluorocarbon is ok. Braided line, I wouldn’t recommend (personal preference).
2. A good ultra-light/medium light rod and spin reel is the best. The rod should be five- to seven-foot long with medium to light action. The reel needs to be one that holds plenty of line with a good drag system.
3. Small weights, hooks or lures are important. Hook size is very important. Trout, especially rainbows, have small, soft mouths. Numbers 6, 8 and 10 are good sizes for any type of bait used. Short, bronze hooks are recommended. Weights should only be heavy enough for successful casting. You won’t be able to feel the trout bite if there’s too much weight.
4. Patience and a scensitive touch complete the presentation. Trout typically don’t strike hard. They tend to pick at their food like a little kid eating spinach. I’ve witnessed rainbows taking a piece of worm in their mouths only to blow them out. Or they will take the tip of the worm and shake their head violently, tearing it off the hook. Are they smart? It seems so. But don’t give them too much credit. Generally they are easy to catch.
Bait Fishing with no Water Running
There are several techniques to catch trout. One of the most popular and easiest is bait fishing. When the water is not moving, sit in one spot, whether on the bank, on a dock or in a boat. Throw your bait out, let it sink to the bottom, and leave it there, drawing in slack line after the bait hits the bottom. Either hold the rod or set it down until the line moves or the rod tip jerks. Set the hook sharply, then reel. Don’t get into a hurry — enjoy the fight. That’s what it’s all about. It’s a good idea to have a net handy. Trout mouths are soft, and the hook will tear out right at the edge of your reach. When fishing from a boat, the technique is basically the same. Anchor in a good spot, throw out your line and let the bait settle to the bottom. Wait for the strike and set the hook.
Bait Fishing During Generation (moving water)
From the dock or bank, throw upstream using a little more weight. Let the bait sink and bump along the gravel bottom. Trout stay close to the bottom, looking for food drifting by. The strike will feel different than the bumping, like a pull and bump. Set the hook sharply –harder than still fishing because there will be more slack in your line from the current. One thing to remember: The harder the water is running, the more weight you will need to get to the bottom, but too much weight will cause you to hang up more often. When drifting in your boat, position yourself sideways in the current. This allows everyone in the boat to fish directly behind the boat and causes fewer tangles. A drift rig is a pre-made rig with about 36 inches of four-pound line. A hook is tied to one end and a weight tied to the other. A loop is then tied towards the sinker side of the middle. This is where the line from your rod and reel is attached, usually by a snap swivel. Drag the bait along the bottom as before. The strike will feel the same but a little different than the bumping with a bump-pull-soft bump. It does take time and a little experience to feel the difference in a bite and the bottom.
Live Bait Choices
Years ago, the old standby baits were salmon eggs, marshmallows and Velvetta cheese you rolled into balls. Now the premier choice is a patented, scented bait called Power Bait or Gulp. The bait comes in several different forms and many bright colors. They’re fished in different ways. Eggs are used when drifting or sitting dead in the water. Nuggets and dough-type bait are generally used when the water is off. Power Bait either floats off the bottom, making it easier for the trout to see and take, or some don’t float, usually used when drifting. It can be used with other baits, either as an attractant or to float the baits off the bottom. Salmon eggs are still a good bait but are just not used as much. There are basically two kinds of eggs, dry pack and oil pack. Dry-pack eggs aren’t packed with anything but the egg itself. Dry eggs are used when still fishing. Oil-pack eggs are packed in oil, either scented or unscented. They are generally larger and softer, and used for drifting. Oil-pack eggs come in several colors and in different scents; anise scent is one of the most popular. Night crawlers are an excellent bait and still fun for kids of all ages. Use a #6 hook and a split-shot, pinching the shot about 18 inches above the hook. Use half a worm, hook it once or twice in the “collar,” and let the worm hang off both sides to make it look natural. Don’t worry about hiding the hook. It doesn’t seem to make any difference to the trout. Inject the worm with air using a blow bottle. This makes the worm float off the bottom, again exposing the worm more quickly than if it were lying on the bottom. When drifting or sitting still, let the trout take the worm. Give it some slack, letting the trout tighten the line. Set the hook sharply and reel.
Minnows are other live bait used in the winter, spring and early summer months. Small forage fish are a big part of a trout’s diet in Lake Taneycomo . In the winter and/or spring, thread-finned shad sometimes flow from Table Rock Lake into Taneycomo and are gulped up by waiting trout. Minnows are a good substitute for shad and usually catch a little nicer trout. Brown trout also tend to target minnows more than any other bait. Use a small hook, about an #8 or #10 and either a drift rig or just a hook and split shot. Hook the minnow in both lips or through the eyes. Let the minnow bump the bottom or use it under a float four- to five-feet deep. When the minnow is taken, give some line by dropping the rod tip toward the fish. Let the trout gulp the minnow well into its mouth before setting the hook. Remember, the hook is in the head of the minnow and the trout will take the minnow usually tail first.
Besides drifting, fishing minnows in eddies, areas where water forms a pocket behind trees or a point in the bank, can be fruitful. You need to tie off above the eddy and let the minnow dangle downstream in the slack water. It’s imperative to let the trout take it before setting the hook, or you’ll lose the bait and miss the fish. When anchoring or tying off, ALWAYS tie off from the very front of the boat — and even then, use caution. Don’t anchor in swift current. Anchor in the eddy where the water is slow. Anchoring in swift current can cause the boat to be pulled under in just a moment’s notice. Several people have drowned in Lake Taneycomo because an anchor was used unwisely, swamping the boat. If you’re unsure of this technique, don’t do it.
Artificial Lure Choices
Jigs used to intimidate me! To look at a jig and think you could really catch a fish with one was pretty unbelievable, at least it was to me. The first time I used a marabou jig (a feather or doll jig) was the first summer we moved to Branson in 1983. A fellow from Georgia showed me how to work a small 1/32-ounce, brown jig off the bluff bank across the lake from our resort, and we caught lots of rainbows. It really was simple. Let the jig sink while paying close attention to the feel of the line, watching the line and rod tip. Lift the rod tip fairly sharply using your wrist, make a couple of turns on the reel and let the jig settle again. The deeper the water you’re fishing, the longer you let the jig sink. Here’s the tricky part. A trout will take the jig on the drop 90 percent of the time. It will feel like a tap — sometimes sharp, sometimes light — or the line will go slack slightly before hitting the bottom. Sometimes when you begin to jig or lift the rod tip, the trout is right there — Oh! Set the hook!!! Tip: If the trout are biting “short” or not getting the jig all the way into their mouths, tear the tail of the jig off bit by bit with your fingers until they start taking the hook. Don’t cut the feathers with scissors; the straight cut won’t look natural.
When the water is running, go to a heavier jig — 1/16, 3/32, 1/8, 1/4-ounce. Trout will usually hold near the bottom when there is current but will come all the way to the surface for food. For the best results, drop your bait to the bottom and keep it there as long as possible. Working a jig off the bottom can be harder in moving water than in still water because you are dealing with current and turbulence that turns and twists your line. That’s the reason for the heavier jig. You’ll keep a straighter line from the tip of your rod to the jig, thus a better feel for the strike with heavier jigs.
“Jig-and-float” is a fun way to catch trout. Using two- to four-pound line, run a carrot float up your line and fish the jig at four- to seven-feet deep, depending on the condition you’re fishing. Tie a small jig on the end. There are some pretty small jigs out there, such as Turner micro jigs, made as low as 1/256 of an ounce. But the common weights we carry are 1/125. 1/50 and 1/132 ounce. Common colors are white, brown, olive, pink, ginger, sculpin (olive drab) and black, as well as combinations of colors — black/yellow, orange/brown, gray/red, sculpin/ginger, red/white and sculpin with an orange head. You might have to pinch on a small split-shot just below the float if you’re having trouble casting. Place the shot up against the float to avoid tangling.
There aren’t any bad areas on Lake Taneycomo to use this technique. The ideal area is from the Branson bridges to Table Rock Dam. Above Short Creek, look for the edge of the channel and fish the drop-off. This should be located close to the middle of the lake. If the jig drags the bottom, move the float down. Movement is important — it make the jigs appear alive. Wind creates a chop on the surface of the water, which in turn, bobs the float and moves the jig. If the water is smooth as glass, twitch the floats every 5 to 10 seconds. The strike can be subtle or obvious, but mostly subtle. It can be very hard to see when the water is choppy. That’s why you have to pay close attention to the float and watch for it to tip up or dive down. Set the hook hard and fast. Keep up with your line slack. You can’t set the hook when you have too much slack between your rod tip and the float.
With the water running this technique is also good. Depth of water increases with water flow, so the depth you fish the jig will change. Fish as deep as your equipment will allow. The longer the rod the deeper or more line you can throw; it takes a long rod to set the hook on this deeper rig.
Small spoons are another way to fool trout. Little Cleos, Kastmasters, Buoant Spoons, Super Dupers, Spin-A-Lures and Krocodile are just a few of the brand names used for trout. Spoons can be used either in still or moving water. When there is no generation, small spoons thrown over gravel bars and retrieved slowly lure many trout. Working a spoon slowly in deep water pools is another good technique. When the water is moving, let the spoon settle near the bottom and jerk it up, letting it flutter back towards the bottom. The trout will strike as it falls. I’ve even found that you can drift Kastmasters on the bottom during generation and surprisingly, they don’t hang up very much. Best area to do this is from the dam down to Fall Creek (trophy area).
Spinners, such as Rooster Tails, Mepps and Panther Martins are great lures for trout. Retrieve a light spinner steadily through shallow water when water is off, especially when you see trout “nipping” the surface. Work eddies, where the current swirls behind objects in the water’s path, with spinners, jerking and letting the spinner move in the swell.
Then there are the always faithful crank baits such as Rapala, Husky Jerk, Rouge, Flatfish and Blue Fox. In still water, work a flatfish in shallow water where trout are feeding. In the morning and evenings when light is low, throw a floating Rapala in fairly deep to deep, channel water, retrieve it quickly to drop it down, and then jerk it as you retrieve. Try this—after getting it down, stop it dead, jerk it and retrieve and stop again. Both rainbows and browns will follow the bait and either hit it when it stops or just follow it all the way to the boat without striking but 9 of 10 times, they’ll strike it when it’s dead in the water. This technique works best when using suspending baits. Work bluff banks and especially around underwater trees and other structure—browns hide during the day and come out at night generally. Colors- silver, gold, rainbow styles and bright, shiny colors. Don’t be shy on size—go big. Seven to 13 inch baits so exceptionally well on all size trout. Just be sure to use heavy enough tackle to throw such big baits. Line size isn’t as important when throwing such big baits.
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Anglers, novice and experienced alike, are discovering fly fishing as a new way to fish. They are pleasantly surprised to find the often misunderstood sport is much easier than it looks. Casting, presentation, retrieving, fighting the fish can all be picked up easily with good instruction and a little, or a lot, of practice. We won’t cover casting in this piece as much as areas of Lake Taneycomo to fish, appropriate flies and presentations.
The only real hatch on the lake is a midge hatch that occurs almost every day of the year. These bugs are small. In fly terms that means from a hook size 16 to 26!! They vary in color from cream, black, olive or brown. Like most bugs, their life starts on the bottom of the lake in the mud. Eggs drop from the surface and are embedded in the mud where they eventually hatch into larvae, worm-like creatures that distribute themselves along the bottom structures of the lake and feed on live and decaying plants. Generally, large groups of larvae leave the bottom and swim up in search of better water quality. Trout key in on this migration. At maturity, the larvae begin pupation. During pupation, midges quickly undergo physical changes. Legs, wings and enlarged abdomens develop. Pupas now swim to the surface where they attach their heads to the underneath side of the surface, in what we call the “film,” and start to crawl out of their skin, “emerging” as a midge with head, body and wings. They leave their shells behind and dry their wings while skimming across the surface of the lake before taking flight. The cycle continues as they drop back down after mating to lay more eggs.
Trout take advantage of the pupa stage when they are making their way to the surface, unable to escape. An emerging midge is another easy meal. You’ll see trout dimpling the surface of the water, taking pupas from both the film and on the surface. But as soon as the midge spreads its wings, the trout has to spend more energy to take the fly, even overshooting its prey and taking flight into the air.
How do you catch trout that are targeting midges? It’s easier than you think. Matching these tiny flies exactly is almost impossible, but you can match their actions and get a reaction strike. There are several flies to use — soft hackle, Renegade, Crackleback, Griffin’s Gnat, on the surface and the film; Zebra, Brassie, Midge Pupa, Miracle, Thread Midge, Loop Wing, WD40, RS2, Emerger and Krystal Pupa, plus a variety of other local midge patterns, too many to list.
Fishing the Film with Soft Hackles
Soft hackles are the absolute best at hooking midging trout. Use long leaders, building a tapered leader so that the fly turns over well. Leaders should be no shorter than 12 feet and may be as long as 18 feet. There are midge hatches almost every day of the year. Use a small #14 to #18 soft hackle tied with red, gray, orange, olive, yellow or black bodies. Presentation is crucial. Cast near or upstream of rising trout. There are three main retrieves that work; one is a fast, short retrieve. The second is a slow long retrieve, pausing between strips. The third is a long, slow retrieve with a short snap at the end, followed by a pause. There are always variations of these retrieves. Watch the fly closely. It will stay close enough to the surface that you’ll see both the trout pursuing the fly and/or the strike. When to set the hook is always a trick… it seems on many strikes the trout will miss the fly altogether, and the hook set is fruitless. Waiting for a tug on the line ensures contact, BUT I’ve set many a hook in the side of a rainbow’s mouth after seeing one swipe at the fly without feeling anything. Why? Most of the time the trout will take the fly from behind – yep, no tug. So set the hook anytime you want and see if you get a hookset. Set the hook by lifting the rod quickly but not too hard. You have little slack between the rod tip and the fly due to the rod kept close to the surface of the water and the line, with little slack, to the fly. So lifting the rod without the normal “set” is usually enough to set the hook securely in the trout’s mouth. One other thing I’ve noticed – the hook, most of the time, will end up in the trout’s tongue or lower jaw. I believe this is why the hook is pulled out during the fight a lot. So don’t get frustrated when you, 1. Miss a bunch of strikes and, 2. Lose trout during the fight. It’s all fun, right?
In the first mile of the lake, below Table Rock Dam, you will find slow-moving water in most all areas. The best condition to strip soft hackles is in slow-moving water, casting at a 45-degree angle downstream and letting the fly swing in the current. The strike will come on the swing or at the end of the swing. Use the three different retrieves, but key in on the swing. Down where the current is slower or non-existent, seek out a choppy surface and rising trout. But if there’s no chop and the surface is still, dimpling trout will still take a soft hackle. The cast must be soft and quiet when it lands, and the strip should be quicker, so that the trout won’t gain a thorough look at the fly.
Typically, summer and fall months are when our trout key in on surface bugs. Cicada, june bugs, ants, hoppers and a new animal on the block – japanese beetles start the cycle in late.
Late in June, our trout will start to venture close to the bluff banks and overhanging trees, looking up for insects who meet their demise tumbling into the lake. Hoppers and ants are the prime target and “matching the hatch” isn’t that hard. Humpies, stimulators, elk hair caddis, ants and foam beetles are just a few of the patterns we use to fool these lurking trout. The bite lasts well into the fall months of October and November.
Another technique that’s effective is rigging a dropper nymph under the dry, using the dry as a strike indicator. This is used in a lot of the streams out west, the Green River in northeast Utah to name one. Use 4x or 5x tippet to the dry fly, depending on the size of the dry, and 6x or 7x to a small nymph, usually a scud, sow bug, midge pupa, zebra or a brassie in the size #16 to #22 range. The length of tippet between the dry and the dropper depends on the depth of water you’re fishing and the type of fly you’re using. If it’s a nymph, you want to fish close if not on the bottom. If you’re using a midge and targeting trout that are cruising close to the surface, use 12-18 inches of tippet. This works extremely well on trout cruising in shallow water. The dry fly lands softly and doesn’t disturb the fish as much as a heavy indicator, plus you have twice the chance to catch a fish!
Woolly Buggers, Sculpin and Leaches
Woolly buggers, sculpins and leaches are excellent wet flies when used in the upper four miles of the lake. Windy days and choppy water are excellent conditions for using woolies, especially on shallow gravel flats like those above Fall Creek. Position yourself or your boat upwind; then throw and strip the streamer across the shallows. When there is just a little generation, strip woolly buggers also in the shallows and in the “seam” of an eddy like the area behind Lookout Island. Work the bugger, muddler or leach, using a sink tip, deep in the holes. Areas to look for big trout and deep holes are the old KOA stretch, Lookout Island and below, just down from what we call the Narrows and just below Fall Creek along the bluff bank. In heavy generation, strip big buggers, clousers, leaches, zonkers and double bunnies along the banks from the dam down to Short Creek. The absolutely best area is the first mile below the dam.
Night Fly Fishing
Night fishing has become very popular here on Taneycomo. It does sound unusual to fly fish in the dark, but part, if not most, of fly fishing is gaining the “feel,” and that’s exactly what we’re doing when we’re casting, retrieving and setting the hook on a strike at night. It’s all done by touch.
Before you make a night trip, explore the area you’re going to fish during the day and get acquainted with the lay of the water, especially noting the riffles and holes. Even though the water isn’t deep in most places, there are drop-offs where water will rise over your waders. Water in the waders is bad, especially if fishing is good and you have to stop because you’re about to die of hypothermia.
What conditions prove successful? I have caught fish under a bright moon, even unwisely during a lightning storm at night, but generally it’s slow under those conditions. Dark-of-the-moon, cloudy or rainy nights are the best for me. The trout seem to be more at ease and eager to feed in those situations.
If the water is running, don’t wade out past your calves. Current can be tricky enough during the day — dangerously more at night! Never fish by yourself unless you’re very familiar with the area, are experienced at night fishing, and have a cell phone rigged to call for help with a push of one button.
What time is best during the night? That changes. But there are definitely better times than others, periods when the trout are aggressive and times they are not. These periods come in 30-minute segments every two hours it seems, or the fish may feed for two hours and lay off for one. The point is, stick with it — they’ll feed sometime.
What to use? Flies from small nymphs to big Woolies are staples; Sculpin and Muddler patterns are generally the ticket. Although this is a big range, the selection depends on light, wind and water conditions. It also depends on how aggressive the trout are feeding on any given night.
* Use nymphs as small as #14′s and as big as #8′s. Use them under a strike indicator if there’s enough light, or use a glow indicator. Without a float, try dead drifting them in current. Generally the strike is strong enough that you won’t have a problem feeling it. Work them upstream in slow current. I use a finger roll retrieve, slow and steady.
* Strip Woolies, Wooly Buggers and Streamers with sizes from #14′s to #6′s in black, olive, brown, gray, white or purple. Mix in some flash or any other attractor for effect. Dace, Mickey Finn and Black Ghost are local favorites. Throw in any direction, upstream, across, or downstream. My favorite is down at a 45-degree angle, letting the fly swing below me as I strip. Try all kinds of retrieves — slow, fast, choppy, stop-n-go, slow or add a fast twitch at the end of each strip.
* Use Sculpin, Muddlers and big, ugly stuff, from #8 to #1/0 because the sky is the limit on size. There will be some browns up there in the fall that’ll be accustomed to eating 10-inch rainbows. Cast in the same directions with the same retrieves . .. but hold on!! And bring a big rod!! A six-weight is about the smallest you should consider—a seven- or eight-weight isn’t out of the question. It all depends on the size of fly you’re throwing. Fish Muddlers generally on the surface. You’ll find both rainbows and browns tend to explode on surface flies.
* Tippet size again depends on the size of fly. Smaller flies use 5x, the smallest you should ever use at night. For big sculpins, use 3x.
I have to warn you that finger roll or slow retrieves tend to lure one to sleep while fishing (I speak from experience). There’s been many times when I’ve been standing waist deep in cold water, nodding off, when something grabs my flies and about jerks the rod out of my hand. One time, it took me a couple of seconds to figure out where I was. Also, because of the direct line of the fly from the rod, a hard hook set often ends in a lost fly. The fish’s strike itself actually sets the hook most of the time.
It might be to your advantage to hire a guide to show you how to fish at night for the first couple of trips. But be prepared to stay up most of the night; trips may start as late as 10 p.m. or start as early as 3 a.m., depending on water flows and moonlight. The guide will tell you what the best times will be on the date you want to fish.
As far as seasons, there’s never a bad time to go night fly fishing, although the most popular — and thus the most crowded time — is October and November because of the brown trout spawn. Browns generally feed at night. That’s why night fishing is popular in the fall months. But both rainbows and browns feed at night so any season can be great fishing.
Things to bring for a night fishing trip:
* Warm jacket either with a hood or with a good, warm hat. Standing in cool water will tend to make you cold.
* Hip boots or chest waders, preferably the latter.
* Small pen light for tying on flies in the darkness. You don’t want a big light for several reasons — bulkiness and scaring the trout are two basic ones.
* Net, preferably one you attach to your vest in the back to keep it out of your way when you’re fishing.
* Hook sharpener.
* Camera with a flash.
* Fingerless, fleece gloves.
Taneycomo has three major insect food sources. They are the midges, sow bugs and fresh water shrimp. Midge we’ve already talked about. Freshwater shrimp are the main-stay for Taney, high in protein and good for trout. Sow bugs are just as prolific but not as good for trout as their neighbors the scuds.
Freshwater shrimp imitations are tied in varying sizes, colors and styles because the actual bug does come in different colors and even changes colors when its environment changes. Freshwater shrimp, or “scuds” as they’re called, are from the crustacean family, as are crawdads and shrimp. They have shells and swim using their small legs and tail. Scuds live in the rocks and gravel on the bottom of the lake.
When there’s no generation, wade in at the public accesses just below Table Rock Dam close to the trout hatchery (trying boat up into this area is not advisable because it’s too shallow and the trout spook easily). There’s always a slow current in this area along with two, distinct “shoots” and four hatchery outlets where water is flushed through the hatchery. The most common way to fish these areas is with a strike indicator, 6x to 7x tippet and a small shot just above the fly, unless it’s weighted enough to drop quickly. Dead drift the bug through areas around and below outlets and through the shoots.
Areas downstream from these wading areas are accessible mainly from a boat. Use the same technique, with or without current. Without current the fly has to be worked or moved a bit to draw a strike.
Water conditions with no generation: At our starting point, the upper boundary cable below Table Rock Dam, the first 200 yards of our water is generally flat and slow moving. The bottom is gravel mixed with chunk rock, making wading a little difficult. The depth varies from knee deep to four feet with no channel or pattern of depth. Swinging soft hackles, drifting dries, stripping woolies and floating nymphs are good techniques in this area. The hatchery outlets attract a lot of trout to their mouths. At the first outlet, there is a short drop off at the point it enters the lake. There usually is a school of trout there with their noses pointed upstream, taking anything that drifts by.
As the lake narrows at the head of the first island (on the south side of the lake), the current picks up a bit. There are a few cuts and pockets that will hold trout, usually actively feeding on small midge flies drifting by. If you’re on foot, move slowly and quietly. These trout are spooky. The most common mistake waders make is walking in too fast, thereby missing trout feeding in shallow water along the bank.
At the second hatchery outlet, the water enters the lake from high off the bank. The largest volume of water flows here of all the outlets. People have placed rocks to funnel the water into a shoot, creating a narrow, faster stream of water entering the lake. This has attracted fish in a more central spot.
The most popular way to fish this outlet is to drift scuds and sow bugs directly in the current created by the outlet, especially in the fall when our brown trout stack up in the flow. Anglers position themselves shoulder to shoulder and pound the water with their strike indicators — as if that doesn’t affect the trout! I’m sure it does. A dry fly or a foam pinch-on indicator works much better, and letting the water “rest” every 10 minutes improves the “fair-hooking” percentage.
The water below this outlet becomes deeper, up to 40 inches in some places. The current is again slow and gradual, good for stripping woolies and muddlers, especially at night. On a choppy, windy day, skipping an olive or gray #14 wooly can be very productive. Swinging emergers and stripping them back is good, too. Cracklebacks on the surface imitate skimming adult midges.
This area covers about 100 yards down to the third outlet, what we call the Rebar Shoot. This outlet enters the lake like a spring, running out from the woods, across the gravel and into the lake. The area where it enters is shallow, not much more than 24 inches deep. You’ll find trout feeding in the gravel here, nudging the rocks in search of a scud or sow bug or may be a midge larva. Use small scud patterns (#18-#20) here under a foam pinch-on float. Fish them at the same depth of the water, adding six inches, and lay the fly on the bottom where the trout will pick it up. Move the fly just a bit to draw the strike. Use an orange-colored scud to portray the scud as dead.
The lake turns and narrows considerably, creating a fast shoot on the south side of the lake called the Rebar Shoot. There are three distinct places here that hold fish — above the fast water, in the fast water and at the end where a fairly deep hole is created by the fast current. This hole is called the Rebar Hole because of the rebar sticking up out of the gravel in the middle and at the end of the run. The rebar was left over from the construction of the dam. Fishing techniques that work all through this area are dead drifting nymphs and midge larva, stripping woolies toward the bottom of the run, and swinging emergers through the hole at the bottom.
At the bottom of the run, the pool is fairly large, and more than five-feet deep in spots. Big trout will hold in this pool because of the fishing traffic at his shoot. Drift scuds and sow bugs through this slow-moving pool. During a midge hatch, drift zebra midges under an indicator 12-18 inches deep.
Becoming shallower and faster, the water below the pool is again great water for swinging emergers and drifting through nymphs. The bottom is gravel, like most of the lake’s upper end, but there appears larger chunk rock in this area where bigger trout hold, giving more cover than the wide open areas above. Look for movement and fins peaking out of the water and cast to them. There’s an island of sorts, of chunk rock, making the water split and join again in just a short 80 feet or so. From there, the water deepens again, holding larger trout in its pockets. The current is still fairly moderate, and trout are sight feeding on bugs in the flow. This water varies from two- to four-feet in depth.
From the pool at Rebar to the beginning of the “Big Hole” is 150 yards. At the Big Hole, the lake opens up, doubling in width to almost 150 feet across. Its upper boundary is marked by the point of the main gravel bar on the north side of the lake, and the end is marked where the lake becomes shallow again, just below the fourth outlet. The current slows considerably through the Big Hole, but this area holds more big trout than any other pool close to the dam. On a calm day, dry flies are deadly. On windy days, skipping woolies or swinging soft hackles are the ticket.
Big hole runs another 200 yards downstream to the Old Boat Ramp or the Rocking Chair Hole. On the south side of the lake there is a road access and a parking lot where the road dead ends. A well-worn path brings you down to the lake. The gravel bar you walk out on in is called the Old Boat Ramp. The Rocking Chair name came from the area’s easy sloped access to the water – deemed nice enough to fish from a rocking chair. Here the water depth and current varies. There are very rocky areas where the current picks up, and there are holes where the water slows down, but almost everywhere there is current. There seems to be huge midge hatches in this area, so midge larvae, pupa and adults are what draw trout. Cracklebacks, Griffin’s Gnat and an occasional Humpy or Stimulator on the surface are effective. In the film, a Soft Hackle or Emerger stripped in windy conditions can net results. Zebra Midge, beaded or not, and brassies under an indicator or a dry fly can be deadly. Rocking Chair runs all the way down to the public access and the Missouri Department of Conservation boat ramp.
Just above the boat ramp is a shallow flat still considered part of the Rocking Chair, but the flat drops into a deep hole called the Stump Hole. Years ago, there used to be a stump right in the middle of the lake on the edge of this hole. The stump is long gone, but the name stuck. This drop-off always holds a mess of fish, especially when the water starts to run and bugs buzz off the gravel bar. At that point, you’ll find yourself in front of the MDC Public Boat Ramp.
A hundred yards below the ramp, the lake forms another shoot, moving the channel from the north to the south side of the lake. The water in this shoot is deeper and slower than at Rebar, but the water moves through at a fairly good clip. Dead drifting wet flies and swinging soft hackles work really well here.
This channel deepens and narrows as it winds down until dumping into a wider, deeper area of the lake called the “Clay Banks.” Why Clay Banks? Well, the south bank used to be a high dirt bank until the campground there changed hands, and the new owners responsibly placed shot rock on the dirt bank. Everyone knows this area as the Clay Banks, or the KOA (the name of the campground).
The Clay Bank Hole is a long, deep hole that runs almost 300 yards with a gravel and ledge-rock bottom. Some big trees are lodged on the bottom on the south bank, but the north bank is clear of structure. Both banks are fairly steep, dropping off into five to seven feet of water. This hole holds lots of big browns all during the year as well as lots of rainbows. We typically throw small crank baits in windy conditions here and strip woolies, streamers and sculpins. The jig-n-float technique works great here as well as wet flies under an indicator three- to five-feet deep. In the fall, there’s a pretty good dry fly bite on the north banks, especially if the water is running and it’s up in the weeds. We use fairly big stuff such as #8-10 Elk Hairs and Humpies.
At the bottom of Clay Banks, the lake grows really shallow (12-24 inches) but doesn’t narrow that much. The current in this area picks up a bit, and the bottom is all gravel. Because of the gravel and current, the site holds numbers of trout. Anglers access this area by walking down from the MDC boat ramp or by driving through Pointe Royale, a private golf course community. Just inform the security gate attendants that you’re headed to the access, and they generally will let you pass — if you don’t look like a crook.
This is bug heaven! Midge and shrimp thrive in this gravel. Therefore, scuds and midge flies rule. Soft hackles stripped, midge dries and emergers during a hatch and feed- hold on! Dead drifting or swimming scuds- oh my! If it’s windy, strip olive woolies and use heavier tippet, or you’ll break off.
Lookout Island is on the south side of the lake, splitting the lake, but the water behind the island has little water moving through it and is thin and shallow. Don’t be fooled –there are lots of trout in this backwater and can be taken on small dries and/or western style dry/dropper with a small brassie. On the north side is the main lake and the shallow run mentioned in the last paragraph. As it moves down the side of the island, the lake deepens, dropping to as much as five feet. There’s still a good number of midge that hatch in this stretch. Again, using midge flies on the surface, film and mid-column is effective. This is about as far uplake as most boats should venture.
From Lookout to Fall Creek, the lake pretty much stays the same. The bluff side of the lake is, of course, the channel or deep side. The opposite side is what I call the “flat” because it’s all gravel and generally shallow and flat with some dips and holes. About two-thirds down, the channel switches sides of the lake. The channel varies in depth from four to twelve feet with mostly chunk rock and large boulders on the shore.
We’re talking boat-fishing from here on out.
Part One — Fishing the bluff bank. There are several things to look for before even tying on your tippet. I look for either rising trout or cruising trout. Rising trout are feeding on either midge flies or insects that have fallen from the trees or grass into the water. Cruising trout are looking for forage fish like minnows or sculpin. Either can be caught easily.
For cruising trout select a fairly heavy tippet and some sort of streamer or sculpin fly. A small 1/32 – ounce jig can work as well. Cast it to the shore and strip it out. If you have a good pair of Polaroid glasses, you can see the fish stalk and strike the fly. The other way to nail cruising trout is to use a jig-n-float technique. With the jig at the proper depth, probably shallow, work it out from the bank. Use the smallest float possible for the size jig you’re using (so the jig doesn’t sink the float). The smaller the float the less “noise” you make when you land the cast. Work the jig out fairly fast, making it “swim” more than just sitting.
For rising trout cast a dry — anything from a big chernobyl Ant to a small elk hair — to the water’s edge or under overhanging trees. Work the fly very little, maybe moving it a bit to give it some life. My favorites are red or yellow humpys, stimulators with a little orange tied in the body, and hopper patterns, all sizes #10 to #6s. I fish these dries this way in all seasons of the year but late summer through fall is the best.
Part Two — Fishing the flats. There are a few things to keep in mind. When fishing shallow water, you must consider the fact these fish don’t have much cover and are prone to be spooky. Long, skillful casts and long leaders are the rule. There’s lots of food here, even though there’s only inches of water instead of feet. Less water means a better chance your fly will be seen. There aren’t many forage fish in this area (again, no cover), but there are tons of midges and scuds in the mud and gravel. You now have two options: Go after trout that are feeding on pupa or invertebrates in the gravel or midge larva or adults in the film or on the surface.
A scud fly laying on the bottom with a little motion will draw a strike faster than a scud suspended in the column of water, true or false? My experience says . . . compromise. I fish a scud as close to the bottom, if not on the bottom, as possible. I don’t want to fish a scud way off the bottom, suspended, because it doesn’t look natural. Will it catch fish? Yes, but not as many for obvious reasons. I generally use a 12-foot, 3x tapered leader and then build an additional four to five feet of leader to 6x tippet with a small, foam indicator. I’ll use a small split shot if the scud isn’t weighted. Sizes vary from #12 to #18 and colors range from different shades of gray, olive and tan to white, brown and orange. I either swim the scud with a constant, slow motion or let it sit while moving it every 5-10 seconds. The more chop on the surface, the less you need to work the indicator. The wave action will move the fly without operator assistance.
Column and film presentations: I’ve talked about midge previously. The most important issue is stealth — casting with long leaders and being quiet about it. One technique that works great for the flats is the dry-dropper method using a small Stimulator as the indicator and a brassie or thread midge as the dropper. When trout are midging or taking pupas off the surface, either a brassie or a Zebra midge presented to actively feeding trout can be exciting. There’s nothing like targeting trout and being able to hook them. Occasionally, soft hackles work well, especially when there’s a good chop on the water. The heavier the chop, the bigger the fly I use. My range is #18s to #12s in red, white, yellow, gray or orange. I find if you let the fly sit and sink a bit and then start your retrieve, you’ll get a better response to the presentation. Fast, short strips with a pause make the best retrieve, I’ve discovered.
Generation on Lake Taneycomo
There are four turbines at Table Rock Dam, and at any one time, any or all can be operated at different capacities. That simply means water levels on Lake Taneycomo can rise as little as 1 foot to full generation of 10 feet at the base of the dam. Water levels are measured at so many feet above sea level. When the lake is at normal pool, or without generation, its level is 701.3 feet. At maximum generation, without flooding any structures, the level is 713.2 (that’s with four units plus flood gates).
To say are two units running can be a bit deceiving — those two units could be operating at 75% capacity, 705 feet. You’ll see this a lot in the fall months when the Corps runs four units at 40% capacity. The turbines have vents at the top of their chambers. They are opened to allow air to mix with the water, bringing up the oxygen levels in the water being released.
Fishing during medium generation
In the public access area below Table Rock Dam, depending on the flow of water, wading can be confined to the north bank and the area from the upper boundary cable to the MDC public boat ramp. If the level is between 704 and 705, you can wade out on the bar in front of the third outlet, but watch the water level very closely. It can rise without any warning. You can also walk down the north bank to the ledge rock below the fourth outlet. On the south bank, the Rocking Chair area is also fair at this level but a little difficult. Techniques used are dead drifting or floating nymphs and stripping some streamers and woolies, again, depending on the amount of flow. In the area from the fourth outlet down, there always seems to be a midge hatch going on and trout sipping the surface taking midges. Drift a zebra midge under an indicator 12-18 inches in this area when you see trout actively feeding on the surface.
Fishing out of a boat is another story. Fish the banks, eddies and pockets along the edges of the shore. The higher the water level, the more trout will hold to these pockets. White Clousers or Double Bunnies used with a sink-tip system can be deadly for big browns and big rainbows. In the winter, we sometimes get a run of thread-finned shad from Table Rock Lake on which our trout gorge themselves on. Position your boat above or next to holes and drop-offs and drift egg patterns through the runs in the fall and winter months.
Downstream at Lookout area, there are two hot areas to cover. Just above and on the opposite side (north bank) from Lookout Island is another island, created by high water flowing behind another section of land below the public boat ramp. Below this island and below Lookout Island are places where trout hold during high water. As the water rises and flows through the weeds and grass, bugs are displaced and drift down to waiting trout. You’ll see trout working the surface here. Present a black ant, Humpy or Elk Hair Caddis to rising rainbows, or swing and strip back soft hackles. Active fish even respond to woolies. Spring, summer or fall months are ideal for this situation.
The backwater and downstream side of Lookout Island is a favorite of mine. The water flows over a gravel area covered with weeds on the downstream, backside of the island. When the water is up over the island, you can anchor your boat or tie to one of the stick-ups and fish the front or back side of the island. My favorite is the backside. Trout will congregate on the drop-off below the gravel bar, or if the water is a little higher, below the weeds and grass. Dead drift a wet fly under an indicator at the depth of the water plus 12 inches. This ensures the fly shadows the bottom as close as possible. And a split shot drops it there quickly. Beaded scuds work well here. I use tungsten beads, which are a little heavier than lead or steel. I also use a San Juan Worm; red is the best color. During the occasional midge hatch in the area below the island, stripping or swinging a soft hackle can be very deadly.
From Lookout Island downstream, it’s basically a lazy river. The flow is the same on both sides of the lake — now a river. There are large boulders along the bluff bank that create eddies or slower water where trout will hold. I’ve done real well using big dry flies, casting them up under overhanging trees, in and around these big rocks and next to flooded grass beds. It’s a quick technique — not much surface time before the current pulls the fly out from the bank. But it doesn’t take long to get that bite. Best time for fishing dries along this bank is the fall, but the summer and winter aren’t too bad either.
Casting big streamers, sculpins and woolies against this bluff bank is also great fun when the water is running. Just as with a medium crank bait, work the fly hard and fast with pauses, letting the fly sink a bit. No fly is too big for this method, and a heavier rod might be called for. If you’re throwing big flies with a lot of weight and material, use a six- or seven-weight rod with lots of backbone. Use sink tip systems to fish deeper and heavier tippet to match the size and weight of the fly. Don’t be shy to go big on the tippet, even as large as 2x or 1x.
Dead drifting wet flies both in the channel, on the channel edges or on the flats, is the most effective way to catch trout when the water is running in this stretch. The depth of the indicator to the fly depends on the depth of the water, and the deeper the water, the heavier the fly or the weight with the fly needs to be. Without current there are turbulents that will pick up a small fly and swing it around, making the connection between the fly and the strike indicator loose, not tight. You’ll miss more strikes, if this is the case. A scud needs to be close if not right on the bottom. A midge, on the other hand, can be used in all levels, but the most effective is about 12 to 18 inches below the surface. Jigs or egg flies can also be used under an indicator.
I’ve had good success dead drifting San Juan Worms under an indicator on the shallow side of the lake, or the flats, using red, off-white or dark brown. I want this fly on the bottom at all times, so I use plenty of weight above the fly and enough length below the indicator to keep it there — as much as 1.5 times the depth of the water. If the water is five feet deep, I use seven feet of leader under the indicator.
Jigs aren’t usually considered flies by most fly anglers. Some frown on the idea of using jigs or calling jigs “flies” at all. But they are very effective for landing trout on Lake Taneycomo. There are micro-jigs — the heads are made of pewter, not lead, and they’re hand painted and tied with select marabou. They come in several sizes, as small as 1/265- to 1/100-ounce. Best colors are sculpin, brown, olive and pink. Then there’s the normal lead-headed marabou jigs that are small as 1/150-ounce. Depending on water levels and speed, a 1/32-ounce marabou jig is perfect when used in moving water. But be careful — slinging that much lead with a fly rod can leave a big welt on the back of a head.
Working the jig is important. Just like any wet fly used, it sometimes needs action to lure a strike. If there’s a chop on the surface, the jigs gets a lot of action. If the surface is smooth — like glass, as we call it — then a flick of the rod tip is needed to move the float and the jig. The strike can be subtle or obvious. You need to watch the indicator carefully for any movement. The arsenal of colors is the same as listed in the micro-jig selection, plus brown/orange, black, black/yellow, white, gray, ginger.