Battling the Weather on Lake Taneycomo

On The Fly Freshwater

Feature Photo: On The Fly South’s Polly Dean fishing just below Table Rock Dam. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

By Jimmy Jacobs

There’s a dual nature to 2080-acre Lake Taneycomo at Branson in southern Missouri. The lake was built in 1913 and takes its name from a mash up of its location in Taney County, Missouri. But, this reservoir can’t seem to make up its mind to whether it’s really a lake or river.

When water is released from upstream Table Rock Lake, it becomes lake-like throughout its length, dropping to as deep as 50 feet. On the other hand, when no generation takes place, portions of the upper lake are stream-like and wadable with gentle currents.

Originally, Taneycomo was a warm-water impoundment. Then in 1958, with the construction of Table Rock Lake, the tailwaters of that reservoir turned it into a cold-water fishery. The Missouri Department of Conservation built the Shepherd of the Hills fish hatchery on its shores at about that time, stocked the lake with trout and a world-class fishery developed.

Photo by Polly Dean

Today the lake gets 575,000 fish planted per year. Those are primarily rainbow trout released monthly, while browns are stock once annually. Creel surveys have shown that the rainbows make up 90 percent of the catch here. On the other hand, brown trout dominate the trophy-sized fish. A number of state-record browns have come from the lake, topped by a 40-pound, 6-ounce one caught in 2019.

With all those stats in mind, the crew from On The Fly South headed to Taneycomo at the end of October. Our plan was to fish out of Lilley’s Landing Resort and Marina, guided by owner Phil Lilley. Whetting our appetite was the fact that one of the past state records – a 34-pound, 10-ounce monster nicknamed Frank the Tank – had been caught near the resort and later released back into the lake.

Angler Seth Garrison with a Taneycomo brown trout taken while fishing out of Lilley’s Landing. Photo courtesy of Lilley’s Landing Resort and Marina.

Our first afternoon looked promising. Brown trout are noted for liking low-light, cloudy days and the as what it looked like as we prepared to head out. The plan was to run by boat upstream close to the mouth of Fall Creek and wade fish during a no-generation period. Such wading areas are composed of gravel bars, but over time the rising and falling water tends to move them around. Having a guide along that is familiar with the river is a good idea.

Wade Fishing the gravel bar. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs

Bailing out of Phil Lilley’s skiff, we waded along the gravel bar in knee deep water, tossing Wooly Buggers out to the deeper edge of the bar. Right off the bat, Phil hooked a chunky, average-sized rainbow. Unfortunately, the weather then took a turn for the worse. The clouds opened up, drenching the river and us in rain. At first, we persevered on, since Lilley pointed out that the fish don’t care if it’s raining.

Phil Lilley with our only trout of the first day prior to the lightning running us off the water. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs

Still, our time on the water ended when, despite the frigid air, lightning began to pop in the distance.  That made it time to head to the warm comfort of the cabin back at Lilley’s landing.

For day two the strategy was to run upstream into the trophy trout area just below Table Rock dam for some drift fishing from the boat. The rain had ceased and the clouds persisted, promising good fishing, though it still was cold. Here we planned to target the brown trout for which Taneycomo is famous.

Taneycomo is divided into to two sections with special regulations on each. On the 3 miles from a barrier 760 feet below Table Rock Dam downstream to the mouth of Falls Creek, only artificial flies and lures may be used. Also, no soft plastic or scented baits are allowed. Rainbow trout between 12 and 20 inches must be immediately released and all brown trout under 20 inches cannot be kept.

On the rest of the 19 miles of water down to the Highway 65 bridge, natural baits are allowed and any size rainbow can be harvested. The creel limit on all of the lake is four trout per day, only one of which may be a brown. Also be aware that wading boots must have none porous soles.

This time it was not the weather that fouled the plan, but the Army Corps of Engineers. We wanted high water for drifting, since low generation periods drop the lake too low for the boat in the upper stretches. The Corps, however, stopped generating a couple of hours prior to the announced time, causing us to have to move farther down the lake.

After just a couple of long drifts, we had boated a number of rainbows in the 12- to 15-inch range by drifting size 16 Zebra Midges under indicators. But we still had not encountered any of the larger rainbows or browns. By then we were forced by the falling water to move downstream to deeper areas.

Polly Dean with a day two rainbow taken while drift fishing. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Here we climbed out of the boat to walk the shore on the back side of an island just upstream of Fall Creek. We managed to hook and land more rainbows, but were frustrated on the bigger fish that we spotted cruising this channel.

Angling in the channel behind the island on low water. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs

All told, we landed or boated around 20 rainbows for the day, topping out at about 15 inches. The action was steady enough to maintain our interest, but fell far below the type fishing offered on good days at Taneycomo. The angling and lake, however, were enough to ensure that we would return in pursuit of some of the legendary browns that inhabit these waters.

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