BRANSON, Mo. | When U.S. Army Corps of Engineers workers closed off the Table Rock Lake Dam across the White River in 1958, they had no idea that they were creating a trout fishery of world class standards.
But that is exactly what happened, and today a trip to those tailwaters is on the bucket list of most fly anglers.
Lake Taneycomo was actually created in 1913 when the "Power Site" dam was closed across the White River near Forsyth, Mo. It was a warm-water lake until 1958 when Table Rock Dam began pulling water from depths above. Water temperatures dropped and the "Shepherd of the Hills Trout Hatchery" was built at the foot of the dam.
I was there for four days last week while attending the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers annual convention. Mostly, though, I was fishing for trout.
For the fly guys and gals, catching trout here can be a slam dunk, but it was especially difficult while I was there. Power generators from the dam seldom ran, and that is actually a good thing, because when they are running, wading becomes impossible. If the horn blows at the dam, you had better head for high ground fast.
During generation, drift fishing from boats is the only way to go.
But, the drought that has plagued our area has impacted water levels here and conservation of water is paramount.
Most of the time the lake was low and clear, and with the trout very finicky, it took tiny flies to tempt them.
However, I did take a couple trout each day on a size 10 olive wooly bugger. Small olive wooly buggers are a "go to" fly here. That fly has saved my bacon on many fly fishing trips and this was no exception.
I took one rainbow on a size 12 San Juan worm, and often fished size 18, beadhead zebra and ruby midges in tandem. I had pre-tied some size 12 midges trailed by the size 18, but the river was so low that combo was snagging the bottom all the time.
Strike indicators are a necessity and should be placed on the leader at a point which will cause your small, tandem flies to suspend just off the bottom.
While most of the fly fishermen I encountered, and there were lots of them, wore chest waders, I fished in hip boots the whole time. There were places along the river where I could actually wade all the way across.
The first three days I fished with a bamboo rod I made last year. It is an 8-foot, 6-inch Kushner "Formula B" rod. Morris Kushner was a talented rod builder from Michigan who became friends with John D. Voelker who wrote "Anatomy of a Murder" and several trout fishing books under the pen name Robert Traver. Traver wrote glowingly of that rod.
The final day I fished, I hooked up with a couple of writer friends and local guide Brett Rader who owns Chartered Waters Trout Shop and Guide Service (www.charteredwaters.com). When Brett showed me the flies we would be using, I put my rod in the truck and grabbed one of his which was pre-rigged. We would be using scud imitations with a size 22 up front and a size 24 trailer. There's no way these old eyes could tie on flies that small. Brett just smiled and handed me the rod.
It soon became apparent why it is so important to hire a guide when you fish new waters. Within the first few casts I had a rainbow on, which hit the trailer in a small eddy. Brett had told me where to stand, how to make the cast and just exactly where the fish would be.
He did that over and over for all three of us that morning, and we were catching a lot of trout. In fact, the three of us agreed that we did not see another angler catch a fish that morning. It was that tough. And that was on water where rainbows will collect around your boots to scoop up scuds and sowbugs dislodged from the stones every time you move your feet. One local angler fishing next to me just gave up and waded over to visit. He offered me his spot and said he was seeing a lot of trout but they wouldn't take. Next came the age-old question, "What are you using?"
Size 22 and 24 scuds, I told him. "What are using?" I asked.
"Ruby midge," he replied, "but I don't know what size it is."
I looked at it and confirmed it was a size 18, normally good here but not today.
While you are liable to tie into a huge trout here anytime during the year, it is the fall months that bring up the big, spawning brown trout. That run was just beginning and the next few weeks should see a lot of those bruisers being caught.
Although Taneycomo is called a lake, it is actually a 22-mile long section of running water. There are more than 2,080 acres of water. So, how did the lake get it's name? I was told that when the dam was being built, supplies were shipped in boxes stamped Taney Co. Mo., Meaning Taney County, Missouri. So that is what the new lake was named.
We were fishing in the Trophy Section which runs about three-and-a-half miles from the dam to Fall Creek. Here only artificial flies or lures may be used. Rainbows between 12 and 20 inches must be released.
Taneycomo has produced several state record trout over the years. Today's brown trout record of 28-pounds, 12-ounces was caught here on Nov. 2, 2009. But the big ones weren't running this time. We had to be satisfied with rainbows in the 12- to 15-inch range on this trip. But, that was just fine with me.