Fishing for lake monsters on Taneycomo
Dock lights illuminated swirls of fog over swift-moving waters, resembling special effects from a horror movie. Real monsters lurked in the darkness, waiting to devour any unsuspecting prey that blundered into their lair of doom.
Duane Doty carefully turned his boat into the swift current and maneuvered downstream from Lilley’s Landing dock. He knows where these monsters live and started a search to do battle on that dark night.
These monsters are huge, brown or rainbow trout that have made Taneycomo Lake a world-class fishery. State or world records are always possible in this stretch that once was the White River, running across Missouri and down through Arkansas.
Doty is one of the all-time top fishing guides on Taneycomo Lake, located by Branson, Missouri. His legendary catches on lures he built are a big part of Taneycomo’s legend. Few know this often-difficult stretch of fishing water better in the dark of night or daylight.
Blake Wilson made his first cast after Doty turned parallel with the opposite shore about 30 yards away that was shadowed by a 150-foot-high towering tree-covered bluff, blocking any possible moonlight. The first casts were dry runs with what may have been an occasional trout strike just before daylight. Somehow the fish struck each lure without being hooked on the three razor-sharp treble hooks.
Doty suddenly hooked what veteran anglers often call a hog.
“This one is stripping drag and running hard,” Doty said. “Better get the net.”
The big trout made several good runs and dives while Doty managed to hang on and his reel’s drag system did its job. A few minutes later, Wilson slipped the net under a seven-pound rainbow trout, about 24 inches long. The beautiful fish was photographed and released to fight another day.
Taneycomo is a great destination for catching pan-sized rainbow trout. The Missouri Department of Conservation stocks Lake Taneycomo with about 700,000 trout annually. Up to 96,000 rainbows averaging 11.5 inches or longer are placed in the lake during the summer months when fishing pressure is highest. Both rainbows and browns are reared locally at the Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery, located just below Table Rock Dam.
Taneycomo has become a big-trout fishery because of an amazing forage base. This in part is due to baitfish washed over the Table Rock Lake Dam that once was a section of the White River. Threadfin minnows, sculpin and gizzard shad are part of this food chain that is creating trophy trout.
Big browns and rainbows, too, dine on trout guts from anglers or guides cutting up smaller rainbow trout for table fare. You can occasionally watch intestines being devoured while floating in the current and some resorts have cameras under their docks to watch big fish move in for easy meals.
Catching a quality trout is always possible and many on the lake do everything possible to maintain this status. Missouri helped their efforts by creating a special regulation stating that Taneycomo rainbow trout between 12 and 20 inches and all brown trout less than 20 inches must be released, but note that the majority of browns or rainbows over 20 inches are released to fight another day.
Most guides make it clear to clients that any trophy trout caught will be returned to the lake, generally after quick photos. Their efforts are paying off in record fish.
A recent Taneycomo state record 34-pound, 10-ounce brown trout named Frank the Tank was caught and released by Paul Crews in February 2019 after being officially weighed and measured. Shortly after that, Bill Babler caught the next state record from Taneycomo in September 2019, a 40-pound, 6-ounce brown trout.
While setting a new state or world record on Taneycomo is always possible, the chance to catch the biggest trout of your life is more of a reality. The evening before our trip, Wilson caught a seven-pound brown on one of Doty’s jerk baits, a common occurrence in this unique lake.
“I recently caught a brown that was well over 10 pounds,” Doty said. “I slipped it back in the lake and a young man watching nearby walked over and asked why I released that big fish? So, you’ll have a chance to catch it someday. I think he liked that answer.”
Being a guide on Taneycomo is a constant challenge because of ever changing conditions. Top guides like Doty study the conditions and have a name for different sections of shoreline. The amount of water released from the Table Rock dam turbines determines the most productive areas up and down the 23-mile lake. Certainly, larger quantities of water released generally means more fish washed over the shoots of constant water flow. This has created some bonus fishing opportunities.
“I recently caught a good-sized smallmouth bass down by the lake’s trophy area,” Wilson said. “We catch a lot of nice walleye too, probably washed down from Table Rock. They hang around the rocks.”
The morning continued with several smaller rainbow trout caught and released – only one trophy fish landed. Several sections of the lake were fished for about four hours with the jerk bait technique that made at least one angler’s shoulders sore – mine. Thankfully that evening my wife had plenty of sore muscle cream to rub on my ancient shoulders and back.
I highly recommend staying at Lilley’s Landing when fishing Taneycomo. They have a big dock on the lake that guests of the resort fish on, generally catching rainbow trout. You can contact them at 888-545-5397 or check their website. Check out Duane Doty’s Facebook page or you can call him at 417-294-8672. To visit Branson, call 800-296-0463 or check their website at explorebranson.com.