Lake Taneycomo, near Branson, Mo., could eventually produce the next world-record brown trout.
The Missouri Department of Conservation shocked up a 40-pound female several years ago. She may still be swimming around Taneycomo, feeding on rainbow trout, sculpin and other delicious critters that make the mistake of swimming too close.
Big brown trout seldom leave cover. They simply wait for easy meals to float by and only feed on occasion, not all the time like a rainbow trout.
Some anglers complain that Missouri's brown trout are difficult to catch. Department personnel consider this a positive comment because this strain of brown trout has maintained its wild integrity.
Department personnel started stocking the Sheep Creek strain in Taneycomo at a rate of 50,000 10-inch browns annually by 1981. Brood stock was difficult to hold in the hatchery setting because of their wild genetic makeup. Mike Kruse, a resource scientist for the MDC, reports that 10,000 browns are stocked annually.
“Brown trout are not native to Missouri,” said Chris Vitello, a fishery management biologist. “Programs to establish fishing opportunities for this hearty fighter have existed just short of 100 years. Fry were first reared in the Neosho National Federal Fish hatchery in 1890. This program stocked southwest Missouri Rivers until 1936, then was discontinued because of cost. But today the browns are established and doing very well in Taneycomo.”
With this in mind, I joined Michael Kyle, veteran brown trout fisherman, for a nighttime fly fishing excursion on Taneycomo. Water was not being released from the Table Rock dam and wading conditions were safe, although an adventure because of big rocks that can easily trip an angler into cold water. Wading in the dark is always an adventure.
Soon I heard Kyle set the hook on a fine brown. I listened to him fighting a 6-pound fish while untangling my first mess of the night. He caught and released the beautiful fish with intentions of catching its grandmother by whipping and stripping streamers in a 2-3-2 pattern. Kyle's Bunny Zonker pattern soon produced a 7-pound brown.
“Still not what I'm after,” Kyle said.
We spent the night wading to holes where browns and big rainbows were searching out forage. Then streamers were whipped and stripped to resemble wounded bait fish. Big browns love easy meals, and we caught several around 5 pounds.
“We use 10-pound leaders for these monsters,” Kyle said. “Big leaders don't seem to bother browns at night. You never know exactly what is hitting your streamer, maybe the next world record.”
Fishermen during the day, especially toward fall, have great success too. Nathan Diesel, a local fishing guide, discovered this two years ago by catching a 34-inch brown trout that weighed 23 pounds, 7 ounces on a San Juan Worm made from burnt orange chenille.
Brad Wright, of Branson, recently caught a 39-inch, 25.35-pound brown on 2-pound test line out of Taneycomo. He caught this incredible trout on a handmade jig to set a new 2-pound-test line world record. The big trout was caught during the day in knee-high water.
Diesel and Wright's trophy browns were certainly newsworthy, but not a total surprise. Big, brown trout lurk in this narrow lake that is chilled from waters off the bottom of Table Rock Lake. This is partly because of established trophy areas that run from Fall Creek to the Table Rock Dam. A daily limit of one brown, 20 inches or larger is another key to establish a trophy trout area.
Taneycomo is loaded with a lot of browns in the 5- or 6-pound range. You can find them easier when water is not running out of the Table Rock Dam. Released water makes the lake look like a raging river. Wading is impossible. But when it is not running, wading and sight fishing with a fly rod is productive.
You can focus on 5- or 6-pound fish, but anglers like Kyle and Diesel look for the bigger ones that are 12-pounds or larger. The bigger browns are willing to bite if you can place a morsel in front of their mouths that they want.
Catching a big brown during daylight hours when they are visible in shallow water is like hunting for trophy bucks. Pass on the smaller bucks until the bigger bucks are located. Fighting the smaller browns may spook a really big fish in deeper water. The key is patience.
Kyle, Diesel and other experienced trout fishermen on Taneycomo practice catch and release on the bigger browns. They try to protect this cherished resource.
“There are only so many really large brown trout in Taneycomo,” Diesel said. “We recommend taking measurements and a photo before release. Then you can have a fiberglass version of your trophy while the brown you caught lives on. This will give you or someone else the chance to catch this big brown again.”
Taneycomo has become one of America's premier brown trout trophy lakes. The state record caught in Taneycomo on Nov. 9, 2009, by Scott Sandusky weighed 28 pounds, 12 ounces – a remarkable brown trout and a fish that was probably one of the first stocked in Taneycomo.
The world record brown trout that weighed 40 pounds, 4 ounces was caught from the Little Red River in Arkansas by Rip Collins on May 9, 1992. Many believe Taneycomo might turn up the next world record, very good news for Missouri fishery biologists who worked hard to establish this hearty fish.
SUGGESTED EQUIPMENT: Kyle uses a 4 to 5 weight Scott E-2 Rod in late summer and an 8-foot, 8-inch Scott 888 rod in the fall with No. 4 streamers.
Nathan Diesel recommends a 5 to 7-size fly rod and about 50 feet of WF8F flies line. Add this to about 100 yards of backing. Flies vary from day to day, but good choices might be San Juan worms in brown, red and orange, any colored Scuds and any pattern of Midges. Live or imitation sculpins are popular in Taneycomo.
SAFETY FACTORS: Wading at night in unfamiliar water is dangerous. Make sure you investigate the spots where you plan to wade in daylight or hire a suitable guide. Fog takes over Taneycomo at night and you can get turned around in the absolute darkness, so be careful.
Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org