Sometimes the stars align and things work out. Last week I posted a story about catching monster brown trout from Lake Taneycomo, by Branson, Missouri, and mentioned that a state or world record brown could easily be caught from this unique lake.
On that same Saturday, Feb. 23, Paul Crews of Neosho, Missouri, caught Missouri's new state record brown trout, a 34-pound, 10-ounce monster on a 1/8-ounce sculpin-colored feathered jig from Taneycomo. His brown beat the previous state record, 28 pounds, 12 ounces by slightly over 6 pounds, caught by Scott Sandusky of Arnold, Mo., in November 2009, also from Taneycomo. My prediction came true on the same day that story ran – the purest form of dumb luck.
Crews was fishing with his tournament partner, Jimmy Rayfield of Salem, Missouri, in a trout tournament hosted by Lilleys' Landing Resort & Marina on upper Lake Taneycomo – the Vince Elfrink Memorial, named after an avid sportsman who passed away in 2011 of brain cancer at the age of 52.
“Frank,” the record brown trout so named by many Taneycomo anglers was no secret. I once saw him under the dock at Lilley’s Landing. He roamed all over the lake, but made stops under the more active trout docks for a “heaping helping” of rainbow trout guts with an occasional head attached.
There are many other trophy browns here, but Frank is most notable because of his incredible size. Catching a 10-pound brown from these waters is not newsworthy. Bigger browns learn to avoid hooked bait and feed on safe offerings. I am surprised how Frank was caught.
I have spent a few thousand hours casting feathered jigs on Lake Taneycomo and wonder how many times Frank watched my jig swim past without so much as wrinkling a gill. Thousands of anglers visit this lake annually, most fishing for rainbow trout with Powerbait or smaller lures.
You could easily estimate that more than a million casts are made in Lake Taneycomo annually, probably more and maybe twice that many. So, Frank has watched any number of feathered jigs swim past him. But this time he took the jig, thinking it was a sculpin minnow, a prolific food source in many Ozark lakes and streams that trout love. He was hooked, possibly not for the first time, but for the most historic time that would wind up in a record book.
Fishing feathered jigs in Taneycomo is an art form. Many casts result in moss-covered jigs, a mess to clean off feathers. But a sweeping motion is used on retrieves with just enough movement to stay above the moss. Most use floats to suspend the jig over bottom clutter, but the best presentations of jigs are on the bottom and that is exactly where Frank bit.
“Crews and Rayfield had been fishing down from Lilleys' Landing most of the day but ventured up to the mouth of Fall Creek to make a drift, working their jigs along the east bank in shallow water,” said Phil Lilley owner of Lilley’s Landing Trout Resort on Taneycomo. “Crews said they were in shallow water, able to see the bottom under their boat as they drifted. Table Rock Dam was releasing water at a rate of 6,850 cubic feet per second, generating two units at 3 p.m. Even with the difficulty of the wind blowing his line, Crews still felt a tap and set the hook. That's when the excitement started.”
Reports claim that Crews’ fight with Frank occasionally came to a stop when the big fish paused to rest. The big fish led Crews and Rayfield around the lake with ease. There is no horsing around in a huge fish, especially on 4-pound test line, the most common line used on Taneycomo. You just take what the fish gives you until exhaustion sets in. Eventually Frank gave up and Rayfield was able to slip the net under him. This is where the story gets interesting.
Phil Lilley was contacted and they quickly took Frank in for weight and length verification, but Crews wanted to keep the big fish alive for release.
“Crews had just bought a new boat and this was its maiden voyage,” Lilley said. “Fortunately, the live well was just big enough to fit Frank in, but he filled every bit of it. Word got back to me that they were boating in with a huge fish, so we had everything ready to receive the package. Frank was immediately placed in a large, aerated tank on our dock to rest after his ordeal. Now we had to come up with a plan to transport him to the hatchery to be officially weighed.”
Lilley and company filled up a small cattle tank with lake water in the back of a pickup. A device to create oxygen in the tank was laid in and Frank was moved to the tank and a road trip to the Shepherd of the Hills Trout Hatchery, where Shane Bush, fishery management biologist, with other hatchery personnel were waiting with their official scale to see if Frank made the record books.
“Everything was done quickly and carefully, pulling him out of the stock tank to the scale, verifying his weight at 34 pounds, 10 ounces, and then moving him to an aerated tank in Shane's truck,” Lilley said. “We still had no pictures out of the water, just shaky videos, but the goal was to return him back in the lake as quickly as possible. We caravanned down to the boat ramp access, less than a mile from the weigh in site. Shane needed to get some official measurements before release – 38 inches long with a 27-inch girth.”
Crews soon held Frank in the lake until the great fish recovered his senses and swam into the darkness where he would likely sulk until his strength returned. I would hate to be a small fish in the area when his appetite returned.
I salute everyone involved on a great job of keeping Frank alive for release. Time will tell if he is caught again or perhaps this legendary fish will die of old age. He will always be one for the record books of trout fishing lore.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.