Table Rock Dam occasionally frustrates some anglers on Taneycomo Lake by releasing millions of gallons of ice-cold lake water. This controlled deluge floods through Taneycomo, bouncing docks and covering up islands of rocks and small trees.
Many find the current is difficult to fish when the big waters are released and avoid it. Professional guides on this unique stretch – noted as one of the world’s most prolific trout lakes – take out clients in all conditions.
Duane Doty, owner of Ozark Trout Runners, is one of Taneycomo’s fishing gurus and a top guide. He lives and breathes fishing on his favorite lake and serves returning clients annually. His reputation is well earned. He once competed in Taneycomo trout tournaments until his competition decided that him entering these contests was unfair – he is just that good!
I joined Doty on a cold, mercifully windless morning when Table Rock Dam was releasing water from four chutes, causing high-water conditions on Taneycomo. Three generators were running at 9,653-cubic feet per second (CFS) from five floodgates dumping another 5,100 CFS for a total of 14,753 CFS – or in terms most of us will understand, a lot of water filled Taneycomo’s banks.
We had hopes of catching a big brown trout. Doty handed me a spinning rig with a unique looking plastic jerk bait to resemble shad. I took a long look at the lure that was crafted and painted by Doty.
“I used to fish productive lures that were expensive here,” Doty said. “Losing two or three might cost a hundred-dollar bill. So I started painting my own lures in rainbow trout, sculpin minnow or shad colors. To date I have made about 1,500 lures, and they are productive here. I tie a lot of feathered jigs too. But today I want you to try this long, white jerk bait.”
The beautiful lure Doty had created was topped with several coats of paint. I was warned that brown trout might not be all we catch; walleye from the bottom of Table Rock Lake were possible. I never turn down walleye fillets.
“The Missouri Department of Conservation doesn’t stock walleye in Lake Taneycomo,” Doty explained. “Walleye and other warm water species come through the floodgates of Table Rock Dam. Bigger fish may not survive, but many pan-sized walleyes will. The bite can be exciting after floodgates have been opened and shad are pouring through. A few walleyes hang up by the gate and provide a good bite. We’ve had a lot of floodgate activity this year and are seeing quite a few walleye as a result.”
My first three casts were practice runs developing my lure jerking action to match Doty’s. The fourth cast produced a strike and a pleasant surprise when the first walleye was netted. The slender fish fought well and measured long enough to enter our livewell.
Minutes later Doty set the hook on a bigger walleye that made several hard runs before being netted. His “eye” was about 3 ½ pounds with sharp teeth and a lot of fight left while flopping in the net.
“This is what we’re after,” Doty said. “Keep the lure as close to the bank as possible and be ready for a strike on the pause. They hit hard and sometimes may hook themselves.”
Sadly, my next jolt was a quick hit and miss when a good-sized walleye bit and released my stick bait – I’m not sure how. Those trebles were razor sharp and I almost hooked my finger on them several times while clearing tangled line or hooks that occasionally connect while the lure is in flight, ruining the shad imitation’s action.
“Before the lure hits water, reel a couple of times to take out slack,” Doty suggested. “That will help you keep the trebles straight and they won’t tangle as often.”
I tried his reeling method and it worked. We caught a couple more walleye before the bite stopped. A sudden golden flash signaled a big brown trout attacking my lure. I set the hook and held on a couple of good runs before the trout somehow threw the lure and its sharp trebles.
“One of the biggest browns I personally caught here was a 17 and three-quarter pounder, on a jig while browns were busting shad.” Doty said. “I decided to start targeting bigger fish and now catch and release between 150 to 200 trophy fish over 20 inches per year.”
We changed tactics and started drifting weighted scuds off the bottom while slipping sideways in the current. Scuds or freshwater shrimp are transparent and take on color from food they eat. For example, scuds feeding on dark olive plant matter will take on a dark olive hue, while those eating tan items will develop a tan hue. Scud flies often range in size from just over half an inch down to about one-16th of an inch. Several smaller rainbow trout hit and were caught and released using the bouncing scud method.
“January and February are exciting times to fish Taneycomo,” Doty said. “We have a lot of threadfin shad die off and filter through the turbines of Table Rock Dam. During this period, fish white lures and you might catch big trout, walleye or even bass. The crowds are less then and on occasion you might have the entire lake to yourself. I may only have a couple guide trips a month and have a lot of time to go out and fish on my own. I am on the water every chance I get and constantly learn something new about catching Taneycomo fish.”
The trip finally ended and the next night walleye fillets with brown rice graced our dinner table. Fresh walleye cooked shortly after being taken from cold water is as good as it gets. Wish I had more!
January and February are excellent times to fish on Taneycomo with Doty. You can contact him on Facebook at Ozark Trout Runners, or call 417-294-8672.
– 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.