Many shows, motels and restaurants on the Branson strip were closed for the winter.
“See you in spring,” was a common message flashing from illuminated signs.
But one attraction was still open for business and drawing prime-time crowds.
Lake Taneycomo’s trout fishing.
“This is one of the best times of the year to be out here,” said Phillip Stone as he weaved his boat through traffic on Taneycomo’s upper end. “It can be cold at times, but the trout will still hit.
“Your chances of catching a big fish are better from late fall to early spring than at any other time of the year.”
Stone paused and looped a long cast to a bluff bank. He jerked the Rebel Ghost Minnow stickbait several times, then let it sit. When the bait paused, a big rainbow suddenly appeared and flashed at the suspended imitation of a baitfish.
Stone set the hook, then watched the trout shoot to the surface and burst into the air, trying to shake the lure. But it wasn’t long before the brilliantly colored fish was in the net and gleaming in the morning sun.
“That one will go 17, 18 inches,” said Stone, a guide who was participating in the Conservation Federation of Missouri media camp. “That’s a good fish, but rainbows that size are becoming more and more common in the Trophy Area.
“I’ve seen the difference in the last four or five years. Especially on this upper end, we’re seeing a lot of big rainbows now.”
And a few legendary brown trout, too.
“There are at least three brown trout up here that will go 25 pounds or more,” said Stone, 40, of Harrison, Ark. “I’ve seen them, and so have a lot of the other guides.
“One guide had a customer who had one of those fish on, and lost it. But most of us are still trying.
“Those fish didn’t get that big by being stupid.”
Meanwhile, Stone and others are busy catching other trout, especially in January and February.
Consider a recent weekday, when spring-like weather provided a brief respite from winter. Taneycomo was jammed with boats, and many of the fishermen in those boats were catching trout.
Stone motored to the Trophy Area, where he and his fishing partner, Ken White of Stockton, Mo., started casting jerkbaits. The action was good from the start, and it lasted for almost two hours.
By the time that action slacked off, Stone and White had caught and released almost 20 trout, a mix of rainbows and browns and some of them in that magic 16- to 19-inch range Stone talks about.
An unusual day? Nah, just a typical winter outing for Stone.
Because the water temperature is in the ideal range and there is plenty of oxygen in the water during the winter, the trout are active. Add a bit of current when electricity is being generated at the dam and the trout often go on the feed.
“They’re probably running two generators, and that helps,” said Stone, who was guiding out of Lilleys’ Landing Marina and Resort. “When there’s current, the trout will get active.”
But every day, even every hour, can be a new experience at Taneycomo. Stone knows that current, wind and sunlight all can make a big difference in the fishing.
“You have to figure out what they want under different conditions,” he said. “That’s the challenge.”
The fishing can get tough when there is no current and sun is shining. But even then, there are ways to catch trout.
The day before, Stone and White caught fish by slowly retrieving micro jigs under strike indicators. They used rigs that Stone set up with two-pound-test line leaders attached with a small swivel to four-pound line and a lightweight strike indicator.
“When the water’s as clear as it is in the winter, going to that two-pound test leader can make a difference,” Stone said.
Stone also bounces sculpin jigs off the bottom and will use small Trout Magnets under a strike indicator. His favorite fly patterns in the winter are wooly buggers and sculpins.
Lately, the best fishing has been found in the Trophy Area, where fishermen are restricted to tight size and creel limits. But Stone is still waiting for the time when the trout move into the creeks off Taneycomo and gather in large numbers.
For him, fishing Taneycomo and the other Ozarks reservoirs has been a lifelong adventure. He was brought up in the Ozarks and began fishing reservoirs such as Bull Shoals, Table Rock and Taneycomo when he was just 4.
Today, he enjoys taking customers fishing for everything from largemouth bass to white bass to crappies. But in the winter, his interest turns to trout.
“Taneycomo is one of the best trout lakes in the country,” he said. “You can catch trout here year-round. But if I was to pick one time of the year to go, it would be winter.
To reach outdoors editor Brent Frazee, call 816-234-4319 or send email to email@example.com.
For more information about Lake Taneycomo’s trout fishing, call guide Phillip Stone at 870-715-2764 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Five places to cast your fly
Maybe it doesn’t have the mountains or fast-flowing rivers that the West does, but Missouri is still prime trout country.
Here are five places in the Show-Me State you have to try:
▪ LAKE TANEYCOMO: The 7,000-acre lake, which is really a river with dams on both sides, supports some of the nation’s best trout fishing. It is stocked heavily with rainbow trout by the Missouri Department of Conservation, and thanks to restrictive limits, it has developed a growing population of big browns. All of this within a long cast of the bright lights and music of Branson.
▪ BENNETT SPRING: Trout fishermen across the state will flock to Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon, Mo., when the season opens March 1. The stream is stocked with thousands of rainbow trout, include some brood fish as big as 10 pounds. If you can stand fishing in a crowd, you can catch fish.
▪ CURRENT RIVER: Two special trout management areas below Montauk Trout Park give fishermen a chance to catch a trophy fish. A nine-mile stretch from Montauk to the Cedargrove Access has developed an outstanding brown-trout population, thanks to stocking by the Department of Conservation and restrictive creel and size limits. The two-mile stretch betwwen Montauk and the Baptist Access holds impressive numbers of rainbows.
▪ ELEVEN POINT RIVER: This Ozarks float stream holds good numbers of rainbow trout from Greer Spring 5.5 miles downstream to the Turner Mill Access. About 80 percent of the trout in this stretch measure 11 to 15 inches, according to surveys by the Department of Conservation.
▪ MERAMEC RIVER: Fall samples indicated that the Meramec should produce good trout fishing this year. Rainbow numbers remain high and brown trout numbers were up substantially from recent years.
| Brent Frazee, email@example.com