It wasn’t even mid-morning and Carolyn Parker was already sweating from simply loading gear into a boat. The forecast said worse was on the way by afternoon.
Thankfully, the water coming off 50-degree Lake Taneycomo made it feel like stepping into air conditioning as she climbed aboard her boat last week. Still, she knew the weather would win.
“When it’s this hot, we try to get people to only fish a half day,” Parker said. “There’s just too much water in the afternoons, and it’s too hot.”
But sometimes a half-day fishing with the diminutive 75-year-old is still good angling.
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Ten minutes after her first cast, Parker caught the first trout of the day on her fly rod. Not much later the second fish, a 19-inch rainbow that was softball fat from back to belly, took nearly five minutes from hook set to net. For most of the morning, the fishing stayed as hot as the weather.
Parker repeatedly called Taneycomo a river, because it’s always in motion. It certainly was a river the first time she came to Branson.
From wild river to hydro-electric dam
Trying to get from Kansas City to New Orleans in the early 1950s, Parker’s family made some wrong turns and ended up in the right place. The plan was to spend one night in then-tiny Branson and continue on. Then her dad, a Filipino immigrant, saw the White River nearby.
“He always thought of fishing,” said Parker. “He bought some fishing outfits. We never made it to New Orleans that trip. We fell in love with the area.”
That love has never left Parker, even thought the area has changed dramatically.
A few years after her first visit, the White River one of the wildest in America, was choked into submission by Table Rock Dam. About 43,000 acres of warm water sits on one side of the dam. On the other, water about 50 degrees flows from the Table Rock Lake’s depths to create the moving lake of about 2,000 acres. It’s perfect habitat for trout.
As well as preventing floods, the dam holds four hydro-electric generators. The more demand for electricity the more water is released to turn the turbines. That sometimes means peak water levels are at the peak of summer heat, and that can be too much water for fishing.
At the launch, Parker judged her river a modest single generator and pulled hard on oars to go upstream. Her hope of catching trout on streamers, which imitate small fish or crawdads, was dashed with her one fish of about 12 inches. Experience told her it was time to change.
It’s been about 20 years since Parker and her husband, Stan, busted out of retirement in the Kansas City area and moved to near Taneycomo. They soon opened River Run Outfitters, a fly-fishing shop and guiding operation. All has gone well.
In 2006, fly-fishing heavyweight Orvis named River Run their outfitter of the year. Earlier this year Carolyn Parker, one of Taneycomo’s top guides, was awarded a lifetime achievement award by Orvis. It’s only the second such award given by the company and the first to a woman.
Tiny flies, big trout
Parker guessed, correctly, the trout were feeding on nymphs, itty-bitty, aquatic insects. She picked a pair of red nymph imitations small enough that four could fit on one dime. A small foam float was attached to the line to help detect often light-striking fish.
But that day’s trout missed the light-striking memo and hit the tiny flies as hard and fast as thieves in the daylight. The fish were as solid and bright as they were aggressive.
“Most fish this year have been this strong and solid, and just beautiful,” she said as she unhooked a scarlet-sided trout of about 18 inches. “The last two years were pretty rough because of really high (flood) waters. We’re back to looking good.”
The action was good in the first two hours drifting the river, Parker used oars to keep the boat even with the drifting flies. At about 11 a.m., about the time air conditioners were kicking in all over the Midwest, more generators were needed. A long and loud horn warned anglers more water was on its way.
Within about 20 minutes the higher water came, and with it leaves and litter that would make keeping a clean fishing line difficult. Parker anchored the boat in a small eddy, talked trout fishing and snacked on crackers and cheese. When the initial push of leaves and litter was past she pulled anchor and drifted again.
“We need that 17-incher to complete the run,” she said, referencing her guest’s string of 16, 18 and 19-inch trout. Maybe 100 yards down the shoreline, the strike indicator headed for mid-stream. The trout used the current to its advantage so Parker and the boat followed. The trout eventually measured 171/2 inches before it, like all the others, was released.
A few more smaller trout came. Probably a dozen fish had been caught and released that morning, plus the four larger fish.
By noon the heat was oppressive, even when sitting above the cold water. Parker rowed to a ramp where an employee had moved her SUV and trailer.
Opening the doors of her car was like opening the door of an oven. Still, she smiled as she climbed in.
“We caught some really nice fish and they were so aggressive,” she said. “That was a good day on the river.”
Technically it was just a half day. It certainly was good.