The 2005 Bassmaster Classic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was one of the toughest in history. With only 11 fish and a measly 12 pound 15-ounce weight, Kevin Van Dam pulled off his second Classic victory. The key? Being able to adapt and change to the conditions. Other anglers were catching fish, but hardly any keepers. Van Dam switched to a classic Smithwick Rogue and boated several keeper smallmouth bass.
The one thing makes any person truly successful is being able to adjust when conditions change. Staying static when everything else around you remain dynamic does not bode well for success. With fishing, anglers tend to rely on techniques and spots that have worked previously. All of us are guilty of it.
Southwest Missouri, known as the Tri-Lakes area, has gone through three 100-year floods from 2008-2017. In April 2017, Beaver, Table Rock, and Taneycomo all reached or crested flood stages for a few weeks due to heavy rains. Because of federal laws and practicality, the Southwestern Power Administration (SWPA) began releasing 20-50, 000 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water from Tale Rock Lake into Lake Taneycomo.
With the floods came a challenge for fishermen on Taneycomo: where were the fish and how do you catch them? The usual hot spots were rendered useless due to the high water. Lake Taneycomo, with four turbines and 10 flood gates open at Table Rock Dam, was raging. Extremely fast and high, some guides were struggling to find clients fish.
Fish hold in slower water like eddies and breaks when the current gets heavy. Islands, points, and docks all can prove useful during high water events. In 2017, typical eddies just weren’t holding enough fish. Enter Duane Doty, the dock manager and resident jig-tyer for Lilleys' Landing Resort and Marina on Upper Lake Taneycomo. He knew the fish had to be eating—he just needed to find him. He had an inkling the fish would be holding right on the bottom of the lake, where the current was, presumably, much slower. He was right.
Another part of the equation changed during the high water. While the flood gates summoned raging current, it also brought over thousands of threadfin and gizzard shad, creating a buffet for Taneycomo trout and warm water species. Doty developed a technique so simple it’s hard to believe no one else thought of it prior.
Targeting the shad influx, he tied on Bomber Fat Free Fingerling Shad crankbaits that dove from 8-12 feet, he threw out near the cable. With flood gates dumping thousands of gallons of water into Taneycomo painting the background, Doty turned the boat sideways and reeled fast to get the bait to reach the bottom. Keeping the crankbait in contact with the rocks, he only went 100 yards before he felt a big tug. After a battle, he netted his first fish of the day—a shad engorged, 22-inch brown trout. From the cable to Fall Creek, he landed five trout 20-inches or greater on the trip.
For the next month, Doty and his clients managed to boat numerous trophy browns and rainbows, smallmouth bass up to 5 pounds, largemouth and spotted bass, hefty walleyes, white bass, and crappie on the technique. Others were struggling to simply catch fish, while Doty was putting his clients on big ones daily.
In late March 2018, heavy rains returned to the Tri-Lakes area. With one turbine out of commission, and maybe some preemptive thought, the SWPA opened the flood gates for the second straight year. I called Doty and scheduled a trip for Easter weekend. His high school friend’s sons, Blake and Dillon Harris, were headed down as well. We knew what to do.
Dragging crankbaits from the cable all the way to Fall Creek, in 24 hours we landed 10 browns from 18 ½-inches up to 23 ¾-inches, as well as several fat rainbows from 17-19 ½-inches. The top locations were behind Lookout Island all the way through the Narrows. Multiple fish came from the seam in the Narrows, including Blake Harris’ 6-pound lunker. Dillon hooked into his 23 ¾ inch 5.6-pound brown just as the bend started by Point Royale past Lookout Island.
Being able to adjust to changing conditions put big fish in the boat for us. With more rain sure to come this spring and the possibility of high water, be sure to add this technique to your arsenal on Lake Taneycomo.
1. Be prepared to lose crankbaits. We lost six in a three-hour period. With the lure constantly bumping the bottom, it is inevitable.
2. Boat control is of utmost importance with this tactic. Keeping the boat sideways and flowing nicely with the current keeps the bait on the bottom and in the strike zone.
3. An East wind will make this tactic extremely hard because it pushes against the current you are riding.
4. This tactic will only be possible from the cable to Short Creek. Once you get to Short Creek, you lose the stronger current and the crankbaits struggle to reach the bottom and keep in contact with it.
5. We use a 6-foot, medium heavy spinning rod with 6-pound line. You could use a baitcasting rod and reel, sure, but I think the spinning rod gives you more control and leeway when a big fish hits. Being able to backreel on a big brown in heavy current is key.
6. You may struggle with identifying a bite at first—until you get one. It’s unmistakable. But, as Duane says, jerks are free! Don’t be afraid to set the hook if the bait stops vibrating or if slack gets in your line.
7. Check your lure for moss and other debris every couple of minutes, especially in the first mile from the cable. There’s a lot of junk up there.
Forum member Curtise headed West and the BilletHead South West. Met west of Joplin and parked Curt's modern prairie schooner. He jumped in the BilletHead's Prairie Schooner with the newfangled dugout sporting a jet drive. Farther Southwest we went through Seneca and across the border into tribal lands. Passing Casino after casino. I thought of how poetic that the first peoples were now getting even with the paleface taking their wampum. We soon made our way to the bridges twin to the boat ramp to see the parking lot pretty full. Gear stowed in the dugout we traveled up the spring river. We passed boat after boat circling spots like covered wagons landing for the night. Only difference was there was no campfire in the middle but fish they were after. It was like slalom skiing in and out of the boats wondering which side to pass on as they were in the middle and fishing each bank. Upstream we continued and by the 10c bridge. The farther up we went the less boats we seen. Our quest was the first good current and shoal. We found another boat there and two wading anglers catching fish with stringers dragging behind. We dropped anchor and strung up the rods. We would cast either towards the bank letting the fly or lure swing into the current break or vice versa into the strong current swinging into the current break. Then it happened with the BilletHead getting a hook up then Curtise at almost the same moment. A double to start the day ,
We continued working up and back repeating the process not only catching Whites but Crappie too. Some nice ones at that,
We caught enough to keep us happy in that area but soon began up through the shoal to cast a steeper deep bank with slower water. A couple more were caught there. We then traveled farther up to another shoal and watched a couple waders catching what I think were crappie from a slack area next to current. We fished there fighting the wind and more shallow water without any catching. Dropped down to the original starting point to find two other boats. We fished there without anymore fish. Left there for trying deeper water where the masses of other boats were scattered. This time so many more that the first pass. Every size of water motor craft you could imagine here and there casting anything from tiny jigs all the way up to A- rigs the size of compact cars. Wind beginning to get worse now with mini whitecaps forming. Add to this large boats plowing water it was a mess it was . We even seen waves going over a smaller crafts sides . Fished down there amongst the crowd without another fish we decided to call it an afternoon. Had to run the riverboat slow back in the waves to keep from beating ourselves in the waves. In a couple of places they were pretty intense. I am missing the 10c launch. Hope it will be useable when the bridge is finished. People putting in and out at the ramp we finally got off the water and ready for the trip back. Trip specs were,
Air temp at launch right at 40 degrees. Water temp 51 to 52 degrees. Air temp at trip end 72 and water temp finally hit 55. The BilletHead threw fly's all day, Curtise fly's and flicker shad. Clouser colors that worked were gray over white and pink over white. A white streamer worked too. Flicker shad purple back and fire tiger. Sink tip lines were used on the fly rods. Caught fish in water depths four to six or seven foot deep.
Numbers between us I would say in the mid to upper twenties. Mixed sized whites both males and females. I weighed one pound a half. Big crappie without weighing say a pound fish. Did not notice any redbuds showing any color on way over but did see a hint on the way back. Good day with good friends I call it a successful trip. We tucked tail and headed back East and North East,
End of story and report,
Well, ness is into a new phase of life: where family vacations are mostly behind us now, and the kids are grown up enough they aren’t doing a whole lot that requires the parents around. That, and a loosening of the work policy disallowing more than one week of vacation at a time, made for the first 2-week vacation I’ve ever taken. This trip was to be just my 19 year old son Michael and me. The plan was to head west into Colorado, then up into Wyoming and back through South Dakota, doing as much fishing as we could (or wanted to), while taking in Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore. I didn’t want to mess with camping for that long, so we got set up in an eclectic set of cabins, hotels and motels for the stops we had planned.
The first stop was Estes Park / Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ve been a number of times as a family, so we were pretty familiar with the layout. We stayed in a rustic cabin at Cascade Cottages, which is just inside the Fall River entrance to the Park. We’ve stayed with them a number of times, and Richard and Grace, who run it, have become friends of ours over the years. Two of the nicest people you could possibly meet. They do everything the way they did it 50 years ago – hand-written reservation system, check or cash only. No TV, internet, phone or Wi-Fi, and no cell coverage. The cabin has what we call the “essential 6” – bed, shower, toilet, fridge, stove and heat – and nothing else.
We spent a few days there, fishing some in the park with a few little browns to show for it, and also taking in the spectacular scenery RMNP has to offer. My son’s a big Steven King fan, so we had to hit the Stanley Hotel of course. Spent more time in Estes and less time fishing than I wanted, but hey – it's give and take that makes these things work, right? Saw tons of wildlife as we always do (elk, big horn sheep, marmot, turkey, mule deer). This big dude was laying in the grass next to the parking lot of a motel.
It's perty up there!
Our next stop was Saratoga, Wyoming where we planned to hit the Encampment and North Platte rivers. We stayed at the century-old Wolf Hotel, which turned out to be a happening place with a great restaurant and bar – which seemed out of place for such a sleepy little town. First day we headed out for the Encampment Wilderness /Hog Park area. We got pretty crossed up on the crappy, unmarked, Forest Service roads, but got some help from a couple ranchers right before I blew a gasket. First stop was the beautiful Encampment, a freestone river that runs north out of Colorado. Not much happening there so we gulped down some snacks and headed over to the tailwater of a small reservoir. Man, that was some great looking water! We started walking downstream so we could fish it back up with dries and droppers. Shortly into the walk I couldn’t resist cutting off to the left to check out a little side creek. Michael says, ‘Come on dad, that’s too shallow’, just about 10 seconds before the old man proved him wrong and hooked into a (relatively) nice fish.
Well, we all know the dangers of walking along in the tall grass next to a stream, especially when you’re not focusing on your footing. While I was catching up to the fish I stepped into a side channel, and Michael couldn’t resist taking a photo. I submit it here so the OAF smart-azzes have something to work with.
But, I kept him on.
We had a couple of fish out of the main channel – my best one came just as we were leaving. Unfortunately the camera got knocked off its settings, so the picture is crap. Deal with it
The next day we hired a guide out of Hack’s Tackle in Saratoga for a 10-mile float on the North Platte River. The first fish of the day was a nice rainbow that I horsed and lost. After he broke off he did three or four leaps out of the water with my tackle clearly visible dangling from his mouth. When I reeled in and inspected the tippet, I saw it had been rubbed flat – which I realized happened when I wrapped it around an overhead cable a few hundred yards back. My fault x2 on that one. The guide was too eager to point out how badly had messed that one up, which ended up costing him a few bucks on the back end . Not a stellar day on that great river, but the catching was fairly steady. The guide was pretty good, and definitely worked his arse off. Not so good with the teaching aspect, and a little too quick to point out the flaws while never offering up an atta-boy when you got it right. Michael was pretty quick to point all that out once the guide was out of earshot.
Next stop was Pinedale, Wyoming where we stayed in a nice little cabin that had a kitchenette (Log Cabin Motel). We were there to fish some of the creeks BilletHead had steered me toward in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. We were hungry so we grabbed a beer and a bite to eat at the Wind River Brewery. Those boys know how to make beer and cook too! I had an outstanding ESB and some cream of mushroom soup. After lunch we fished a really sexy looking little creek for a short time, but didn’t have much luck. After the long day in the drift boat the day before, Michael was a little petered out on fishing, so we took some time to get Michael’s casting straightened out. I had him press his elbow into his ribs and not bend at the waist. Next I relayed some of the best fly casting advice I ever got –think about it like you’re hammering a nail. Once I had his wildly-flailing arm tamed, and cured him of trying to will the line out by lurching forward and reaching, I worked with him to get the pause and timing right on his backcast. It only took a couple of minutes, and it was so satisfying – for both of us -- when that all clicked. Seeing his frustration melt away and be replaced by confidence and enthusiasm was priceless.
The area around Pinedale is desert and mountains, with plenty of public land. We saw a Golden Eagle lift off with a prairie dog in its grip, lots of Pronghorn Antelope, some sage grouse (they’re big!).
...and plenty of cattle too. Had to convince some of them to move out of the way more than once!
Before we left I hit the Mountain Man Museum. Very nice museum with lots of good information and artifacts relating the men that went west from around 1820 to 1840 in search of fur (primarily beaver) to fill the need created by the beaver hat fashion back east.
Next day it was off to our next stop – the Grand Tetons. We stopped in Jackson Hole for a bit, mostly to get something to eat and check that one off the list. It was a mad house, and I wasn't really in the mood, so we hit the dusty trail pretty quickly. Up in the Tetons we stayed at Colter Bay Lodge on Jackson Lake. Our first day there was mostly checking out and photographing the magnificent scenery, though I did fish a little while Michael piddled around. Turns out there's only, like, four mountains in the Teton Range. Here's the big one:
The following morning I roused the sleepy teenager early, determined to beat the big blob of lazy tourists rolling into Yellowstone mid-morning. This was our first time there, so we had to make the required stops. We sat with the masses waiting for Old Faithful to blow. When he finally did, the wind whipped it around and onto the crowd. My first few pictures look like steam from a big tea kettle, then the rest have mist and water on the lens. Old Faithful Inn is spectacular – spent a lot of time just wandering around marveling at the architecture and all-log construction. Then it was off to the falls and other areas for sightseeing and more photos. Along the way we pulled off at a neat-looking thermal area along the Firehole River. We walked on down to get some pictures – just like another guy was doing. Next thing I noticed, he's gone and a park ranger is hot-footing it toward us. Long story short – we weren’t supposed to be there and I picked up a $125 ticket. I was a little miffed, because we never saw any signs even though the ranger insisted we walked past ‘several’. The ‘several’ turned out to be two: one in the parking lot that was knocked down, and another out in the field that was knocked down. I had seen the one in the field, but I just figured it meant don’t go stepping on steaming stuff. It was a Yellowstone speed trap. I stood the sign in the parking lot back up, because it didn’t look like Smokey was gonna do it. The $125 picture:
Carrying on a family tradition at the Divide:
After a couple days based out of the south side of the park, we moved over to the east side to Pahaska Teepee. That’s a neat little spot, right on the North Fork of the Shoshone, that was originally of Buffalo Bill Cody’s lodges. Kinda of a neat spot, but like Colter Bay the cabins didn’t have kitchenettes. We had some cold food, we were tired of that and down to eating at the local, expensive, not-that-great restaurants. We did a horseback ride up into the mountains one afternoon, then wandered into Cody to check things out. Boy, that’s a true wild west town – a gunfight actually broke out right on the main street. We strolled the main drag and ogled the cowgirls. At BilletHead’s suggestion we stopped in to North Fork Anglers and met Tim Wade. A few others of you might know since he’s a native Missourian. Good guy, and we had a nice chat. After that we settled in for a gunfight and all-you-can-eat prime rib buffet at the Irma Hotel. Some fun people pics:
The last evening we did the Buffalo Bill Cody Center of the West. That's an outstanding museum and I'd highly recommend it to anyone. Lots of artifacts, art, natural history stuff. I particularly enjoyed the large collection of Fredrick Remington, Charles Russell and N.C. Wyeth paintings. Lots of weapons on display, including several pieces from TV shows (such as Matt Dillon's six-shooter).
Saw this along the way between Cody and Pahaska Teepee:
It kinda pains me to say we didn’t fish Yellowstone. Please refrain from telling me what a screw up that was. I know. I fished a little on the North Fork of the Shoshone, which ran right behind our cabin. I had been warned by a couple different people that there was a grizzly momma and cubs frequenting the area, plus a moose and a calf, so I was a little leery of fishing, honestly. Michael did catch a nice cuttie at the gift shop:
We headed east from Pahaska Teepe through the Big Horns. Man, that was some spectacular country through there. And, along the highway for many miles was a really sexy looking creek. No time to fish, again, because we were on the long trip across Wyoming to get to Custer, SD. Custer State Park was another place I wanted to fish, but we were heading to the barn, running short on time and just couldn’t do it. We did a quick look-see at Mount Rushmore that evening, then did the 11-hour drive home the following morning.
This was a great trip and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to spend that much one-on-one time with my baby boy. We saw a lot of stuff, and it really whetted my appetite for trips in the future. We both agreed a 10-day trip with fewer stops would be better. Now that we’ve got an idea what we like, what we don’t like and what we can skip, we’re ready to start thinking about next year. When I set this trip up, I knew we were packing a lot in. I didn’t want to camp for two solid weeks, especially with an antsy teenager along. We had a little cell coverage and a little Wi-Fi along the way, so the boy wasn’t totally cut off. But a lot of the areas we fished, or wanted to fish, are so much easier to get to if you’re camping nearby – rather than a 30-45 minute drive away in the nearest town. I guess you do it, learn, and then tweak it for next time, right? Already working on 2016.
Hope you enjoyed.
I had planned on fishing around Akers Ferry to try for a few more new species for the 2017 season. I had caught two new species, the central stoneroller and the striped shiner, for 2017 at Montauk earlier in the day, I knew that knobfin sculpin were prevalent in that part of the Current river. Last year I had caught southern redbelly dace in a small creek near the Ferry access. So I was confident that we could catch at least a couple of new species on this trip. Livie caught the first knobfin sculpin of the trip, which was her first of this species. Then I caught one as well.
I would love to say that it was challenging to catch these scuplin, but once we found some they were everywhere. Microfishing to me is not about high numbers, but targeting some new species. We could have caught many more sculpin, but went after darters and minnows instead. Livie caught the first darter, a female rainbow darter.
We switched rods and I caught my first rainbow darter of the year (4th new species on the day; first fish below). I was surprised that the males still had some of their breeding coloration like Livie's male (second fish).
We were surrounded by a large school of larger minnows. I caught one of these guys, another central stoneroller.
They frustrated Livie to no end and she just could not get one to bite again. By this time it was getting really hot (possibly up to the mid 90s). After leaving the river, I still wanted to see if we could catch a southern redbelly dace. unfortunately the creek was just a trickle due to the lack of rain this summer. We had a great day. At the end of this trip, I had caught more different sp[ecies than I have ever done is a given year. I also have caught a larger number of fish in a given year than I ever have before. Yet I feel that there are still many species yet to catch and it may be possible that I may catch many more fish yet this year.