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Phil Lilley
Phil Lilley

Seasons - Lake Taneycomo

The following article depicts fishing conditions as well as stocking rates for Lake Taneycomo.

January/February

The MDC reports stocking 46,800 rainbows in the month of January, 39,100 in February. All stockings are spread throughout the month.

January usually is a cold month here in the Ozarks, but the last few years have been marked by only short cold spells. Temperature doesn't affect our trout as much as warm-water species, but it does affect generation – which does affect fishing. I'm a huge proponent of running water. Insects are healthier in moving water and that's my main reason for liking it. We haven't had a winter season when we've had good generation for years because of low rainfall lake levels.

The quality of water is at the top of the scale, high in dissolved oxygen, but it will be colored from the recent turn over on Table Rock, stained with silt, which lasts until late spring.

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Saying all that sets up the rest of my report:

Cold weather, adequate lake levels and generation -- that's what'd I call normal January fishing conditions. By boat, drift. It's easy and fun regardless of whether you use live bait, lures or even flies. Bounce something off the bottom using a drift rig or just a split shot, whatever you like better… just so it's on the bottom. Drop or cast a jig, eighth-ounce if the water is really moving and less if it's not. Work it up and down, quickly or slowly, snap it or lift it; try it all and see what the trout like at the time. And try different colors such as sculpin, black, white, brown, olive, pink, and purple. Mix the sculpin colors with peach and ginger and don't forget the orange heads. Throw stick baits around structure for browns when the water runs. Work them in a stop-and-go pattern, aggressively and slowly.

Keep an ear out for shad runs. Thread-fin shad get too close to the outflow at Table Rock Dam and get sucked through the turbines into Taneycomo, causing a feeding frenzy. Trout gorge themselves on the easy bites of shad, and we fishermen can cash in on the run. White jigs, spoons and small crank baits are the best bets.

December 9 Taneycomo Dickey.jpg

Drifting Gulp Power Eggs or night crawlers on the bottom from Fall Creek down is an all time favorite for most anglers. The key is not to use too much weight, or too little. Just because the drift rig comes with a ¼-ounce weight doesn't mean it's the perfect weight for the flow. Add a split shot if you're not sinking the bait or go to a smaller weight if you're bouncing too hard and snagging up a lot. Stay away from the banks, especially the bluff bank where downed trees will get you every time. Use long, sensitive rods for the best feel. Keep the rod high in the air and watch the tip for the small bump-and-hold you're looking for.

Casting spoons and spinners to rainbows that are high in the water column can be a lot of fun. Don't overlook the shallow side of the lake. In this shallow water trout will pick up a spoon much quicker than in the deeper channel side of the lake.

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March/April

The Missouri Department of Conservation reports stocking about 54,500 rainbows in the month of March and 60,100 in April. All stockings are spread throughout the month.

Boy, you never know what you're going to get in these months. Weather can be really wild with cold spells, warm spells, storms and rain. Fronts do have some impact on trout but not as extreme as on bass, it seems. But this is the time of the year we should see more generation because of spring rains… normally. But the past three to four years have not been normal.

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We've seen shad runs up into March before so can't rule that out. White jigs continue to be hot long after the shad are gone. I usually do well using white jigs all the way into June, throwing them not just below the dam but all the way down to the Landing downtown. Maybe some of the early spawns of forage fish have something to do with it. But white jigs and small crank baits are a hot ticket in the spring.

We do have a pretty good population of crappie and white bass in our lake. We typically look for them in the mouths and just up in the creeks –- Turkey, Coon, Roark, Bee, Bull and more down towards and past Rockaway Beach. Just as in any other fishery, crappie like brush, and whites like open water. You will best find either early and late and on dark days.

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May/June/July/August

The MDC reports stocking about 67,100 rainbows in the month of May, and 81,000 in June and July and August. All stockings are spread throughout the month.

As you can see, stocking numbers are the highest in the summer months, mainly because fishing pressure is also the highest. You might assume that's your best time to catch rainbows here but possibly not. I'd say there are good and bad fishing days every day of the year on Taneycomo. And a bad day on the water still beats a good day in the office, as anglers oft repeat!

Again, lake levels pretty much dictate generation. If we have a wet spring and the lakes are full, the powers at be will use that opportunity to generate electricity and the water will run. To gauge the chance, check the lake levels for Beaver and Table Rock. If they are over power pool, or normal (915 feet for Table Rock and 1120.4 for Beaver), there's a good chance the dam will run water. Also look at history and patterns. If they are running water each day at a certain time, the pattern may hold through the week, but you can bet it may change come the weekend. There's a better chance than not that weekends you'll see less generation mainly because of less power demand.

Jig-and-float fishing will work just about any time of the year under most conditions. It works best during little or no generation, of course. First I tell people, two-pound line will catch more fish, period. Tie a piece of two-pound line to the end of your line, only about two or three feet. Use the jig that fits the water conditions -- a small micro jig or a 1/100th ounce marabou jig when the water isn't running and a heavier 1/50th to 1/16th ounce jig when it is. Of course, you'll have to change your float size, too. As far as colors, there are many to try in varying sizes. Vary the depth, too, until you find out where the fish are hanging out.

If there is a slow month, August can be the one. Table Rock's water stratifies and separates during the summer months with the warm water on top and the cold water forced down. Decaying debris on the bottom of the lake depletes the water of oxygen throughout the summer and fall. Taneycomo gets its water from Table Rock at 130 feet deep, so as fall progresses, we see dissolved oxygen levels plummet to the point that the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers has to add liquid oxygen to the water released just to keep aquatic animals alive, namely trout.

The low oxygen condition continues until Table Rock literally turns over, usually about the middle of December. This inversion mixes the water levels in Table Rock, sending good quality water down to the bottom of the lake once again.

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September/October/November

MDC reported stocking about 67,100 rainbows in the month of September, 60,100 in October and 39,100 in November. All stockings are spread throughout each month.

Trout fishing continues to be good on the lake. Water flows generally diminish through the fall months simply because it's our dry season and the Corps is restricted as to how much water runs due to low oxygen in the water released. So you could say anchoring the boat and tossing out a night crawler or power bait is the norm for an angling outing --or a jig and float works well, too -- or fishing midges. In the fall months we see midge hatches every morning and every evening.

Fly fishing below the dam draws lots of interest in the autumn. Our world famous brown trout begin their annual run to the upper reaches of the lake to spawn. They start showing up as early as mid September and stay as late as late November.

Unfortunately, the run lures trophy seeking anglers, too, who crowd the first mile of the lake during the spawn. The crowds affect how the fish move and feed during the day because there's no place to hide in that first mile, no holes or bends. Trout are herded around, pushed here and there by wading anglers, which is not conducive to their biting. But they do get caught, most of the time by the person who watches his movements and is careful not to wade out too deep too quickly.

Rolan Duffield.jpg

December/January

MDC reported stocking about 23,100 rainbows in the month of December, 46,800 rainbows in January. Most, if not all, of the rainbows were stocked in December and January come from the national hatchery in Neosho, Missouri. All stockings are again spread throughout each month.

You're probably wondering why I lumped January in with December since I start with January already. I think of these two months as the best months of the year to fish Taneycomo. I get asked a lot, "What is the best month to fish?" People are always surprised at my answer, especially those who come only in the summer.

We witness the least traffic all along the lake in December and January, fewer anglers wading below the dam, fewer boats buzzing up and down the channels of the lake – just less disturbance for catching great fish. I believe our trout are pretty tolerant towards us humans invading their space. They were raised by people, hand fed (by tourists) and handled several times in their short life at the hatchery. But I see patterns develop especially over a weekend when fishing slows down and I equate it to traffic. If you're in a boat, there's not much you can do about it, but if you're wading, there is. Just think about it next time you're wading below the dam, especially if you want to catch bigger trout.

Another technique that works just about any month of the year is fishing with a midge. Insects called midges, part of the true fly family, could be our trout's number one food source. They hatch almost every day of the year in all parts of the lake and are easy pickin's for rainbows as well as browns. The larvae make their way to the surface from silt on the bottom, molt, emerge and dry themselves on the surface before flying away. The larvae stay in the film, or upper inch of the lake's surface, long enough to make an easy meal for a cruising rainbow. When you see rings upon rings of fish surfacing on the lake, you're seeing trout feeding on midges.

Sept 20 brown 800b.jpg

Zebra midges are one of the best flies that imitate a midge larva. We fish them under a small indicator using either a fly rod or spin rod. They are so small (#14 or #16) that one has to use two-pound line. Fish them only 12 inches deep, even in 20 feet of water, because that's where the larvae are and that's also where the trout are looking for them. Cast and target midging trout. Cast to a ring… it really is a lot of fun when you get into a big hatch and feeding area.

I believe during the last part of October, November and on into December, trout populations build up, and by the end of December, there seems to be a large number of fish in the lake. I feel these trout are "ripe for the pickin'" and this is proven out by the catches seen the first week or two of January, at least on the lake (not below the dam). Beautifully marked rainbows starting their spawn show up both in live wells and on stringers. The males darken and the females brighten with purple and red hues. These are usually good, plump rainbows that fight hard for their size, giving us the most for our effort. That's why I love winter fishing and I look forward to it every season.



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