There are two certainties about winter trout fishing: it’s better to be dressed in layers and you might catch the trout of your life.
The lakes, ponds and rivers of Missouri and Kansas were all frozen over, so a trip to Lake Taneycomo through Branson, Missouri was a no-brainer. The lake is fed by water from the bottom of Table Rock Lake and it never freezes. Large trout mixed with schools of small rainbows cruise the narrow lake that was once part of the White River Range.
Captain Jeremy Rasnick faced freezing air temperatures as he descended the Taneycomo Slot to a wired trophy area. His spacious fishing boat cut against the current and sometimes bounced over the waves left by other boats.
This fishing trip was part of the Conservation Federation of Missouri’s writers camp and several well-dressed fishermen in layers hooked up for the sometimes bumpy ride.
Resnick quickly slowed down and crept closer to the trophy area where large trout are caught, often photographed, and quickly brought back. Few other anglers were fishing in the freezing temperatures which were accentuated by heavy snow and ice on the surrounding cliffs.
Soon a rig of a tandem fly rig with an orange egg for an attractor complete with a gray #16 scud, both attached by Rasnick and tied on a fluorocarbon spike, was sunk upstream as the boat floated sideways in the current. The 1/16 ounce weight of the grip line plunged the rig down in seconds.
Outdoor writer Kyle Carroll saw the tip of his rod vibrate as the weighted scud began to bounce off the rocks upstream. This was one of his first trout fishing trips. The problem was that the rod tip bouncing off the rig hitting submerged rocks made it difficult to determine a bite.
The noted adage, “When in doubt, set the hook” comes true when it’s uncertain what is causing your rod tip to bounce. Jumping over rocks produces a sort of rhythmic movement of the rod tip and a stroke of trout looks or feels somewhat different, a fishing skill developed over time. Hook sets were frequent, occasionally producing trout.
The trout were great fighters and absolutely indignant at being netted and taken out of their element for a quick release. Most averaged between 10 and 15 inches and stretched light tippets to their limit. The bite was light due to current lake conditions.
The guides on Taneycomo are at the mercy of the water flow. When a turbine spins, water is released and the fishing is good. More of one produces more flow and the trout seem to bite better. The bite can become almost non-existent when there is no running water and some fish live bait or electric bait in deep holes.
Enough water was flowing to keep the trout somewhat active and soon Carroll caught his first trout of the day, a medium sized fish. But later he hooked a much bigger fish.
Carroll’s rod was bent as the beautiful trout raced upstream. He fought fish around the boat by cutting runs and dives. Eventually the 17 inch rainbow trout was caught and released.
“It was my biggest trout ever,” Carroll said. “This fish fought really well.”
These words are exactly what a guide likes to hear.
At the end of the days over 20 rainbow trout were caught and released when the bite was not ideal for experienced anglers in multiple boats. Rasnick had done his job in difficult conditions, the mark of a very good guide.
That evening, the group dined at the White River Fish House where platters of shrimp, fried pickles, fried cheeseballs and other delicious finger foods were handed out before main entrees were served. No one was hungry.
The next morning I fished with veteran guide Chuck Gries, owner of Angler’s Outfitters fly shop and 26-year-old veteran Taneycomo guide. Our rig was a large white fly fishing float for weight and a smaller float for bite indication. A white 1/80th Mega Worm was attached about four feet below the float.
“Now cast and flip the end of your rod to take out the slack,” Gries said. “The trout hit fast and you better be ready. Now shake the bobber to pop the worm, then bob only to take up some slack.
I realized he was serious after missing about 10 hits. Finally one of Taneycomo’s dumbest trout snagged a second too long and my hook sank into a solid fish mouth. The trout made several good runs before being caught and released. After the first hook set it seemed to get easier and a dozen more fish were caught and brought back with sore mouths.
“Let’s try bigger fish,” Gries said.
Soon an 1/8 ounce brown and orange feathered jig took to the air to search for a 20-pound brown trout that hadn’t bitten that day. The trick was to let the jig sink, flip the tip of the rod to bounce the jig, then drop it. Trout were supposed to fall on the chute and several did, but not the big ones we were looking for. But several beautiful fish including an 18 inch rainbow were caught and released.
Lake Taneycomo has long been a winter hotspot for anglers across the country. An aggressive fish stocking program by Shepherd of the Hill Hatchery has produced excellent opportunities for brown trout and rainbow trout. The attached Gries jig was designed to mimic sculpin minnows, a variety that most Taneycomo fish feed heavily on, including walleye. Minnows and gizzard shad are also present, giving the trout plenty of forage.
That evening the group ate at the School of the Ozarks Keeter Center restaurant where an excellent meal of fresh pork and chicken followed by an amazing cheesecake with freshly whipped cream was served and all gained weight .
Want to fish with Jeremy Rasnick? Dial 417-337-4218. To fish with Chuck Gries, call 417-335-4655.