Lure of Rainbow Trout in a World-class Fishery

Although it’s called a lake, Lake Taneycomo in Branson, Mo., looks and flows like a river and is a world-class rainbow and brown trout fishery!

I wanted my 6-year-old grandchildren, Vincent and Dianna, to experience the excellent trout fishery and they weren’t disappointed.

We fished with Captain Steve Dickey and limited out early on rainbow trout. Dickey has been guiding for ten years and claimed it took him three years to learn the structure of Lake Taneycomo. Our first hot spot was to fish three holding areas for rainbows in Roark Creek, located on the opposite bank from The Landing. Coon Creek was also productive.

Our limit of 16 nice-sized rainbows was put in the livewell and we boated a total of 65 trout, not counting the ones that got away. The action was consistent with a number of triple- and double-headers at a time. The kids may have gotten tired of reeling trout after trout in, and turned their attention to taking turns netting fish for Albert Manas and me. Captain Steve was an excellent and patient guide providing instruction for both grandchildren, including the adults.

The rainbow trout action was like playing a pinball machine: cast out, watch the float disappear, reel in a rainbow and cast again.

Dickey makes his own lures, which consistently produce fish, but he does not sell them. A San Juan worm and one-pound test line was used.

“I’m going fishing with Steve, again! I liked casting out far and catching fish,” stated Vincent.

Dianna agreed with Vincent and caught the first big rainbow; both kids out-fished Albert and me.

“You’re making it hard for me because the kids will expect this kind of action every time!” stated Manas.

Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery and Conservation Center raises “1.2 million trout each year, of which 700,000 rainbow trout go into Lake Taneycomo; the fish are released right in front of the hatchery. Fifty thousand of the trout are brown trout and 20,000 to 80,000 rainbows are released each month,” stated John Miller, Naturalist Program supervisor of the Southwest Region with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

A number of factors make Lake Taneycomo a world-class fishery. High quality cold water from Table Rock Lake, plus an ample food source including freshwater scud, which locals call freshwater shrimp.

“Two days prior to releasing the trout into Taneycomo, we don’t feed the fish so they are hungry when they are introduced to the lake. The trout are naturally curious so they pick up stones in their mouths and realize that’s not something they want to eat. They try plants, but trout are not vegetarians. They then try insects,” added Miller.

Getting a copy of the fishing regulations is advised and stopping by one of the area fly shops to find out what the trout are biting was advised by Miller.

“The scud and midge patterns are popular right now,” indicated Miller.

There are two zones in Taneycomo and each has different regulations. The first is right next to Table Rock Dam and stretches three miles, which is a protected slot limit zone.

“That means no one can keep a trout that is 12 to 20 inches long. Brown trout must be more than 20 inches long. The three-mile zone ends at Fall Creek. In the rest of the lake, any sized trout can be kept. There is also some natural reproduction going on, so if a person catches a trout of less than 10 inches, it is probably a naturally reproduced fish,” stated Miller.

The construction of the hatchery began in 1957 and the production of trout in 1958 with the completion of Table Rock Dam by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The dam created a large, deep lake that varies in water temperature from surface to bottom. The bottom water stays cool averaging 48 degrees Fahrenheit year ‘round. During hydroelectric generation, the cold water is released into Taneycomo making it an ideal environment for trout.

Table Rock Dam separates Table Rock Lake and Lake Taneycomo. Powersite Dam is the oldest hydroelectric dam west of the Mississippi. Shepherd of the Hills fish hatchery raises 1.2 million rainbow trout per year and releases 700,000 legal sized rainbows into Taneycomo each year, of which 50,000 are brown trout.

We would travel from Michigan to Branson, Mo., again to fish Lake Taneycomo. Vincent and Dianna told me so and I believed them!

Until then, the magic of a cast frozen in a moment, the subtle splash of the lure hitting the water, the anticipation of the dance with a rainbow trout to begin, would be relived in the minds of a boy called Vincent, his sister Diana and two grown men that were children at heart!

For more information…
Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery/Captain Steve Dickey:     
Visitor information:

Fast facts

  • 15-18 months are needed to raise a 12-inch trout weighing 3/4 pounds.
  • It costs $1.30 to raise a legal-sized trout, which are not native to Missouri.
  • 400,000 pounds of trout are raised each year weighing 800,000, 12 inches in length.
  • Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery was constructed in 1958 and in 1959 the first trout were raised.
  • An average of 100,000 people visit Missouri’s nature centers, while Shepherd of the Hills draws 308,000 visitors per year.
  • The current nature facility has 2,000 square feet and construction of a 10,000 square foot and began in January of 2016.