TaneycomoTrout.com Mid September Newsletter
Gearing up for the annual brown trout run on Lake Taneycomo, the White River and the Norfork Tailwater
It’s getting to be that time of year again when fly fishers are counting the days until the brown trout run starts in earnest on the White, Norfork and Lake Taneycomo. I never encourage fishing for trout that are actively spawning, but there are ways to ethically take advantage of this annual event without compromising one’s ethics, and this particular topic will be covered in the “guides tips” section later on in this newsletter. Currently, scores of big browns are starting to move upstream to stage on Taneycomo and the Norfork, but it will be at least another month before pre-spawn activities start on the White.
When the brown trout on the Norfork and Taneycomo start to move upstream as a part of their “procreation process”, anglers are privy to unique opportunities to go after these behemoths in a setting that is void of the typical crowding that goes along with any opportunity where big fish are susceptible. Pounding actively spawning fish is not representative of anglers who take the wild trout potential of these rivers seriously, and most ‘true’ fly fishermen would rather forgo the chance at catching a big, beat up brown amongst the masses in lieu of having some water to themselves. That said, there are methods and techniques that are not detrimental to our beloved fisheries when wetting a line during the spawn – the issues arise when groups of fishermen hoard certain spots and basically harass trout that are in shallow water.
My guide schedule is starting to book up for much of October (especially on the weekends), but there are still plenty of days available for those who want a shot at a “fish of a lifetime”. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about fishing the runs on the Norfork and Lake Taneycomo, and I am more than eager to share some of the knowledge I’ve amassed over the course of fishing these rivers for many years. The Norfork is already loaded with browns, and they are also starting to move into the lower trophy area on Taneycomo. This year promises to be one of the best in recent memory, and if the region doesn’t see any more significant rainfall over the next month, there should be plenty of low-water opportunities for those who prefer to wade.
It is no secret that it is hard for anyone to pass up the opportunity to cast at a 25-inch brown that is stationary in shallow water, but this is exactly the type of behavior that needs to be discouraged by ethical anglers of all types. When spawning, many huge trout will congregate on and around redds (spawning beds), and at these times, feeding is the last thing on these fish’s minds. Instinct dictates almost all animal behavior, and there is absolutely no reason that any “educated” fish would put themselves in a compromising position unless it is for the greater good of their species.
White River Basin trout are subject to pressure 365 days a year, and as sportsmen, it is important to realize that fishing over spawning trout does not constitute a “fair chase”. Many of the fish hooked on redds are often snagged, and when they do bite a fly or lure, it is often to protect the nest or out of aggression. I can see how this practice could be deemed acceptable in situations where salmonoids ascend the rivers of their birth from a huge body of water, but as mentioned, trout in the Ozarks never get a break, and fishermen (and their techniques) keep getting more proficient with each passing year. During their runs, White River Basin trout throw caution to the wind in an effort to pass on their superior genetics to the next generation, and this is why most of the REALLY big trout (over 12 pounds) found in Arkansas and Missouri are completely wild. Over-fighting or harvesting a spawning fish is not only narcissistic; if that fish dies of exhaustion, a part of the river’s prolific history is lost forever.
I don’t expect anglers to put up their gear just because there is spawning activity going on, but with a little bit of observation and diligence, it is possible to fish at these times without potentially damaging a fishery. The first step is to avoid the redds at all costs. This means being exceedingly aware of where you are walking. Spawning beds are cleared out areas that range from the size of a car’s hood to the size of an SUV, and eggs will remain in these spots for over seven weeks before they hatch, so avoiding the redds is important long after the last fish has spawned. On Lake Taneycomo, hoards of fishermen fish elbow to elbow in the hatchery outlets, and this practice epitomizes everything that is wrong with fishing during the spawn. Greed, egos and hoarding have no place in the world of trout fishing, and only the most insecure of anglers would even think of fishing the outlets during the brown run on Lake Taneycomo.
Keep in mind that just because one can see big fish on redds and in hatchery outlets does not mean that these are the only trophies in the river. Fishing in deep water below the spawning beds is not only ethical, it also offers up the chance at catching a “fresh” fish that doesn’t have egg patterns stuck in their tails and backs. I won’t pretend to be an expert in coldwater biology, but from what I’ve gathered, trout spend far more time staging below the beds than they spend actually spawning – this means that the majority of big fish are NOT on the redds or in shallow water at any given time. Another way to target big browns during the spawn is to fish key areas during high water. Although releases tend to be on the lighter side in October and November, there are still days when the dams will run water all day, and this provides a prime opportunity to fish ‘blind’. Personally, this is my favorite scenario for fishing during the runs because you never know what you might hook into. There is nothing quite like the feel of a big fish that takes a fly in an area where you know they are stacked up. Finally, fishing at night is a blast when it comes to working water where big trout are holding, and because browns are primarily nocturnal feeders, there is no better time to target these fish because they are not as spooky.
Fishing the brown trout runs on the White River Basin is not about pounding browns in shallow water. In fact, this type of fishing should not be encouraged if you are at all concerned with the possibility of increased numbers of wild fish in the system. The tips and techniques listed above can be an absolute blast, and I remember one particular day when I caught one brown after another on small dry flies just downstream of a mob of anglers fighting to get a drift in outlet #1 at Taneycomo. Spawning trout deserve to “do the deed” with as little disruption as possible, and by thinking outside of the box, it’s possible to catch a fish of a lifetime while having no significant negative impact on the fisheries.
It’s one thing to talk about ethically fly fishing during the brown runs on Lake Taneycomo and the Norfork Tailwater, but without a little “inside” information, it’s easy to revert back to the temptation to drift egg patterns over the redds. In this section, I am going to specifically describe the techniques and spots that I like to fish during the brown runs. It’s doubtful that any other guide would publish this type of information, but I think the world of my subscribers, so I want to give you all the best chance at having a successful day on the water if you make it to the Ozarks this fall.
Honestly, there really aren’t any places to wade in Quarry Park (Norfork Dam) during low water without possibly stepping on spawning beds, so I would skip this area all together and leave those fish for the ‘amateurs’. Instead, focus on the deep water below the small island, and there are always loads of staging browns from the downstream boundary of Quarry Park to the bottom of Gene’s Hole. Egg patterns do work well in this spot, but for whatever reason, Zebra Midges in a variety of colors seem to appeal to these slow-water fish when the river is dead low. I like to use tungsten patterns because they stay down more effectively than those tied with regular beads. Do not wade past Gene’s dock unless you have a way to get back to the park if the water comes up, and the rest of the river is inaccessible until you get to the Handicapped/Ackerman Access. If you do have a boat, focus on areas like the Long Hole, the area where McClellen’s Shoal slows down, and all around the island below the waterfall/plunge pool. I would avoid Gulley’s Shoal, but the deep water below there is another prime spot for staging browns.
When walking into the Handicapped/Ackerman Access, head upstream towards the islands. There is a great spot below the island where a huge rock sticks out of the middle of the river, but do not expect these fish to be pushovers. Tiny egg patterns and nymphs are the ticket in this area due to the fact that this is the ‘smallest’ water on the Norfork and it also receives a ton of pressure. Avoid the narrow (Charlie Cooke’s) side of the island, as there is no way to fish ethically in the flat water below the short riffle. There is nothing wrong with hitting the main channel on the other side, though, and there are some great sight-fishing areas where the water starts to slow down. The majority of fish are going to be around the upstream islands, and there are very few spots downstream of the access/parking areas that are worth the effort of getting into position due to the lack of accessibility.
For those unaware, the brown run at Lake Taneycomo is a little different than what transpires in Arkansas. Part of this has to do with the fact that this tailrace is comprised of very slow water from Table Rock Dam all the way down to Powersite Dam when there is no power being generated. This means that conditions are not exactly ideal from a low-flow perspective for trout to spawn successfully on this stretch of water. This doesn’t mean that the fish don’t try, and with the help of hatchery personnel who collect spawning browns from outlet #3, the “Taneycomo Strain” is a ‘virtually’ wild fish with the potential to grow very large. Please try and avoid fishing near any of the outlets during the run, and instead focus on the area downstream of outlet #3 down to the Point. Although this information is hardly a secret, most fishermen cannot avoid the temptation to slam the resting and ‘spawning’ browns near the dam.
Another strategy when fishing Taneycomo during the brown run is to “let ‘em have it”. What I mean by this is that even though the majority of browns are going to be congregated from the Point up to the dam, that is also where there are hoards of people. Sometimes, I like to take the “road less travelled” and fish from the Rocking Chair Hole down to Point Royale. I still catch the occasional brown, but my intention is to find some solitude and have fun with some less-pressured, fat rainbows. The derby mentality of fishing the reaches of upper Taneycomo gets old, but if you’ve never seen it before, it’s worth checking out just to witness the spectacle of it all.
Because this month’s newsletter is all about conservation, I’ve decided to put off this portion until next month.
Be assured that I will be out scouting our local waters virtually every day, and I promise to keep everyone updated regarding the latest conditions. The browns are starting to move around and stack up on the Norfork and at Lake Taneycomo, but I expect that this activity will increase exponentially over the next couple of weeks. Be sure to check out my latest report on the Web site where I will rehash my adventures of a nighttime float in Arkansas in search of some really big browns. This type of experience is available to my clients, so if you are interested, just drop me a line. I hope that everyone gets to experience the thrill of Ozark fly fishing in the fall this year with all the beautiful fish, gorgeous scenery and near-perfect weather.