High-water conditions a big boon for trout fishing


Mar 11, 2001
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June 26, 2002

Charlie Farmer, Springfield News-Leader
Outdoors columnist

High-water conditions a big boon for trout fishing

Last week, Phil Lilley, owner of Lilley’s Landing Resort and Marina in Branson, told an acquaintance that the fishing will not get any better than it is right now.

“This is a great time to catch trout,” said Lilley, himself an avid fisherman, noting that high water conditions over the past six months have helped increase the size and quality of rainbows to the point of “world class.”

“(I’ve seen) scores of rainbows in the 15- to 20-inch range and several well over 20 inches.

“This is something I’ve never seen in 19 years of living and running the resort.”

Lilly believes that the new regulations in 1997, creating a trophy area, sparked new excitement in all of us that hold trout fishing in the Ozarks dear. Until then, it was difficult to promote a fishery that was strictly “put and take” with very little possibility of growth.

“With five years of experience, we can see that constant running water from Table Rock is vital for our ‘bug’ population providing a good food base for trout.

“The three years of drought and little generation, we saw the quality and growth of rainbows drop to very bad levels. That was shown in shock studies by Missouri Conservation Department in August of 1999 and 2000.”

With good flows since, the food base has come back and is better now than in years.

“Evidence is the noticeable health and size of rainbows lakewide,” Lilley said.

Lilley’s goal, and those of others, is to see the minimum flow increased.

This is being studied by the Corps of Engineers and is likely to go to the U.S. Senate and House this fall. Favorable results in the study and implementation by the end of the year is our goal.

Lilley says, “This will raise the level below Table Rock dam by 12 inches. It would cover more gravel bars as well as increase constant flows. This could also prevent loss of the aquatic food base.”

With minimum flow, Lilley and his cohorts in the local Trout Unlimited Chapter would like to work with MDC in restructuring the upper mile of the lake.

“Work like this has been done below Beaver Dam and on the White River near Cotter, Ark.,” Lilley said. “Creating new habitat for trout will make Taneycomo hard to beat.”

Dave Woolery, Lilley’s father-in-law, also lives in Branson. He too, is an avid trout angler.

“There was too much water in Taneycomo early,” Woolery said.

“The floodgates were open. To catch fish then we headed to the mouths of creeks like Cooper Creek, Short Creek and Turkey Creek. There was less turbulence up the creeks. The water was dingy but we could still catch trout.

“It was like there were two different lakes.”

After low flows for several years, it was good to see the lake flush. As rains tapered off in June, the fishing got better.

Woolery says the fishing is good to excellent now. Both boaters and waders are enjoying fine fishing.

“Olive drab and brown jigs are excellent,” he said. “Jig and bobbers are working well. White is especially good. So are brown micro-jigs. Little Cleos are also fooling their share of trout.”

For fly anglers, the bite is best in the early morning and late evening, with an assortment of dry flies, wet flies and micro jigs.

Lilley’s love of fishing has led him to promote trout fishing plenty in his 19 years in Branson and Lake Taneycomo.

“I was involved in Friends of Lake Taneycomo for a number of years, a watchdog group addressing issues like water quality and sewage problems in the county,” Lilley said.

In 1995, Lilley was one of three people who started a local Trout Unlimited Chapter that is still active in issues dealing more with fishing than local politics.

He has spoken at several trout fishing seminars across Missouri, including a talk for St. Louis County Parks in January each year.

Lilley looks out not only for Lake Taneycomo, but other impoundments like Beaver Lake. According to Lilley, the Corps has held Beaver Lake right at the top of its maximum pool since mid-April.

“Table Rock Lake is in its flood management pool,” he said. “Their level is at 923.62 and rising, Top of the flood pool is 931. Usually when the level tops 920, the Corps runs flood gates and did back on May 14 for several days.

“Two of the four turbines are off-line at Table Rock so they can only run half the water through their turbines until the broken turbines are fixed.

“Water off the top (flood gates) will pour 75 degree-plus water into Taneycomo, which won't be good for trout.

“Bull Shoals is at 688.81 and rising. Top of flood pool is 695. Norfork is at 575.72 and their top is at 580. The question is why isn't the Corps running water out of any of these lakes? No one has answered the question directly. Someday, I know they will start the flow and it will be very heavy for a month or more.”

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