A Christmas trout fishing trip

By Kenneth L. Kieser
Northeast News
December 17, 2012

Phil Lilley places his fly in a perfect spot. Photo by Kenneth L. Kieser

Lake Taneycomo, located by Branson, Mo., is legendary for its well-stocked rainbow trout population.  Consistently cold water from the bottom of Table Rock Lake keeps Taneycomo water chilled enough for trout survival, even during the heat of summer. A complex dam with water chutes periodically releases this chilling water.

Taneycomo is similar to the pre-dam, pristine White River where wooden John boats held fishermen casting spinners and live bait to smallmouth bass, goggle-eyes and various types of perch. That generation of fishermen is either old or gone now and the new generation arrives in boats or pontoons in search of trout.

Most anglers float down the chute while dragging jigs or live bait under lightweight palsa strike indicators, pinch on foam patches with adhesive that attaches to the monofilament leader. Almost everyone in the most moderate lake conditions catches a limit of rainbow trout that are noted for their succulent flesh when fried or cooked in a thousand different recipes.

Occasionally something special happens on Taneycomo, surprising moments that stay in one’s memory forever. I had this very kind of experience with Phil Lilley, owner of Lilley’s Landing Trout Dock and Guide Service on Taneycomo. I did my first trout fishing excursion with Lilley over 20 years ago and discovered his expertise as a trout angler. The veteran fisherman has been responsible for many conservation efforts on Taneycomo to aid trout populations, especially German brown trout.

The December day was picture perfect for everything but trout fishing with high blue skies and warming temperatures. Intense sunlight shining on the lake’s surface is not conducive for trout fishing. We started the day by jigging 1/6th ounce maribu jigs without success. Next we floated jigs under floats, followed by weighted scuds, still no hits.

Evening dropped the sun under tree-covered bluffs high above Taneycomo and most fishermen gave up their fishing for dinner. By then we had switched to fly rods with flies tiny enough to fit three on a thumbnail.

Still nothing changed except evening temperatures that dropped more rapidly than I would have liked. I noted another change, too. The lake has a shallow gravel bar running its length. Over this stretch flew a cloud of insects. Lilley immediately got excited and started changing flies on both flyrods.

Closer examination showed that we had floated into a midge hatch, an insect that resembles mosquitoes. Midges are usually found around ponds or streams in late afternoon and evening in swarms that produce a humming sound. Lilley realized that this insect hatch could throw the trout into a feeding frenzy. This was soon proven by scores of small circles on the surface, up and down the stretch of submerged gravel bar.

“The consistent water temperature on Taneycomo makes insects hatches common in the winter months,” Lilley said. “This midge hatch was not surprising.”

Lilley handed me a flyrod with a number 16 midge fly in primrose pearl colors with a palsa float several inches up the line. The trout were feeding on the surface and Lilley’s rigging placed the wet fly a couple of inches below the surface. I drew out line and served the fly into a likely spot.

A sudden eruption on the water’s surface took me off guard and I missed the lightning-quick trout. The experienced Lilley suddenly lifted his rod and hooked a no doubt befuddled rainbow trout that immediately realized this midge had bitten back. The fight lasted until his trout had tried numerous aggressive maneuvers while exerting almost all energy. The colorful fish was quickly released.

I fed out more line and laid my fly close to a brush pile. My efforts drew another aggressive strike and all efforts were rewarded by a fine fight that lasted a few minutes. I brought in line but was careful not to put too much tension on the 6X leader. The two-pound rainbow trout fought like a much bigger fish.

My five-weight fly rod finally wore down the trout with its pink and light blue colors, complimented by black freckles. I too released my aggressive partner that hopefully regained enough energy to grow and fight another day.

We continued fishing up and down the bank, occasionally hooking trout that gave a great fight. Darkness ended this special moment between anglers and fish and the chilly ride back to our dock made the air temperature seem even colder.

The bank downstream was filled with houses decorated by Christmas lights and yard decorations shaped by different colored lights and bulbs. Occasionally a Christmas tree that illuminated a picture window reflected off the water, promising gifts for family and friends. Lilley and I had floated into one of nature’s best Christmas presents, a timely insect hatch over hungry trout and a fisherman’s reward for not leaving at dusk like the others. Few presents will ever be more cherished!

For more information about Lilley’s Landing, check their website at: www.lilleyslanding.com or call: (417)-334-6380. For more information about Branson, check their website at: www.explorebranson.com or call: (417)-334-4136.

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