Three scenic, fish-laden lakes—Table Rock, Bull Shoals and Taneycomo—await visitors to Branson and Ozark Mountain Country.
Taneycomo, more like a river rather than a lake, fills its banks from Table Rock Lake flowage and carries the clean, cool water past Branson Landing and Rockaway Beach before flowing into Bull Shoals near the historic little town of Forsyth. It was developed when Power Site Dam was built in1913 to provide electricity to the area. In 1958, when Table Rock Dam was opened for flood control business 22 miles upstream, a dramatic change was realized as cold water began flowing from the power generators.
Trout Fishing Famed Worldwide
With 48-degree water replacing the warm Taneycomo water, an excellent environment for rainbow and brown trout was created. The Missouri Department of Conservation soon constructed the Shepherd of the Hills Trout Hatchery just below the dam and the legend of great fishing began. Full stringers and numerous lunkers are regularly caught. A brown trout caught in 2009, topped the scales at 27 lbs 10 oz! The hatchery stocks about 700,000 catcheable trout into Taneycomo annually to ensure that most anglers find good success.
Fly fishing and artificials only are allowed in trophy trout areas near the headwaters. Bait fishing with powerbait, worms and other offerings is okay elsewhere. When the generators aren’t running and the water depths below the dam subside, waders can get up close and personal with the trout. However, when the horns sound to indicate generation is about to begin, waders are warned to hustle ashore. The calm water quickly becomes a dangerous, roaring river!
Great Bass, Crappie Fishing Beckons
Table Rock Lake and Bull Shoals, on the other hand, are relatively peaceful bodies of water that are loaded with hefty largemouth, spotted, white and smallmouth bass, walleye and other fish varieties. (Click on “Branson’s Table Rock Lake Offers Great Springtime Bass Fishing”) Large flathead catfish roam the deep bottoms, and channel catfish thrive in the clean water. Table Rock at normal pool covers 43,000 acres and has a
shoreline measuring 745 miles. Bull Shoals, with its dam dedicated in 1951 by President Harry S. Truman, holds a normal pool acreage of 45,000 acres with a 700-mile shoreline, but can expand to more than 70,000 acres with 1,000 miles of shoreline during high pool. Table Rock Dam and Bull Shoals Dam were both built by the U.S. Corps of Engineers for flood Control but the expansive lakes that resulted provide some of the greatest sport fishing to be found in the world. Branson guests can reach Table Rock much easier than Bull Shoals. For instance, you can drive the six miles from the Baldknobbers or Presleys music shows to the park at the dam in about 10 minutes. It’s about 20 miles to the Bull Shoals access point at Forsyth. Because of its closeness to Branson, the Table Rock Lake area has experienced much more development that its neighboring lake. However, boating anglers will still find long expanses of isolated, forested shorelines on both bodies of water. Don’t look for long, sandy beaches, though, as most of the shoreline consists of typical shelf rock, rubble, ledges and gravel points. Thanks to these three spectacular lakes nearly every kind of fishing can be easily found by Branson visitors even if not staying at a lakeside resort. Specialized local guide services are available but there are public campgrounds, boat launches and commercial docks that provide for fishing. Be sure to check fishing regulations, and be aware that Table Rock and Bull Shoals both meander into Missouri and Arkansas. Licenses are required for both if you intend to cross the well-marked boundaries.
Taneycomo provides the trout, along with some dynamic Spring bass fishing near the deeper, warmer (50 degrees) water below Rockaway Beach. Table Rock and Bull Shoals provides a full menu of spotted, black, smallmouth and white bass along with walleye, crappie, bluegill and catfish. Don’t be surprised to catch a freshwater drum, huge carp or buffalo and see schools of long nose gar splashing in the bays. Springtime also brings people from around the country to snag tasty redhorse suckers in feeder streams to the lakes. There’s plenty of structure and forage for all the fish, including threadfin shad, long ear sunfish, blunt nose minnows and brook silversides.
Build Your Branson Memories
Whether you use a guide, bring your boat, or just bank fish, be sure to add some notable photos to your Branson souvenir book by including a fishing adventure on your next trip to Ozark Mountain Country.
The exciting memory of a grandmother witnessing her young grandson catch his first fish will last forever. Photo was taken on a dock at a Table Rock Lake resort on Indian Point.
Posted in Fishing
on May 30th, 2011
This Strange, Illegal Sport Continues in Ozark Streams
By L. D. Rawson
Some traditions die hard, and noodling for catfish in Missouri rivers and streams is certainly one of these. Even though it’s been illegal in Missouri since the early 1900s, diehard noodlers can be seen wading along the banks of small rivers and streams in search of huge Flathead and blue catfish.
Historians point out that the “sport” was first practiced by Native Americans before becoming popular with others during the depression years when money for food was short. Also known as cat fisting, hand fishing, hogging, grabbing and stumping, it consists of thrusting an arm into the nesting or resting area of a large catfish, encouraging it to defensively grab fingers or take the hand (or sometimes arm!) into its teeth-filled mouth so it can be wrestled to the surface. The “fisherman” may be reaching down into murky holes from chest-high water or diving down as deep as 20 feet. Keep in mind, the big fish being sought is snuggled into a bank, log and brushy area that may house a beaver or muskrat, poisonous snake or an iron-jawed snapping turtle. At the same time, the angry catfish may be as old as 25 years and weigh 60 pounds or more. (In streams near large waterways, fish have been caught that weighed more than 100 pounds.) It’s all good reason why the sport is only practiced today by less than an estimated 2,000 hardy, arm-scarred Missourians.
There’s also good reason why the Missouri Department of Conservation insists on blocking any moves to legalize noodling even though about a dozen other states condone it. Big flatheads and blues work their way up into smaller waterways to nest and lay eggs from June through August. They then stay on the nest until hatching occurs. Regardless of size, only small amounts of eggs are produced compared to other fish varieties. If the catfish is removed, the eggs in the uncovered nests are soon lost. Needless to say, this spawning period is favored by noodlers when it’s easier to locate their quarry.
MDC was convinced to provide a trial program on parts of three rivers back in 2005 and 2006, but research indicated it was proving too detrimental to the catfish population. The experiment was quickly abandoned along with any plans for legalizing the sport. Although a lobby continues for its legalization, MDC officials seem to be standing firm in their ruling. Regardless, this strange, unique activity known as noodling will always hold its place as a famed Ozarks tradition.
Posted in Fishing
on May 1st, 2011
National publicity about the recent flooding across the White River Basin in Southeast Missouri has caused much concern for fishermen planning trips to Branson and Table Rock Lake. Those who went so far as to cancel their trips because of misleading publicity have been missing out on some truly fine fishing.
Yes, it’s true that the water from the 2011 Spring storm reached the highest level ever recorded, surpassing 935 feet, and it indeed left many of the docks’ walkways under water. But for those fishermen who found a way to get on the water, the results were well worth the effort and any inconvenience.
My longtime friend, Tony Battaglia, and I fished two mornings in a row on the last days of April when the lake was at its highest. Two of our favorite guides were called on for the journeys and they turned both trips into rewarding adventures. The first morning with Buster Loving, of Rockaway Beach, we caught some 30 smallmouth, with more than two dozen qualifying as keepers. As a matter of fact, we boated 17 in a row before finally bringing in a fish shorter than 15 inches! The second morning with another of the lake’s most reputed guides–Bill Beck, of Kimberling City–wasn’t quite so dramatic, but still featured some quality smallmouth along with a number of hefty goggle eye. (Editor’s Note: We always encourage catch and release of large and smallmouth bass. If you want fish to eat, there’s hardly anything tastier than goggle eye, crappie and bluegill from the cool, clear Table Rock Lake water.)
We were fishing the Indian Point area near Silver Dollar City. The water was of good color and relatively free of any floating timber or other flood materials. The guides reported, however, that water to the south past Kimberling City, around Long Creek and other areas near inflowing streams were dealing with some muddy water and surface materials. Following the guides’ advice, we fished with tube and grub lures as crawdads are the number one source of food now for bass. The tubes were dragged slowly across the bottom, giving them a jiggle every so often. Grubs were retrieved at a faster, steady pace. On these particular days, the fish preferred tubes. Grub loving Kentucky bass seemed to still be staging in water deeper than the 18-22 feet we focused on, although we caught a few small ones. Water temperature was still around 58 degrees, low for this time of year.
Even though the dam’s turbines are working hard, it will take awhile to bring Table Rock Lake back to normal level. If you’re heading to the lake now as the waters recede, it’s especially advisable to invest in one of the many good local fishing guides who know well the lake and the habits of its fish population in all conditions. They also can get their well-equipped boats and clients on the lake even during highest water levels. The money is well spent to insure a safe, fun and comfortable time on the water that usually results in good fishing success.—Dave Rawson
Posted in Fishing
on April 15th, 2011
Snagging for paddlefish, also known as spoonbill, is a sport for only dedicated, robust anglers who can wield heavy tackle and wage battles with huge fish. However, from March 15 through April 30 each year, the upper James River Arm of Table Rock Lake-just a short drive from Branson-is packed with boats filled with hopeful snaggers.
Paddlefish is a truly unique and fascinating species that some liken to a shark in appearance. With small beady eyes and no scales, a large mouth and a paddle snout about a third the length of the body, the boneless fish is truly unique. Able to live for more than 50 years, some grow to monstrous size. The Missouri state record was caught right here in 2002 on the James River Arm and weighed in at 139 lbs 4 oz. (A fish caught in Iowa holds the U.S. record and weighted 198 lbs!) With a 34-inch length limit (eye to fork of tail), it takes a hefty fish to qualify as a keeper. It’s not uncommon, though, for fish to be taken that are five ft long and top 50 lbs or more.
Why is snagging required? The fish don’t bite but rather eat by swimming with their mouths open to strain zooplankton from the water. The tiny organisms are then filtered by filaments on gill arches. As water temperatures rise to 50-55 degrees and spring rains raise water levels, the fish begin moving from Table Rock Lake to migrate upstream to spawn. This is when snaggers come with stout long rods, 6-7 even 9 ft long, and saltwater reels with 100-lb test line equipped with weights and large treble hooks. It’s hard work as many prefer to “rip” the hooks along the bottom in search of the slow-moving fish rather than just dragging hooks behind the boat. Fights with a large snagged paddlefish can prove dramatic before they’re finally hauled to the boat, as the big fish are exceptionally strong and also like to jump.
Most of the local snagging takes place within 3 miles of Flat Creek near Point 15. If the water is higher, boats can go even further up the James. Some Branson visitors enjoy watching the action taking place on the narrow river, and there are public access points at Cape Fair and Bridgeport.
If you plan to snag, be sure to check Missouri’s fishing regulations and permit requirements (mdc.mo.gov). The person driving the boat also must have a fishing license as well as the person doing the snagging. Due to illegal harvesting because paddlefish eggs are popular in the rich caviar market, populations are declining and conservation agents keep an especially close watch during the spawning season. Anglers are encouraged to obey size and limit regulations carefully, and use only large nets on undersized fish before quickly releasing them back into the water.
Thanks to caring anglers and the Missouri Conservation Commission, which introduced fingerlings into Table Rock Lake in 1972 and continues to restock annually, snagging paddlefish is another sporting tradition that’s thriving in Ozark Mountain Country .
By L.D. Rawson
Posted in Fishing
on February 23rd, 2011
As spring approaches, and daytime temperatures begin reaching the 70′s and 80′s, the water temperatures in our area lakes also begin to rise. As the water temperature approaches the 60′s, the creatures of the deep begin their annual migration to the shallows to spawn (lay eggs). When bass are shallow, they are the easiest to catch. You have an increased chance of success during this time of year. Not only are they feeding, they are also trying to protect their young, as well, thus doubling your chances of your bait getting hit. Catch a beautiful spring day, take a young one with you and introduce them to the sport. It will be a great investment in their future, and yours as well.
Spring is a great time to enjoy our beautiful lakes, and the sport of fishing!