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Tying One On in Lake Taneycomo

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From behind the cover of a boulder, the largemouth slipped into the edge of the current, inspected my midgefly and then drifted back to the shelter of the rock. The rise left a dimple on the surface that soon dissipated, but it lasted long enough for me to spot the quarry.

I stripped out 30 feet of fly line from my reel and began casting. The line moved backward in a sideways "U," then forward in another tight loop, and the small imitation of a midge floated gently to the surface.

The bass moved slightly, rose and took the fly. I set the hook, and the fight was on.

On a nearby bank, a young couple watched. The woman turned to her companion and said, "I wish I could do that. It looks so relaxing and peaceful, but I could never learn anything that complicated."

The truth is, she can learn to fly fish. Anyone can.

Henry Doyle, owner of Doyle's Fly Shop in Branson, Mo., perhaps said it best. "The beauty of fly fishing is that it allows you to find your own level of enjoyment. You can be an occasional angler or you can go deep — learning Latin words for bugs, making your own rods, tying your own flies," he said. "So long as it's fun for you, that's all that matters."

Few places in mid-America are better suited for fly fishing than Lake Taneycomo. Short for Taney County Missouri, Lake Taneycomo was created in 1913 when the White River was captured by the newly constructed "Power Site" Dam near Forsyth, Mo. Construction of Table Rock Dam in 1958, 22 miles upstream, created a southern boundary for Lake Taneycomo, which today contains 2,000 surface acres.

From 1913 until 1958, Taneycomo was a "warm water" lake; however, when Table Rock Dam started feeding it, the water coming through the power generators was significantly lower in temperature. Virtually overnight, a "cold water" fishery was created. To take advantage of this change, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) constructed the Shepherd of the Hills Trout Hatchery, located directly below Table Rock Dam. Since trout don't naturally reproduce in Lake Taneycomo, the hatchery — Missouri's largest — provides 750,000 trout annually for stocking in the lake.

Two species of trout flourish here: rainbows and browns. Rainbow trout are more common. Brown trout are fighters but less inclined to clear the water in the reckless leaps of a rainbow. Browns are nonetheless worthy of attention in their own right. They achieve noteworthy size and are generally more difficult to catch than either brook or rainbow trout, thus providing a challenge to seasoned fly anglers.

Browns are particularly well suited for angling activity when most of the world is resting. During the inky period between dusk and dawn, brown trout become most active. To catch more of them, stay on the water until the tip of your fly rod disappears in the darkness. Browns will oftentimes bite long after other trout have stopped feeding.

Brown trout eagerly devour minnows. Thus, flies that imitate fingerlings are particularly effective. I've caught browns on nymphs and dry flies, but some of the biggest I've netted have fallen for a Muddler Minnow. Muddlers and other minnow-type flies are easy to fish. The key is to keep them down near the bottom, within sight of a lurking brown. To accomplish this feat with floating line, attach small splitshot or other weight six to eight inches above the fly. Cast upstream, then strip in your fly line to match the speed of the current.

Midge Fishing
Particularly on Lake Taneycomo's upper portion, the midge, of the insect order Diptera and the family Chironomidae, is a major part of the rainbow and brown trout's diet. If you're not fishing midges as part of your fly-fishing repertoire, you're ignoring Taneycomo's primary "hatch," as midges are constantly hatching here just about every day of the year.

Of the four major stages of a midge's life cycle — egg, larvae, pupae and adult — it's when the midge emerges from its pupae stage and is transitioning into an adult that an angler has the best opportunity to use midge imitations to catch trout on Lake Taneycomo. While there are some skilled fly fishermen who fish size 26 and smaller larval imitations successfully, and some who fish adult imitations, most anglers will likely have the best results as the midge emerges from its pupae state.

As a midge transitions, it rises through a water column, from the bottom to the surface, where it completes its transition into an adult. As a midge travels up the water column, it's at its largest sub-surface size and thus presents an ideal target to hungry trout.

On a day-to-day basis, I rely on Zebra Midge patterns — Copper Dun, Primrose and Pearl, Rusty and Ugly in size 18 — as well as the Red Tungsten Bead Head in size 16. These, I've found, provide the best midge trout fishing excitement. These patterns are available at River Run Outfitters, which is located on Highway 165 near Table Rock Dam.

Except for the very early morning, my two most used midges are the Ugly and the Rusty. Only if they don't work will I try another pattern. In the very early morning hours, just after sunrise to about an hour after, I start with a size 16 Red Tungsten Bead head and transition over to the Ugly and Rusty, if I've had no success with the Red.

Presentation is important. Most of my boat fishing on Lake Taneycomo is done with an indicator. I use a 5/16th Lightning Strike Ball Indicator for size 18 flies and a 3/8th size for 16s. When midge fishing, I have the best results using the smallest indicator possible.

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