The Saga of Lake Taneycomo

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 8, 2010

trout were not unusual. Outdoor writers called Lake Taneycomo the best trophy rainbow trout lake in North America.

As Taneycomo's fame grew, so did the number of anglers pursuing its big rainbows. A voluntary length limit encouraged anglers to limit their harvest to protect the big fish. It seemed to work for awhile, but eventually there were just too many anglers. Fishing pressure quadrupled from 1970 to 1990, requiring a steady increase in the number of trout stocked.

By then, the Branson boom had begun. Development claimed more and more of the landscape, and sediment entered the lake during rainstorms. In addition, white suckers suddenly became common in the lake and outnumbered trout in some surveys. In addition, the cold water from Table Rock Lake contained low levels of dissolved oxygen in the fall, stressing both fish and their food sources. Two things were certain: the big rainbow trout were gone, and freshwater shrimp were not as numerous as before.

By the early 1990s, the once-great Taneycomo trout fishery had fallen on relatively hard times. Anglers who wanted something more than stocker-size rainbow trout demanded that something be done to bring back the big rainbows. Their demands were partially met by a new brown trout fishery that produced enormous, even world-record size, brown trout. However, brown trout are harder to catch, and a few behemoth browns didn't satisfy anglers who remembered the glory years when rainbows were measured in pounds, not inches.

The Missouri Department of Conservation developed several research studies to determine what caused the decline of the big rainbows. Some of the studies suggested there simply wasn't enough food in Lake Taneycomo to grow large rainbow trout. Clearly, the lake's freshwater shrimp population had declined. Other studies showed that Taneycomo was still capable of growing rainbows, but few fish lived longer than a month before being caught and removed.

Gradually, a picture emerged of a fishery that could still produce large fish, but not without some changes. First, because there was less trout food, fewer trout could be stocked. Reduced stocking levels helped the freshwater shrimp population recover slightly. Still, rainbow trout harvest remained high, and while trout now had more to eat, most were harvested before they could grow large.

It became obvious that the rainbows needed protection from immediate harvest. So, beginning in March 1997, the Conservation Department established new fishing regulations in the upper part of the lake. These regulations were

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