Missouri's Brown Trout Fishery

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 18, 2010

Lake Taneycomo is a spooky place at night. Nightly blankets of fog create thick shadows and swirls that would make a Hollywood special effects artist envious. Quiet settles over certain sections of this narrow lake after sunset, creating a ghostly arena for monsters.

Phil Lilley of Branson and I were hunting for these "monsters" as we slipped through the darkness armed with flyrods tipped with black woolly buggers. My glow-in-the-dark watch read midnight, the witching hour. Even without current surging through the generators at Table Rock Dam, navigating the shallow riffles and shoals was treacherous, requiring us to choose our steps very carefully. A misplaced foot meant a cold bath.

When we finally reached our spot, we fed out line into the void. Darkness mixed with fog made our eyes useless. To keep from spooking trout from this black hole, we only used a tiny light to change flies.

I was fumbling with tangled line when Lilley set his hook into one of the monsters. His opponent immediately started a series of deep lunges, sweeping from side to side with relentless force and determination, like a bull trying to throw a cowboy. Occasionally we heard dull, hollow splashes resounding through the darkness as the monster broke the surface.

Soon Lilley won the fight and gently hand-landed a 14-inch brown trout. I carefully stepped over, turned on my light and savored my first look at a Missouri brown trout. Golden yellow hues and black spots twinkled in the flashlight beam like jewels under a lit glass counter. Lilley gently unhooked his beauty and let it slip back to dark depths for a period of sulking.

We caught several rainbow trout that night without hooking another brown. Lilley's 14-incher was remarkably small compared to what we sought. After all, Taneycomo is one of America's premier brown trout trophy lakes. The state record, caught in Bull Shoals Lake, just below Lake Taneycomo's Powersite Dam on November 10, 1997, by Rob Caudel of Springfield, weighed 26 pounds, 13 ounces.

Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries biologists and experienced brown trout anglers know that bigger browns exist in Taneycomo. During a sampling expedition, MDC staff captured and quickly released a male brown trout that weighed about 37 pounds. Brown trout obviously thrive in Taneycomo, but where do they come from?

"Brown trout are not native to Missouri," said Chris Vitello, a fisheries management biologist for the Conservation

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