The winter months are hard on anglers. Even on the “nice” days the prospect of slow fishing and cold toes is enough to keep a lot of folks inside.

But it’s amazing how you forget your feet when the fish are biting, and the best option for most of us is to forget about bass, crappie and catfish and tackle a trout instead. They thrive in cold water all year long and the action can be fast and furious using fast-paced techniques like twitching a jerkbait or cranking a Teeny Wee Crawfish crankbait.

Action is key to keeping warm, or at least forgetting about it for a while, with lots of hard strikes and leaping fish, and there are few places more of a slam dunk than Branson’s Lake Taneycomo. There may be more trout in this stretch of water than anywhere else. You’ll see them – and some really big ones – shoot from under the boat as you motor upstream.

Lake Taneycomo is only a lake because there’s a dam at both ends. It’s really a tailrace river flowing from the bottom of Table Rock 22 miles to the Powersite Dam at Bull Shoals Lake. The Missouri Department of Wildlife at least 750,000 trout per year in the lake and there is some natural reproduction. Special regulations include a “trophy” zone from the safe distance from the dam to the mouth of Fall Creek three miles downstream (about 3.5 miles). Only flies or artificial lures can be used in this area, which also features a special slot limit (limit in this area is four trout with only one brown over 20 inches and rainbows between 12-20 inches).  No scented or soft plastic lures allowed on this stretch, either.

Taneycomo is a perfect exclamation point for a town like Branson. Bald eagles snatch fish from the cold water and many types of waterfowl visit throughout the winter. Whippoorwills serenade visitors on summer evenings and the trout fishing is good for bait dippers, fly anglers or just regular guys throwing lures or jigs.

It’s a slower pace down on the river and like Branson traffic, almost forces folks to sit back and enjoy the scenery a while.

John Sappington is a Branson-area fishing guide who has fallen in love with the river.

“If I could fish or guide on the river every day I’d be happy,” he said.

Spend a day with Sappington and you’ll see he means that. His quiet giggle every time he sets the hook shows it, along with his constant smile and easy-going attitude. It’s hard to imagine him competing at the highest level of professional bass fishing, but he was at the top of that high-stress game not all that long ago. But after winning the Forrest Wood Cup in 2002, a boating accident during a practice day broke plenty of his bones, including in his neck, and it nearly cost him his life.

 “It made me rethink things,” he said.

And he’s been here ever since, guiding mostly on the river but revisiting bass on Table Rock “when it’s easy.” He has little interest in having to work too hard for a fish anymore.

That’s what Taneycomo is all about – not working too hard. Run up the river and you can see that money certainly isn’t in short supply. Many Branson stars make their homes on the water in sprawling mansions overlooking the current.

Much of the riverbank is private, making appointed landings and public fishing areas and docks more important, especially if the water is high and flowing. And like all tailraces, anglers must pay heed to changing water levels and the siren that announces the opening and closing of gates. Water levels rise quickly and situations can get dangerous in a hurry.

Plenty of guides work the river, along with some lodges along the shoreline that offer guiding or a boat slip. Do-it-yourself anglers can find plenty of information online. Free public fishing areas are surprisingly productive and are a great option for a warm afternoon. 

Fishing Taneycomo

Because much of the riverbank is private, many Taneycomo anglers utilize the public access areas and public fishing docks. Fly fishermen and casting anglers can wade during times of low flow, but should always watch the water level and listen for the siren.

The public fishing piers at Cooper Creek upriver, near Bass Pro Shops and Fireworks Island at Rockaway Beach can be great places to fish, especially for those drowning bait. There are plenty of access areas and boat ramps that offer limited bank fishing if the water is flowing heavily, and make for great jumping off spots for wading if the water is low enough.

The river is wide open for boating anglers. There are so many trout that anglers often simply motor up and drift back down, especially if they’re bouncing bait on the bottom. For active anglers wanting to cast to specific targets, the typical spots such as creek mouths, laydowns, shoreline irregularities and weedbeds hold trout.

Lures for Taneycomo trout include small jigs, spinners, spoons, minnow-shaped jerkbaits and twitch baits such as the Rebel Tracdown Minnow or XCalibur Xt3 Twitch Bait, and live bait such as worms, crickets and minnows. A paste bait like YUM’s TroutKrilla also is effective.

For fly fishermen, the most popular flies on Taneycomo are scuds, zebra midges, soft hackles, mohair leeches and wooly buggers.

Two distinctive “styles” or “attitudes” define your actions at Taneycomo. Do you want to catch a limit of trout for the skillet or are you a trophy hunter looking for the biggest browns and rainbows? Your desires define your fishing technique.

To catch a limit for the table most anglers go with bait fishing. A ball of TroutKrilla on a tiny hook held down with a couple of split-shot is perfect for dangling over the side of a fishing dock or allowed to drift downstream. Worms, crickets, minnows or even whole-kernel corn also work great.

When baitfishing with earthworms, use a hypodermic needle to inject air into the worm after placing it on the hook. This will float the worm up off the bottom where it’s easier pickens for the fish.

Wading or boating anglers who like to keep active should throw a Rebel Teeny Wee Craw crankbait, a small marabou jig or a jerkbait. The big browns like a larger size jerkbait, so don’t be afraid to throw one 4- or 5-inches in length. The classic Smithwick Rogue is a secret bait of those who like to catch the really big ones.

Taneycomo’s trout bite year round, but there are several times of year that shine. The big brown trout migrate upstream on their spawning run in early fall, making October and November great months for trophy fishing. Taneycomo sees a lot of fishing during the summer, too, and plenty of anglers bring home limits of trout. But during summer, timing a trip to wade at night when the water is low is a great time to catch a trophy. Dangers are multiplied at night so always fish with a partner and watch water levels.

For casters, one start at lure selection is to go by the water level. The higher the water, the deeper your lure should run. Likewise, during times of low generation, a shallow running (and in many cases, smaller) lure performs best.