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Big and Brown

Anglers flock to Lake Taneycomo each fall for chance at record fish

By: Mike Suchan,

BRANSON, Mo. -- In Southwest Missouri lake country, fall is all about crisp mornings, rolling fog … and big brown trout.

Under Table Rock Lake dam in the shallow tailwaters of Lake Taneycomo, anglers fish for enjoyment, relaxation and the hope of catching a record.

“The month of October is when the brown trout come up and make a spawn run,” said Brady Shockley of Buffalo, Mo., fishing with Josh Arnold of Willard, Mo. “The browns stay down in the deeper part of the lake, and it’s just this time of year, between now and deer season, that browns come up, big browns, and we catch ‘em.”

The 31-year-old Shockley said he has come to Taneycomo’s trophy waters for more than a decade, driving less than an hour from his home three times a week each fall until deer season starts in mid-November. Shockley has 16- and 9-pound browns to his credit and twice has hooked and lost 20-pound-class fish.

Donned in waders and showing their alliance to the St. Louis Cardinals as they made their World Series run, the two walked past one of the freshwater outlets from the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery. With the morning fog blown north of Taneycomo, anglers lined the stream of water gushing out from the state’s largest trout factory, where rainbows were practically easy pickings.

Shockley and Arnold were moving upstream past the commotion as they only sought big browns.
“If you walk the shore line and look in those deeper holes, the browns will be laying down in them,” Arnold said. “Some of these guys are just fishing the outlets for those 1-, 2-pound rainbows.”

Others waded up to their waists trying to entice a brown from certain holes, like one named the Rebar Hole, where Shockley said a state record was caught several years ago. The state record has changed hands several times over the past few years.

In 2005, Bryan Chapman of St. Louis landed a 27 pound, 8.8-ounce brown below Fall Creek. Another St. Louis area resident, Scott Sandusky, broke it in 2009 with a 28-12. Both fish are nowhere near the world record brown, a 41-7 caught by Thomas Healy on the Manistee River in Michigan that measured 43.75 inches.

Bryan Chapman (right), with son Blake, broke the state record with his 27-pound, 8.8-ounce brown caught in 2005.

The Missouri Department of Conservation believes such monsters live in Taneycomo. A dead brown found in 1997 measured almost 42 inches long and its live weight was estimated at 45 pounds.

"There is no telling how many world-class brown trout are swimming around in Lake Taneycomo," Mike Kruse, who worked as the agency's trout research biologist, told the "The lake's natural food base is phenomenal, and it has an abundance of deep-water habitat that can hide big fish.

“The lake's slow-moving current allows big trout to grow rapidly, because they don't have to expend much energy."

Count Shockley and Arnold as believers. They load up for bear, fishing No. 11 to 13 Rapala jerkbaits with 6-pound line on medium action spinning rods, which sometimes rankle the purist fly fishermen.

“I think we annoy a lot of people,” Arnold said. “We get some looks every now and then.”

Taneycomo, which is short for Taney County, Mo., was created in 1913 when the White River was dammed for power at Forsyth, Mo. When Table Rock Dam was built 22 miles upstream in 1958, it created a cold water fishery that the conversation department tapped by building the trout hatchery.

“Like less than 1 percent of them spawn naturally on Taneycomo, and in the state of Missouri -- they’re not native,” Shockley said. “They’ve been put in here years ago.”

The Shepherd of the Hills hatchery is responsible. It is the crown jewel in Missouri’s trout management, producing 1.2 million catchable trout each year, 80 percent of which are slated for release in Taneycomo. The 211-acre property, located just minutes from tourist attractions in Branson, draws 250,000 visitors each year to its Conservation Center and trout rearing facilities.

The hatchery allows several fishing access points to Taneycomo along its upper three miles, where anglers can only use artificial flies and lures – soft plastics are prohibited. Anglers must possess a trout stamp and may keep four trout daily, only one of which can be a brown. Rainbow must be between 12 and 20 inches to harvest and browns must be longer than 20 inches.

But each fall Shockley and Arnold will most likely be there, and they’ll only be seen lugging a fish up the bank if it’s a potential record.

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