By Dave Woods
BRANSON, Mo. —
Bill Babler spent the majority of last year fishing with fellow anglers on the lakes that surround the Branson area.
“I was out on the lakes 269 days last year,” said Bill, a 22-year federally licensed fishing guide. “I don’t ever get tired of it. I like it.”
He’s particularly fond of Lake Taneycomo, the White River basin and the trout fishing they provide.
“Lake Taneycomo and the White River are so diverse,” he said as he tried to teach me and Jeremy, my fishing companion, how to cast a spinning reel, take up the slack in the thin line and keep a watchful eye on the strike indicator floating dozens of yards away from the boat.
It wasn’t an easy task. I was watching birds, admiring the limestone bluffs and designing the lake house of my dreams in my head. Not a good morning for multitasking.
I met Bill during a weekend working in Branson. He came highly recommended by the folks at Lilleys' Landing, an old-school, lakeside family resort and marina on Lake Taneycomo. More on Lilleys' next week.
I had never been trout fishing, and I needed to scout for a guide for a grandma-grandson fishing trip this spring. Bill was my guy.
“There is just a lot of different ways to catch fish down here,” he said. “Whether you are fishing with bait or using a fly, it’s always fun.”
Fun is a good description of the couple hours I spent hanging out on the lake with Bill, watching his smooth spin casts, waiting patiently for my strike indictor to submerge and trying not to embarrass myself as I reeled in my meager victims.
Note to all of my PETA friends: No trout were hurt in the research for this column. Catch and release all the way. That’s how Bill rolls.
Timing is everything
Lake Taneycomo’s 26 miles of cold waterway makes it a honey hole — my words, not his — for catching rainbow trout. The lake runs along the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery, Missouri’s largest trout production operation. It sits at the foot of Table Rock Lake Dam, six miles off the Branson strip.
The Shepherd hatchery produces more than a million trout each year. Of those, more than 575,000 are released into Taneycomo, and approximately 200,000 of the colorful fish are transported to Taney — as locals call it — each year from the federal trout hatchery in Neosho.
That means there’s a good chance of hooking a Newton County trout on any given Lake Taneycomo fishing excursion.
Big fish, little pond
“It’s a large amount of fish in a small area,” Bill said. “That defines it better than anything. If you are in here at the proper time and the fish have a willingness to participate in the game plan, you are going to have a good time.”
The best times to fish are in the early morning or near dusk, Bill explained. The bright light and lake top action of midday activity makes the fish a little cantankerous, he said.
“You are talking about (a lake) that’s 26 miles long and has close to 800,000 rainbow trout stocked in it annually,” he said. “There’s a lot of fish here. The more the merrier.”
Bill is correct. Even a couple of guys whose previous fishing experiences involved kid’s Zebcos, shad and catfish stink bait on Grand Lake, found the morning fun. Bill praised Grand as one of the Midwest’s best fishing lakes and said he loves to fish it when he can get away.
You can tell Bill loves his work.
“Folks can come down to Taneycomo and catch some great fish,” he said. “I get to show them the different baits and share a good time.”
Taneycomo is a good place for a novice angler or fly fisherman to come for a weekend retreat or a day trip. Especially, he said, if they want to learn something about trout fishing, or to just hone their current skills.
Bill offers guided fishing trips designed to enhance and help develop advanced technique for trout fishing veterans. He also provides trips for novices.
“I see everything from really experienced fly fishermen to novice folks just wanting to get some quality time together with a spouse or a child,” he said. “But sometimes it’s just two friends coming down and going fishing.”