By Silas Gray
The Joplin Globe
I was spending a few days down in Branson, Mo., which means once again I was wading through the clear waters of upper Lake Taneycomo just downstream of Table Rock Dam.
It had been several years and many visits since I first stepped into Taney’s chilling flow. There are two things that I remember quite clearly. One is standing and staring up at the 250-foot-tall concrete face of the dam as it held back Table Rock Lake. The other is looking down and seeing hundreds of rainbow trout crowding around my feet.
Now these fish weren’t just milling around. They were moving fast while jockeying for position just downstream from my boots. They were staying close in order to nab any aquatic insect that was unfortunate enough to be dislodged from the rocky stream bed as I walked.
Occasionally, I’d feel a bump as one of the more aggressive trout weren’t quite fast enough and got clipped by my boot. As far as I could tell none was injured.
I don’t remember when it started, but slowly over the years the number of my rainbow groupies dropped. There were several years of flooding and a few years of dangerous drought, but one day it hit me — there were no longer any fish following along. I was sad.
However, two years ago this trend began to reverse. I was seeing one, two or maybe even three rainbow trailing along as I fished. Happily, during my last visit, I was again surrounded by the green backs of rainbow trout. I lost count at 24.
Swarms of fish were once again vying for position and darting in and out while watching my boots closely. It was wonderful to once again feel them as one bumped into my leg and then another was clipped by my swinging boot. These weren’t all small fish, either — the largest was easily over two pounds.
One reason for the increase could be the teams of Missouri Department of Conservation folks who have worked hard to upgrade the stream beds, making them much more fish-friendly. Or perhaps it’s because the dam authorities have been more careful about the timing and amounts of their water releases. Perhaps it could be that the state and federal hatcheries are simply releasing more fish. I suppose the reason doesn’t really matter, but I like the results.
I was here to meet my friend Gary Holloway, so I moved on downstream to where I knew that he’d be. Although retired, Gary works part time at River Run Outfitters and is an excellent Taneycomo fisherman.
It was midweek, so there weren’t many anglers. The weather was chilly but quite nice. I found him just where I thought I would, about a half-mile down from the dam.
We spent the next few hours catching obscene numbers of trout. We eventually worked our way back upstream and were standing on either side of a wide picturesque set of riffles. We’d been casting two-fly rigs cross-stream toward each other and letting them then swing down and along the current. The fish were cooperating nicely. We’d landed several.
I’d just shouted a comment to Gary about the number of rainbow trout that were hanging around my feet when he hooked another one.
My line soon tightened, and I had another also. This is known as a double in the angling world.
Gary landed his fish by hand and was still admiring it as I scooped my little 10-incher with my net. As I reached to release mine, the net lurched. The first trout had taken the upper fly of the pair. This had left the bottom fly hanging. It had dropped through the net and fallen into the water where a much larger fish had taken it and was now trying to swim away. I had hooked two fish, one on either side of the net. I’m not sure, but I think I could count that as a triple. While attempting to land my newest fish, the net tilted just enough so that both fish landed back in the water.
What had begun as a puzzled look had transformed into a full knee-slapping laugh as Gary figured out what was going on. I gently herded my double into shallower water, where with a quick thrust I re-scooped the smaller fish and then hand-landed the other. My rod was lying somewhere nearby in the shallow water. Gary finally regained his composure and asked if I needed any help.
I unhooked the larger of the two while keeping the original 10-incher resting safely in the submerged net. Once all three of our “triple” were safely back in the water, we decided that that act might be hard to follow and that it was a good time to break for dinner.
I was standing in the shadow of a 250-foot-tall wall of concrete, knee-deep in cold flowing water and staring down at a hundred eager rainbow trout. All is right again on upper Lake Taneycomo. That made me happy.