Brandon Butler: Hit Lake Taneycomo for trout in February

Tailwater trout fisheries provide open water action during February, and it’s arguable no tailwater in the Midwest is more productive this time of year than Lake Taneycomo, home of the Missouri state record for brown trout. The behemoth 40-pound and 6-ounce fish fell short of the world record by less than two pounds.

Along with big browns, Taneycomo is home to more rainbow trout than most could imagine.

Located in Branson, Lake Taneycomo receives a lot of interest from tourists. People travel to the heart of the Ozarks in search of entertainment. The popular destination is famous for its exciting attractions and music shows, but right now trout fishing is one of the city’s biggest draws. With plenty of waterfront resorts, like Lilleys’ Landing Resort and Marina, guides like Duane Doty and Blake Harris, and shops like Anglers Outfitters and Bass Pro Shops, Taneycomo has everything one could need for an epic trout trip.

Lake Taneycomo is unique. The 22-mile-long lake is really a section of the White River sandwiched between Table Rock Dam and Powersite Dam. It flows and fishes like a river. There is power generation to contend with, which means anglers need to pay attention to rising and falling water. The Army Corps of Engineers release flow data each day; anglers should check their website before planning to wade fish.

There is a large contingent of fly fishermen frequenting Lake Taneycomo who like to wade fish, but since the water fluctuates so much due to the hydropower generation of Table Rock Dam, anglers must pay attention to water levels before wading. At times, there is no safe wade fishing near the dam, where many like to fly fish. When there is safe wade fishing water, it can be dynamite. Just be cautious. The water rises rapidly when turned on, so if you are wade fishing and hear the whistle, move to the shore right away.

There are impressive numbers of both brown trout and rainbow trout in Taneycomo. The daily limit per angler is four trout. Of your four, only one may be a brown and it must have a minimum length of 20 inches. In the “trophy zone,” which runs from below Table Rock Dam to the mouth of Fall Creek, there is a slot limit on rainbows. You must release any fish between 12 and 20 inches. Also in the trophy zone, you can only use flies and artificial lures. To fish anywhere between Table Rock Dam and the Highway 65 bridge, you must have a trout permit as well as a fishing license. Regulations like these can be tricky to newcomers. A guide will keep you straight on the rules.

Duane Doty guides out of Lilleys’ Landing Resort and Marina. There are a lot of great Taneycomo guides, but Doty stands out, even in a very impressive crowd. For one, he’s been there a while. He and local fishing legend Phil Lilley have likely sent more stocker trout to frying pans than any other living duo. Doty also produces his own jerkbaits. These highly effective baits are called the Duane Doty Signature Series. He has perfected using them.

Nathan “Shags” McLeod, co-host of the Driftwood Outdoors Podcast and an avid Taneycomo trout angler, said: “Duane Doty has led a trout fishing revolution on Taneycomo with his jerkbaits. He founded the Dark Army (a dedicated group of nighttime trout fishermen who throw jerkbaits) and has shared his knowledge with so many other guides. He’s Taneycomo Yoda instructing young Jedis — like Captain Blake Harris, who put me on a 31-inch, 15-pound brown trout of a lifetime after midnight throwing jerkbaits.”

There are numerous different tactics used to catch trout on Taneycomo. If you’re after numbers, and you’re trying to put rainbows in the box, it’s hard to beat jigs. Weight depends on how much water is running and how deep you’re fishing. White and brown are popular colors, white especially so this time of year.

As water is released through the dam, shad pour into Lake Taneycomo. The trout gorge themselves on shad. White looks like a shad. So, whether you’re throwing jigs, jerkbaits, or spinners, white in February when they’re running water is a solid bet.

If you want to focus on catching one of the monster browns that make Taneycomo famous, then throwing jerkbaits is the way to go. Aside from the Duane Doty custom lures, one of the local favorites is the Rebel Tracdown Minnow. These are slow sinking and easy to control in moving water. Overcast days with enough wind to put a slight chop on the water should be your most productive for throwing jerkbaits.

Taneycomo attracts a lot of a different angler types. You have beginners who are so excited to simply catch a fish. There are a lot of first fish trips on Taney. There are also a lot of experienced anglers who enjoy coming to Taneycomo and taking home a cooler full of trout filets for the dinner table. Then there are the expert trout hunters who are only after the giants. Those who focus on targeting truly world class brown trout. The local guide network caters to all types of Taneycomo angling and can help you accomplish your goal, whatever it may be.

“There are a lot of great guides on Taneycomo who know the most productive areas to fish, and how to fish them,” Doty said. “Since most of the trout fishing is done on the upper end of the lake, we usually don’t have to go far before we start fishing, so any experienced guide has come to know the lake very well. Good guides cater to any sort of trout fishing you’re interested in. When you’re talking to a guide about booking a trip, just be sure to communicate what you’d like to accomplish on your trip.”

See you down the trail …

Brandon Butler writes a weekly outdoors column for the Daily Journal. For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast on or anywhere podcasts are streamed. Send comments to [email protected].