Lake Taneycomo

Fly Fishing High Water

Posted by Phil Lilley on June 18th, 2010
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Here’s your dilemma:  You’re going on a fly fishing trip to Lake Taneycomo in a week or so, and you’re trying to plan what to take and where to fish.  Ideally, you want to pack your waders and wade the whole time below the dam.  But there’s this unknown– what’s going to be the generation schedule for that time?  If it’s running, what do you do?  How can you tell ahead of time?

First the hard question:  How can you tell if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is going to blow you out of the water?  Simple, you can’t.  Not 100% anyways.  The corps has two main reasons to run water– flood control and power demand.  The agency tries to manage water levels so that private lands, both above and below the dams, aren’t flooded in high rains. It also must not waste water, since water means money in the energy game.

The Southwest Power Administration is a federally regulated authority that does the actual selling (it’s complicated, and I may not get this totally right so give me a little grace).  SWPA has final say.  They tell the corps overall how to operate, and the corps pushes the buttons.

When I’ve called the powerhouse operators,  they’ve told me what their agenda was for the day,  but they always prefaced it by saying, “but it may change,” and it usually does.  Sometimes a coal plant goes down, and the hydro plants have to pick up the slack.  Certain times of the year, coal plants go down for maintenance and the hydro carry the line.

So now we have the groundwork laid.  Here are the scenarios.  In hot weather when the air conditioners are on and the lakes are close — at or over power pool — they will run water starting early and run it late in the day.  In mild weather, it’s questionable what could happen, so look at what the patterns have been prior to your trip.  In cold weather when the heaters are on, whatever the lake levels are the corps will run water, even if the lake levels drop low.  This generally happens in winter time, and spring normally brings rain that will re-fill the lakes.

In the fall, the corps puts itself on restrictions on all five dams because of low oxygen levels (DO).  It  may still generate, but levels will be lower than other times of the year.

The corps has a website listing the generation schedule 24 hours in advance, but again, it won’t be exact. It’s- http://www.swpa.gov/generation.htm  Another site to watch ishttp://www.swl.usace.army.mil/wcds/rdo2.html  (Table Rock, Beaver and Greers Ferry) and  http://www.swl.usace.army.mil/wcds/rdo1.html  (Bull Shoals, Norfork and Calico Rock).  It will give you CFS, DO and water temperature at different times of the day.  It also will list the latest thermocline reading for each lake.

Have we covered all the possibilities? Is it as clear as mud?  What if the water is running when you arrive?  What are your options?

If you are bent on fishing slow water, check out the other tailwaters in the area.  Beaver is only a 1.2-hours drive, Bull Shoals is 1.5 hours away, Norfork is 1.75 hours, Crane Creek is .9 hours, Roaring River is 1 hour, and the North Fork of the White is 1.7 hours.  If you don’t want to drive, either be happy to find a nitch in the bank to drift bugs down and back up or rent a boat.

For years now, I have experimented with finding ways to fly fish in high water on Lake Taneycomo.  Has it paid off?  Sure!  There are plenty of ways to fly fish from a boat in high water.  The best is to anchor behind one of several islands below the dam and fish the eddie pockets which usually hold schools of trout.

Another is to drift with the current and strip big stuff from the banks out.  Or you can cast dry flies in close to the bank under trees and brush.  This is a quick and exciting technique that will separate the men from the boys.  If water levels are moderate, drifting bead head nymphs or even woolies under a strike indicator isn’t out of the question at all, especially from the cable or Lookout Island downstream.

Midge hatches come off at all times of the day, even if there’s 10 feet of water flowing from the dam.  From a boat, you can strip soft hackles, just like you were fishing the flats below Outlet #1 in three feet of water.  The trout are already on the surface taking pupa and adults, so why not your fly?

The bottom line is be adventuresome and look into fly fishing from a boat next time you run into high water — no matter where you are.  These techniques will work on any of the White River tailwaters.

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