Posted by Phil Lilley on April 5th, 2007
In my limited travels across the country, I have fished rivers, lakes and streams with good success using what I like best- my fly rod. I consider myself a self-taught student of the sport, not having taken any fly casting or tying lessons- just picking up suggestions from other anglers and watching and listening to those who know more than I do. I enjoy the challenge of what fly fishing is the art of making something with human hands and fooling trout with the presentation.
Tailwater fisheries have always been a challenge to me. In most cases, tailwaters are not your normal streams with constant and consistent flows allowing any predictability or normality. Flows change, levels change, structures change with it, hatches change, feeding habits change, holding areas change all in a matter of minutes on some occasions. Some tailwaters do not change suddenly such as the Green River below Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Northeast Utah. It’s managed differently to accommodate the fishery, which is not the case at most dams in the country. That’s why tailwaters can be complex in their makeup, making fishing them the challenge-in-a-challenge. They can be brutle or they can be extremely rewarding.
To take a tailwater and pick it apart, I have to be very familiar with it, like it was in my backyard. Lake Taneycomo is (in my backyard) and I know it well. Taneycomo is one of those tailwaters where the local management doesn’t even know when and how much water will be ran through it’s system on any given day. Therefore, an angler has to be ready for anything.
This piece will concentrate on the water off put a drift boat in above #2 outlet would be ideal. If you don’t have one handy a belly boat, individual pontoon or just wading would work. Keep in mind trout in this shallow water spook easily so stay on dry ground when ever possible if wading. If in a boat, move as little as possible and try to keep from touching the bottom the trout seem to key on bottom noise and strike indicators on the surface. In mentioning the indicators, I suggest using a dry with a dropper. Out west this technique is used extensively where trout are protected to a certain length, and thus, become wise to floats and fly line slapping the surface. Our trout are getting to that point of being spooky, especially in depths of four foot or less.
In this area, there are pockets and seams where trout hold between the cable and the bottle-neck, above the second outlet. With “house wheels” running, there’s always some current through the upper two miles of the lake. From the outlets flows water laced with hatchery-smells trout stack up nose-first and are generally easy pickin’s. I prefer to break the mold and not fish the outlets. I look for small riffles next to the shore with deeper water just below. Dead-drifting very small nymphs, swinging soft hackles and floating a dry-and-dropper these are three techniques that work! But because the waters are shallow and the trout are usually already spooked by careless anglers wading around and through these areas, long leaders are a must. Some of the fishable waters in these areas are less than 12 inches deep. Flies of choice: Dries blue olive dun, black ant, adams, humpy, royal wolfe, various midges, griffin’s gnat. Wets WD-40, prince, pheasant tail, squirrel tail, sow bugs, various emerger patterns, small wooly, crackle back, San Quan worm, eggs patterns and small bead heads.
Between outlet two and three is deep, slow moving water, ideal for swinging soft hackles and creeping nymphs back against the current. Again, the norm is a strike indicator and a fur-bug they do catch fish but I never liked standing in a line of other anglers, waiting for my turn to sling my line up, just to watch the float for a short 8 foot drift. Working a #8 yellow-bellied humpy and a #22 prince nymph tied 12 inches underneath it on 7x tippet, it’s exciting you don’t know which fly gets the strike, and they do hit either. Substitute a royal wolfe, blue-olive dun and adams for drys and pheasant tail, cream bead head or squirrel tail for nymphs but keep them small. Soft hackles tie them in grizzle and greys with grey, black or red ribbed bodies in #10′s and 12′s.
The shoot and pool below outlet #2 always holds lots of fish but is fished very hard. Slip down past the hole and you have moving water through fairly shallow water with fairly large rocks in the stream bed that acts as cover for holding trout. In choppy water, skip a #12 grey or olive wooly or for more excitement, treat the wooly with dry dope and literally skip it across the surface. Emergers are great because of the swinging technique you can use in this faster water. As the fly swings in the current at the end of the drift, start to strip it slow the strike will come at the end of the swing generally.
Moving through the stream to the “Big Hole”, we find a huge pool of deeper water holding big trout. These are harder to catch because of the width of the pool; rainbows tend to cruise and the browns hold in one place, generally where anglers can’t reach them. In a drift boat, you can sight fish using long leaders and drys/droppers something that won’t spook ‘em. At night, this area is best- stripping big wooly-buggers and sculpin patterns.
Another riffle and a long, shallow shoot stretches down to the boat ramp with dozens of dark pockets and ledges. You can spend all day in this area and is not fished hardly at all. In the summer, hopper patterns are affected because the north bank is steep and overhanging with lots of grass and vegetation. Again, soft hackles and small woolies swinging or stripping are good.
On down to the boat ramp is deeper pools and gravel flats. Dry/dropper works well in the flats where rainbows cruise for midges and scuds. Darker woolies and larger nymphs in the deep pools under either a strike indicator or a dry worked in the deeper pools can produce larger trout. At the bottom of this long deep pool is a narrow shoot and a stretch that does hold feeding trout. Dead drifting nymphs works well because the bottom is clean gravel with nothing to hang the fly up.
From this point downstream for about 400 yards is the “Clay Banks”, long and deep with downed trees and tree roots lined up on one side. Dry/dropper or just drys, stripping woolies in choppy water are good techniques. Concentrate on the north bank where rainbows cruise in search for both nymphs or terrestrials. Moving down to the head of LookOut Island is a very shallow flat where the water moves through slowly it’s not a riffle but just a slow moving gravel area. Lots of rainbows in this area, generally sipping midges and nymphing in the gravel. Dry/dropper with smaller drys and even smaller nymphs and small woolies in choppy water work well.
From this point down to Fall Creek is slow moving water channel on the cliff side and gravel flats on the other. Bead-heads under a float are excellent for both rainbows and browns in greys, browns, peacock green and ginger. Sight fishing for cruising rainbows on the flats can be a blast. Long leaders are a must because these trout are spooky but can be taken on parachute adams, blue olive duns, humpys, cream and grey midges it’s wide open what you can try and it changes during the different lights of the day.
Wind plays a huge part in feeding habits of trout in this area- really in all areas of the lake. Glassy water usually is tough conditions except in the low light (mornings and evenings). I’ve always found trout will feed more aggressively under choppy water than calm water hands down. It might be the best for working dries but wet flies under an indicator or stripping woolies under a chop is best.
All in all, Lake Taneycomo and all tailwaters can be easy waters to fish easier than a wild stream where the trout are old and wise to our tricks. Stick with it….. feeding patterns vary throughout the day and so do conditions.
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