Lake Taneycomo Entomology
The aquatic life that Taneycomo fly fishermen must imitate is varied and diverse. Because the waters of the Ozark Mountain Region are extremely nutrient-rich, scuds and sow bugs do exceptionally well, so local fly fishing guides and anglers are best served by becoming familiar with how to effectively tie and fish flies that imitate these trout morsels. Our huge brown trout and big rainbow trout grow quickly because of the amount of food available. TaneycomoTrout.com is the best fly fishing website for learning about how to fly fish effectively in many types of rivers and streams.
Insects Scud Culture
There are five major nutritional staples that trout consistently feed on in the White River Basin trout fisheries like Taneycomo. These food sources are midges, scuds, sowbugs, planeria/worms, and sculpins.
The first one we will talk about is the scud and why it’s important to tie them with red thread for the under body (this is especially true below Table Rock Dam). If you go to any of our local fly shops you will notice many of the scuds tied have red thread for the head. Check out the pictures I have posted next to this. You can clearly see the red inside of the scud’s underbody and it looks transparent. They get this color when they are mating (this activity is most intense after the full moon). If you turn rocks over at Taneycomo, you will see some of these scuds on top of one another…sort of “connected”. If you want to locate scuds and other insects in the rivers, try to find rocks that are sticking out of the water with only a little water underneath them. Scuds would prefer to always be under rocks or in moss beds, but they can be found all over the river depending on water conditions and the time of month. (A good place to find some scuds is near the bottom of the steps that the BransonTrout Unlimited Chapter built. Walk directly to the left about twenty feet. You will see water coming from the hatchery running down under the rocks (it looks like it’s coming from under the ground). If you lift up those rocks you will find scuds, sowbugs and planeria worms. Planeria worms are usually the majority of the insects under there, followed by sowbugs and scuds. So, if you think about the food chain and what the trout see the most of to the least, it would first be worms, then sowbugs, and finally, scuds. Scuds have a chance for survival because they can swim back under a rock before a trout can eat them. Sowbugs and worms don’t have a chance at all because they can’t swim. Trout can eat these a lot faster than they can a scud. Trout would rather eat scuds at times because they have more protein and you can tell when trout are gorging on these crustaceans by their bright, vibrant colors (and their flesh turns a salmon color).
Why do so many people fish scuds? Probably because many people fishing the chutes use this pattern. There are a lot of scuds and other bugs getting washed up from the bottom of the rocks from the rushing water coming from the hatchery so the fish are not too choosy in this area. That’s also why trout will normally feed consistently in the outlets/chutes. They’re always seeing food whether it’s scuds, sowbugs, or different types of worms. It is possible, however, to make a better, more enticing scud. Think outside the box a little and tie your scuds with a red or orange underbody and a sparse dubbed body. This mating scud pattern represents an easy meal for trout, and is a little different than the flies the trout get pounded with. You can learn a lot more by spending a little time studying what’s in your river than blindly fishing what most anglers think is the “hot” fly. Instead of guessing what will work, it’s pretty important to know what will work. I’ve invented a scud I call the perfect scud that I will show you how to tie. Go here for how to instructions and the recipe. I will go more into the details that make up the incredibly rich biomass of the Ozark tailwater trout fisheries when we talk about the other insects we have in our rivers.
What is a sowbug you ask? Well, it looks just like a rollie polly you see on the ground in your garden. The only difference is that a sowbug lives in the water and crawls under rocks on the bottom. Trout would prefer a scud over a sowbug any day of the week because it has more protein, but in many areas there are significantly more sowbugs than scuds. Trout will get a meal any way they can, and sowbugs are an easy meal. It’s all about competition and survival of the fittest. Trout are “programmed” to eat whenever the chance arises. That’s why they are considered very optimistic.
Sowbugs live “loosely”, meaning they are never solidly attached to their habitat. One reason is they don’t swim, so if they get caught in the open or in the current, they will get picked up and then they’re fair game for predators. It’s hard for drifting sowbugs to get back under a rock or into some kind of protection before the trout identifies them as food and pounces. Sowbugs and other food sources are why trout hold in fast current or all around the popular outlets (chutes) we have. Fast moving areas will always have food constantly washing up from the bottom. That’s why fishermen are always fishing these spots first, and they seem to be always taken until later in the day.
Sowbugs, however, have less protein for trout to get color from than scuds. Trout will eat tons of them because sowbugs are a big food staple for our tailwaters and they are readily available. Sometimes fish will take a sowbug thinking it’s a scud. This comes into play when it comes to fly patterns and selection. I don’t think the trout really care if they take a pattern to imitate a scud or a sowbug. Trout key in on shape, size, and color. Shape is more important than anything else when identifying potential meals. Most of our sowbugs are tied from the smallest hook you can tie one on to about a size 10. The most popular sizes we fish around here would be 14 and 16 (maybe a little smaller in the winter). My colors of choice would consist of shades of gray, brown, and tan. Make sure you tie gray sowbugs in several variations. Also make sure you use several different types of dubbing. The most popular choices would be SowScud (tan), awesome possum, and antron. Sometimes a little softer dubbing can be a good choice. I would recommend the dubbing from the SLF line called Davy Wotton Bug Dub. It’s really nice stuff and dubs easily on the thread. It looks best tied with a dubbing loop and wrapped upward.
Planeria Worms (San Juan Worms)
Planeria worms are a name you should get used to because this morsel ranks second only to midges as trout food. During high water, worm patterns can be the deadliest fly out there and you might hook up on every cast for the first thirty minutes while the water rises if your presentation is sound. If you lift a rock up that is on the bottom of the river (it doesn’t even have to be in the water, the ones on the bank are covered with them, too) you will see tons of P. worms. During high water they get washed everywhere in the river. When the water drops, the worms drop with the water and stay under the rocks until the dam starts generating. The bank stays moist from the falling water and the insects try to stay within the moisture. As water keeps evaporating from the surface, these worms will dig deep and try to stay with the moisture. If the water doesn’t run for a period of time I’m sure most of them would eventually die. Trout see p. worms more then anything else. Especially in fast water or high water. During generation you can always catch trout on San Juan worms. Natural brown being the color of choice. Red does work, but brown will out fish it and also catch the bigger fish. Browns love worms and for some reason you will find yourself hooking more browns than rainbows if fished for a period of time. Hope this opens your mind to think more like a trout.
All I can say is “WOW”. This river is first and foremost a midge fishery. Midges are in the mosquito family and look exactly like one. The only difference is they don’t bite. Midges have three stages in a life cycle. The first one is the larvae/pupa stage,
During this stage, they stay on the bottom or in the middle of the water column. As they start the second stage they are called emergers. And the last stage is the adult. Most insects go through these stages if they hatch from a body of water. Stoneflies skip the second stage and don’t emerge. Instead they crawl to the bank and find somewhere to start the adult stage. They can also live up to three years as a nymph. So there are a few exceptions when it comes to the stages of an insect. But with midges trout see these all day and everyday.
I will explain a little bit on why you should first learn how to fish midges before anything else you learn. Also, there are different presentations to learn when fishing these different stages. The most important reason you should learn how to fish these first is that midges are in every body of water. There are two types of midges and it all has to do with what body of water they come from. In lakes they can get up to a size 2 which are called chironomids. In tailwaters or rivers they’re called midges. There are more midges in a trout’s belly than any other food. Trout feed on these the most because they see midges the most. If you learn how to fish midges first, you will be able to catch trout anywhere you go. Midge patterns are patterns that I like to say, search out fish. If you go to a new river and wonder what to throw, start with a midge emerger or larvae pattern. Midges will always work and if you know how to fish these in every stage you will frequently be rewarded with trout.
The most important stages to learn how to fish are the subsurface forms of the insect. The best larvae or pupa patterns are beadheaded, thread-bodied flies with wire ribbing to copy segmentations (Zebra Midge). A great emerger pattern would imitate a midge coming up from the bottom to the surface. Soft Hackles are some of the best patterns to imitate this stage. The best colors for these rivers around here would be black first, then everything else. I guess that tells you black is the first one to try. These are the only two stages I would really fish. Adults stages for these just aren’t necessary and you will find yourself frustrated with trying to get them to hit dry flies in midge sizes. They prefer the easiest stage to eat which is the subsurface stage. As they start to dry their wings to become adults it takes thirty seconds to dry their wings before they can fly off. That’s when trout take them. Right under the surface. If you ever wondered why you see rings forming on the water, it’s trout picking midges off right under the film. So when it comes to what they see the most of on the food chain it’s definitely midges. So what should you fish first at Taneycomo?
A lot of people hear about sculpins, but don’t know a thing about them. That probably has to do with very few anglers imitating them, so you don’t hear about how to tie or fish them. It’s a difficult presentation to learn which put’s sculpin pattern on the back burner in most fly boxes. Most people want to catch fish before they give this fly a try. People should though because this fly is a “big fish” magnet. It might take all day to get one to hit it, but if you cover water you will eventually catch something worthwhile.
Trout don’t see these all the time because they’re very different than the typical insects…they are fish. Sculpins live under rocks and dart from shelter to shelter. They are not readily visible to the typical fisherman’s eye. You really have to go looking for Sculpins to find one. And that’s the same way for trout. I’m sure that during the day sculpins are hiding, but at night they move around and are more often taken by bigger trout. I’m sure they feel safer at night just like bigger trout do. This is a full course meal when it comes to sculpins. Trout would love to get their hands on them all day and night, but it still has to do with the food chain and food availability.
It’s hard to believe that sculpins are still overlooked fly patterns and they work very well on Taneycomo. During the day they work even if trout aren’t seeing the real thing. If they see something like it swimming by I guarantee you will get their attention and they will come over a look at it. It’s instinct, pure and simple.
When it comes to tying sculpin patterns, there are really only two colors to tie it in. One is a dark gray and the other one is the color of the river bottom during the day (mossy). It took a long time to get this color right. Only one company dyes it the right color which is “golden variant” from Hareline. Your fly shop can order this so make sure you get some. These flies are both tied with rabbit strips because of the action of the material is very life like. It’s also soft which makes the trout bit down and keep it in their mouth a little bit longer then something hard.
Whether you like fishing with egg patterns or you don’t, there is no denying that trout eggs (roe) are a desired food source in the fall and winter months. During the spawning process, female trout will deposit eggs on a nest or redd. I don’t know if it’s the egg’s taste or just plain instinct, but trout will aggressively feed on this food source. Ethical anglers will avoid the spawning areas, but when there is roe in the river, it seems like every fish is keyed in. Look for slow water with drop offs adjacent to the spawning shoals. Remember: for egg imitations to work, they must be “rolled” along the bottom…especially for the bigger trout. Subtlety is important in low water, and if the egg pattern is running fish off, either move or try a different fly.
Ants are an important food source on Lake Taneycomo as they find their way into the tailwater every time the water comes up. Most people think of fishing ant imitations on the surface, but wet versions of ant patterns can fool some of the larger fish that gravitate towards the bank after power generation begins. The best months for fishing ant flies are April through September, but such imitations can produce results year-round. Because ants come in all different sizes, it is a good idea to carry wet and dry versions of ant flies in sizes #10 though #16.
The Japanese beetle (pictured left) is an important “hatch” on Lake Taneycomo. This is because many of the lunkers on this stretch will key-in on this food source when it becomes available. Be creative with the patterns you use and try to find areas with overhanging trees, as this will be where the trout will see more of these insects. Beetle patterns in sizes #4 through #14 can work throughout the year with the smaller imitations doing the trick during the warmer months of April through August. Most anglers would not think of fishing a big, ugly foam beetle in the dead of winter, but this approach has been very successful on trophy-sized trout for those in the know.