BRANSON, Mo. -- Steve Dickey couldn't see the hundreds of struggling shad drifting with the current on the upper end of Lake Taneycomo.
But he knew they were there.
No sooner had he cast out a white shad fly and fumbled to switch the handle of the reel from the left side to the right than a trout hit.
"That didn't take long," Dickey said with a laugh.
He hurried to screw in the reel handle, then handed the rod to his guide client, Larry Chambers of Parkville.
As Chambers fought the trout, Dickey knew he and the two fishermen he was guiding were in for a good day.
"When you come up here to the cables (marking the start of the fishing water at Taneycomo below Table Rock Dam), you cast something white, and you get a fish right away, you know shad are coming through the dam," said Dickey, who is entering his seventh year of guiding on Taneycomo. "The trout will come out of nowhere to feed on those baitfish. That's when you want to be out here."
This was one of those days. The trout were gorging on fast food. And the fishing was as hot as the day was cold.
"The shad on Table Rock follow the current," said Dickey, who often guides out of Lilleys' Landing Resort and Marina. "They're sluggish in the cold water and they can't really fight it when they they're running water through the dam.
"They get sucked into the turbines and they're flushed into Taneycomo. Some are shredded, but others are still alive.
"It's not a consistent thing, but it can be a great winter pattern here at Taneycomo."
And so began another great day of cold-weather fishing at the Ozarks reservoir.
Time and time again, Dickey motored his boat to the cables and began drifting with the current. With three generators running at Table Rock Dam, he had to use his trolling motor to adjust his position and make sure the flies weren't drifting too quickly.
The strategy worked like a charm. Using a clicker he had in a pocket, Dickey kept track of the number of trout we caught and released. By the end of the half-day trip, Chambers and I had landed and tossed back 66 rainbows. Included were several in the 2- to 3-pound range.
An outstanding day? Nah, just another day at the office for Dickey.
He learned long ago that winter can offer some of the best trout fishing of the year at Taneycomo. It's just getting others to believe it.
"My number of guide trips falls way off in the winter," Dickey said. "I guess people don't want to get out in this cold weather.
"But this is when the fishing can really be great. Table Rock has turned over, and that has put a lot of oxygen in the water. There's also a slight stain in the water, and the bugs have died, so the trout are just looking for something to eat. They're competitive.
"When the shad are coming through the dam, the trout are going to be up here feeding."
Dickey uses unique methods to catch trout. He often goes to 9-foot-long spinning rods and reels spooled with 2-pound test line. He uses drift rigs with a one-sixteenth-ounce drop weight on one line and a white shad fly, wooly bugger or micro jig attached to the other line.
When there is a strong current, that isn't enough to get the flies to the bottom. Still, it slows the imitations enough to make them look natural, especially when Dickey uses his trolling motor to slow the drift.
Dickey is convinced the light line makes a difference. It is less visible to the trout in clear water and adds to a more stealthy approach. The 9-foot spinning rods provide the sensitivity to detect light strikes and a "shock absorber" to fight the fish.
When the drag on the reel is set properly, Dickey's customers hardly ever lose a fish on the light line.
When shad are being flushed into Table Rock, the best fishing often takes place in the first one-quarter to one-half mile below the dam. Past that, the action often drops off.
"I think most of the shad get eaten in that upper stretch," Dickey said.
Baitfish were being sent through the turbines on a daily basis when we fished almost two weeks ago. But the shad kill has tapered off since then. Still, trout are being caught on micro jigs and zebra midge flies in the Trophy Area and on air-inflated night crawlers, Gulp eggs and Power Bait below Fall Creek.
Dickey has a money-back guarantee on his guide trips. If customers don't catch fish, they don't pay. He's never had to use it.
He figures he has led 3,000 guide trips over the years on the Ozarks waterway and trout have always been caught.
"I think my worst day is when we only had eight trout," he said. "But most of the time, there's a way to catch them."
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