Variety is the name of the game fishing with Payable Guide Service in Branson.
For our latest edition of Adventure Finder, Bruce Curtis of Payable Guide Service in Branson is a fascinating feature. To say he wears a lot of hats (now and before his guiding days) is an understatement. Bruce can help you do any of the following and more in Southwest Missouri:
- Troll for Rainbow and Brown Trout on Taneycomo
- Bring home a mess of deep water Walleye on Stockton Lake.
- Catch big Smallies on Table Rock Lake
- Fly fishing for Rainbow and Brown Trout on the Taneycomo tailwaters.
- Trolling with divers for White Bass and Crappie on Bull Shoals
1] Tell us your story. How you got into the profession and why you do it? I was born in Cairo Ill. Where the mouth of the Ohio river dumps into the Mississippi. I’m the oldest of five boys and my father had me fishing before I was six years old in the river bottoms of Barlow and Wickliffe Ky. There, we fished primarily for crappie, bass and cat fish. We always had trot lines set and fish along with other wild game was a primary food source. By the time I was 10 years old I was well versed in catching bait of all kinds. We used to strip naked and seine crawfish and minnows out of snake infested ponds and sloughs. I can’t tell you how many times we brought the big 3o’ seine up with an angry snake in it. I remember one time when I was about 12, a big Cotton Mouth came across the top of the water at us. It scared me so bad I threw the seine down and ran. Dad of course killed the snake but it took him about 20 minutes to convince me to keep seining bait that day. When I was in the 3rd grade my dad took a job in the winter as a welder in Jackson, Michigan. He would farm in the summer in Kentucky and weld in the winter in Michigan. Therefore I spent my winters in Michigan and my summers in West Kentucky in the river bottoms. I always started school late and got out early.
I went into the Marine Corp in 1965 upon graduation, spent time in Vietnam and later joined the Army and was commissioned a 2nd Lt. after completing OCS at Ft. Benning Ga. When I got out of the military and after holding various jobs I started a career with the Michigan Department of Corrections where I quickly attained the rank of warden and went on to become the Assistant Deputy Director of the Department. I served 42 years. This job offered me the money and time I needed to fish the Great Lakes and its tributaries as well as other rivers in the Mid South. I joined and held office for the Michigan Charter Boat Association where I met many Great Lakes Captains, conservation people as well as other fishing professionals. I spent so much time on the water my wife told me I should get my Captains License and at least make it pay for itself.
I love spending time on the water as well as meeting new people, especially families. Nothing like seeing families enjoying fishing together and making lasting memories. Families usually keep fish for dinner but I do encourage them to release very large bass and large trout. The way I fish, mostly trolling multiple lines and drifting make it easy for families to catch fish as they don’t have to be expert at handling a rod and reel. Some simple instructions as to how to fight the fish to the boat usually are all that is needed. I do however have professional fly fishermen book with me especially on Lake Taneycomo’s tail waters behind the Table Rock Dam to sight fish big trout. On these trips I strictly focus on placing the boat in various positions for them to place their offering in front of their target. Most of these folks are focusing on large trout and they generally get their pictures and release the fish.
2] What’s been your favorite experience/fish story you’ve seen first-hand as a guide? I have many favorite experiences so I will use a trip on Table Rock Lake this last summer. An uncle and aunt had booked a trip in mid July for their nephew’s birthday. Counting themselves there were five people. When they arrived at the dock at Table Rock State Park boat ramp they were worried because they had been advised the fish were not biting because it had been so hot. Many guide reports had been listing the fishing as slow. Indeed it was hot, the surface temperature had been running 90 degrees during mid day and the water was very clear. They were actually contemplating rescheduling their trip for another time. I spent several minutes explaining to them that I fish differently than anyone on the lake and that the hot surface temperatures were actually to my advantage and they decided to take the trip.
I had my first mate with me who is also a Charter Captain and an excellent boatswain in his own right. Our plan was to fish a bluff that contained 150’ deep water for about a mile stretch. Since we had already been fishing deep water we knew the fish at mid day were running between 45 to 50 ft. down. Fish in Table Rock in hot weather do come in and feed in shallow water very early in the morning after the water has had time to cool all night. Since we started at about 8:45 AM we used divers that run about 25 ft. in 50 ft. of water on a flat about two miles before you get to my targeted area. We were running 8 to 10 lines off my very large home made planer boards. These folks had never seen fishing with large planer boards and were quite intrigued. In about a two hour troll we caught about 6 or 7 fairly nice spotted and small mouth bass and the birthday boy was very excited. When I told these folks the best was yet to come they looked at me rather skeptically. It took us about 30 minutes to change 8 lines to deeper divers as we hit the 150 ft. deep water. These divers were running 40 to 50 ft. deep. The lines hadn’t been set for 15 minutes before we had a hard double strike. What fun two large fish on at once! Both the first mate and I were netting fish while the Garmin Auto Pilot on the kicker motor held the boat on course. For the mile troll and back we caught well over 30 bass of all species with most exceeding 3 lbs. with a couple of smallies over 4 lbs. A couple of times we had 3 fish on at once! Needless to say we had a very excited crew and everyone caught fish. The family kept enough of the smaller keeper bass for dinner and released the rest.
Please note however when it comes to keeping fish its not my call because people have a license and they have paid to go fishing. I will encourage them to release the larger trout and bass but the final decision is theirs. Crappie, white bass, smaller trout and walleye are in the cooler. Trolling deep water is the most effective way to catch large fish especially in the summer.
3] What are the fishing opportunities where you guide? When are the best times for a given species? I guide the three Branson lakes, Taneycomo, Bull Shoals and Table Rock. If someone wants to specifically fish walleye I will guide Stockton Lake as well. Taneycomo may very well be some of the best rainbow and brown trout fishing in the US. A 25lb. brown trout was taken just last fall. That is a monster brown anywhere in the country. Most days people who fish Taneycomo get their 4 trout limit rather quickly.
Keep in mind that from Fall Creek to Table Rock Dam no live bait or power bait or scented bait is permitted and there is a slot limit that does not allow you to keep a fish between 12 and 20 inches. Below Fall Creek you may use any type of bait and keep any size rainbow. Brown trout have to be over 20 inches to keep. Trout are very easy to catch in Taneycomo all year long. Also size and number limits are strictly enforced on Bull Shoals, Table Rock and Stockton Lake.
Crappie and white bass fishing in these lakes is always best in the spring in both pre and post spawn. However, if you find either of these delicious fish in deep water in the summer it can be a bonanza. To find them in deep water you can troll with divers or you can use a bell sinker on the bottom with droppers and your electric motor to probe deep tree tops. If you use this technique be sure to use an extra light wire hook that will straighten out if you hook it into a tree. This way when you pull it free you can bend it back rather quickly and keep on fishing. White bass suspend over very deep flats in the summer where the water is well oxygenated. Once you locate them you can stay on them all day. Both Table Rock and Bull Shoals have some very large crappie and white bass. You can fish bass or walleye all year long. Your success will depend on location and presentation. One of the biggest mistake made for any species is fishing under the fish. Just about all fish strike up except maybe cat fish. Often when people fish walleye they always fish the bottom. Keep in mind the number one prey for walleye is shad. They will set under a school of shad suspended in the water column especially in the summer in deep water. Also keep in mind that walleye usually run to tail waters of dams in very early spring or up into creek arms with gravel. Bass: when you see bass beds which are very easy to spot please don’t fish them. There are plenty other fish to fish for during this time.
When you come to Branson, there is no shortage of available accommodations. The Keeter Center at College of the Ozarks is Traveler Ranked #1 on TripAdvisor but was also more than twice the cost of the following two accommodations at the time of this publishing.
1. La Quinta Inn Branson-Hollister is ranked #2 of 133 properties on TripAdvisor and only about 3 miles from Lake Taneycomo.
2. Comfort Inn is another solid option, ranked #3.
Regardless of where you stay, Bruce Curtis can provide you a variety of great fishing experiences you won't forget!
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