Missouri Drought Impacts Trout by Jim Auckley

 Six continuous days of temperatures over 100 degrees. A rainfall deficit in some areas of 10 inches. Streams that are running at a small percentage of normal summer flow.

     Much of central Missouri is considered to be suffering an extreme drought, while other sections of the state are ranked “severely or moderately drought-stricken.” How is this situation affecting the trout resource? 

     Fisheries biologists will tell you that Missouri’s delicate wild trout populations wax and wane with the amount of water -- and water temperatures -- in the spring-fed branches that support most of them. 

Wild trout numbers wither following a string of dry summers, but are capable of rebounding when Mother Nature puts a number of wet years into sequence.

     Missouri Department of Conservation Fisheries biologist Mike Kruse says he is without an hard sampling data, but speculates the lower ends of some the wild trout streams are probably suffering temperatures that go beyond what is desirable -- or even survivable -- for the fish. He notes days of 100 degree plus highs with little night-time air temperature cooling.

     “We do have thermographs out on some of these waters this summer, and so we will get a really good look at how an extreme period of heat like this affects some of the water temperatures.” He adds the monitoring season runs from the first of July to the middle of September.

     “We will have that to compare how severe things got relative to other years.” Kruse says that, going into this season, he would have felt things were looking up because of a cool, wet season last year. He notes that there were good reports coming in from Mill Creek and other streams that the fish were still there and that anglers were catching all sizes.

     “I fished Mill Creek briefly in late May or early June and just in an hour’s time I caught three different year classes of fish. The fish are not going to go away, but we could see conditions retract back to where we were after the last extended drought.  Certainly we need several years of more benign conditions in a row before we can really say that the populations have recovered.”

     Jerry Dean is hatchery manager at Roaring River State Park. He says the water level in the stream at the park is getting low ... about a third of what it should be at this time of year.  “We have 11 of our smaller raceways (out of a total of 40) shut down, and we are moving some of our trout to other hatcheries,” Dean says.

     He is moving trout because of the drought, but he is going to have to move some anyway to prepare for hatchery renovations this coming winter.  He sends trout to Shepherd of the Hills hatchery at Branson when they are threatened by low, warm water. 

     Dean had hopes the last cold front, the one that dropped temperatures into the 80s for a few days, would bring rain, but any rain that fell wasn’t substantial. Dean can recirculate about 3 million gallons of water a day in his hatchery, and that helps alleviate the situation somewhat.  

      Conditions at Lake Taneycomo can only be described as mixed to improving. Fishing was good in early June, but followed by a stretch of little water being run through the dam later in the month with water temperatures soaring. Fish were described as “very visible and very difficult to catch.” Anglers went to the Corps and asked for help improving Taneycomo water quality, and apparently got it.

     Phil Lilley guides out of Lilley’s Landing on Lake Taneycomo. “Table Rock Lake is 4 feet low, which is not unusual,” Lilley says, adding that the Corps can pull the lake a lot lower than that if they need to. “It’s been a pretty typical summer here as far a generation goes. Myself and several others called during that period when the water was warm and said, hey, you need to run some water ... and they did.”

     Lilley doesn’t feel his area is suffering as much drought as in the previous few years. “I don’t think we have had the extreme heat that areas north of us have had,” he says. It’s been hot, but not exceptional.” As this is being written on the first of August the Corps is typically beginning generation at mid-day and running it until 10 o’clock at night. 

     Lilley notes the state parks are transferring trout to Shepherd of the Hills hatchery, and that can cause problems because the overflow of trout at the big hatchery results in smaller trout being stocked in Taneycomo.  Lilley says improvements planned by the Conservation Department at Shepherd of the Hills will be a great help, especially during drought times.

     “Fishing is good now,” Lilley says. “Guys are coming in with some nice limits now. Hopefully we won’t be overrun with little rainbows from the federal hatchery that can take the lake over when they stock so many at one time ... I tell people they are just good food for the big browns!”