You know it’s fall in the Ozarks when leaves start to turn color, temperatures start to cool… and brown trout start to leap upstream out of Lake Taneycomo.

You know it’s fall in the Ozarks when leaves start to turn color, temperatures start to cool… and brown trout start to leap upstream out of Lake Taneycomo.

Odd though it may sound, “leap” – not swim – is fitting word that describes how brown trout make their way up the steps of the Missouri Department of Conservation’s specially designed fish ladder each fall at Lake Taneycomo. These annual attempts to spawn can be a head-turning, grab-your-camera event. But before we talk about that, here’s more about brown trout.

Unlike their better-known cousin in the salmon family that’s also found in Missouri – the rainbow trout – brown trout are not native to North America. (Neither brown trout nor rainbow trout are native to Missouri. Rainbow trout are native to the Pacific Coast.) Brown trout are native to Europe and were purposely introduced to the U.S. in the late 19th century. Brown trout are warier than rainbow trout and grow to a larger size; two characteristics that gave them angler appeal from their first introduction to North American waters.

Brown trout first came to Missouri when the Missouri Fish Commission stocked approximately 260,000 in the state between 1927 and 1933. After that, interest in the species lagged in this state until 1966 when the Missouri Department of Conservation began stocking them on an experimental basis in the Current and North Fork rivers. Since then, angler interest and the number of stocking sites have grown in the state. In Missouri, Lake Taneycomo is where brown trout are found in the highest number. Elsewhere in the state, brown trout populations are maintained by the Missouri Department of Conservation on sections of the Current, North Fork, Niangua, Meramec and Roubidoux rivers.

Unlike many fish species that spawn in the spring and early summer, brown trout spawn in the fall and early winter. In this area, the bulk of brown trout spawning attempts usually occur in October and November.

Spawning “attempts” is the appropriate term because almost no natural brown trout reproduction occurs in the state. Missouri’s brown trout population is maintained through the work of Missouri Department of Conservation fish hatchery staff. (There have been rare cases of naturally produced brown trout showing up in Department of Conservation sampling, but not to the extent that the state’s population could be sustained through natural propagation.)

And that brings us back to the fish ladder at Lake Taneycomo. Human-constructed fish ladders of various designs have been part of fish management strategies at a number of sites across the U.S. since the 1800s – particularly in areas where salmon or their trout cousins make upstream spawning runs. Taneycomo’s fish “ladder” is a series of raised pools that allow brown trout to make a series of small jumps out of the lake and up to a higher pool of water. The fast-moving water flowing down the ladder simulates the swift current brown trout would swim against in the wild to make their spawning runs.

Though no natural spawning occurs at Taneycomo, the brown trout’s trips up the ladder aren’t in vain. When they reach the higher pool, Missouri Department of Conservation hatchery staff collect males and females for spawning purposes (egg collection and fertilization). They are released back into the lake when the process is finished. The fish that are reared from the eggs are eventually released into Taneycomo and at brown trout management sites elsewhere when they reach a specified size.

Information about brown trout and other fish found in Missouri can also be found at www.missouriconservation.org

Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call 417-895-6880.