From its 43,000 plus surface acre water playground, Table Rock Lake, to attractions, museums, shopping, theme and water parks and over 100 live shows of every kind Branson, Missouri offers a bewildering number of things to see and do. “Many like Silver Dollar City, Branson’s great live shows and the Titanic Museum Attraction, to name a few, are well known,” said Annette Wood, the Director of Sales and Marketing for the Branson Tourism Center. “Among the lesser known things to do is the opportunity for Branson visitors to experience the “Shepherd of the Hills Trout Hatchery” at the foot of Table Rock Dam,” she added.
The “Shepherd of the Hills Trout Hatchery,” is operated by the Missouri Department of Conservation and is part of a 211 acre complex including a “Conservation Center” consisting of trails, a wild life refuge, and a Visitor Center. It is located less than 10 minutes from the famed “Branson Strip,” just off of State Highway 165 at the foot of Table Rock Dam.
The hatchery was built in conjunction with the building of Table Rock Dam because the cold water passing through the dams generators to generate electricity was ideal for Rainbow and Brown trout, but would have a a negative impact on the warm water species prevalent before the dam was built. With the completion of the dam, the first trout were stocked in Lake Taneycomo in 1959.
As a result, Lake Taneycomo, has become one of the finest trout fisheries in America with one of its outfitters, River Run Outfitters, actually winning the coveted “Orvis Outfitter of the Year Award,” in 2006, over outfitters in the other states that are legendary for their trout fishing.
In terms of raw numbers the hatchery produces over 1.1 million Rainbow and Brown Trout annually, of which about 475,000, 10 to 12 inch trout are included in the 700,000 plus trout stocked in the lake annually. The other 225,000 trout that go into Lake Taneycomo each year come from federal hatcheries, primarily Neosho, which are required by federal law to replace the “warm water” species that the building of Table Rock Dam displaced.
Hatchery visitors are welcome to tour the “race ways,” “trout runs,” by themselves during normal business hours and will see thousands of trout in the various stages of development from the large “brood stock” used to produce them to the smallest of trout. In addition, guided tours of the hatchery depart the Visitors Center from Memorial Day to Labor Day on weekdays at 10 and 11 AM and 1 and 2 PM. The Visitor Center opens at 9:00 AM every day except, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Displays of wildflowers and plants common to the Ozarks are displayed in a natural setting, with most being identified, in the area just outside the Visitor’s Center. Activities inside the Center include a nature display, a huge aquarium with “lunker” Brown and Rainbow Trout and an informative 15 minute “movie” showing how the how the hatchery produces the trout that has made Lake Taneycomo the prime trout fishery that it is.
The Visitor Center also has volunteers and Department of Conservation personnel available to answer questions as well as maps and information showing the system of four trails that winds through the undeveloped area of the Conservation Center. These trails vary in length and are ideal for families to share together. The “White River Corridor Trail” is particularly enjoyable because it parallels Lake Taneycomo for almost its entire length, is only 0.4 of a mile in length, one way, and provides a spectacular “kaleidoscope” view of the fog shrouding Lake Taneycomo early on warm summer mornings burning off as the sun rises.
Except for a coin operated dispenser for trout food for those wanting to feed the trout in the raceways, all the activities at the hatchery are free. Whether it’s a few minutes or a few hours, The Shepherd of the Hills Trout Hatchery is another one of those things that makes Branson, Missouri the memorable unique travel destination it is.