This summer, make a promise to yourself to slow down, take in the surroundings and have a leisurely and incredible meal at one of the true dining treasures in our region. Haven 55, nestled among the trees on a bend in Little Sugar Creek.
A woodworking magician by trade, Duane Doty’s words can paint a jerkbait or a jig as well as anyone involved in trout fishing. It’s a work of art designed to catch a trophy trout on Lake Taneycomo.
Described simply as “our handy man” on the staff directory at Lilleys’ Landing Resort and Marina, Doty knows how to catch massive trout on the wonderful trout fishery in Branson, Mo. You can sense his love for fishing with a visit to his website (OzarkTroutRunners.com), but you really feel his love after a two-hour visit in Phil Lilley’s office at the marina.
Doty was heaping praise on Blake Wilson, an aspiring guide who also works on the dock at Lilleys’ Landing. Wilson also paints jerkbaits, jigs and handles about any other task Lilley or Doty can imagine.
“I’m pushing Blake to get his captain’s license to begin guiding,” Doty said. “I think he’s on the brink.
“He has the fire.”
And, if anyone knows, it’s Doty. When you’ve got the fire, you probably have the ability to judge when someone else does, too.
You get that while listening to the former cabinet maker describe his passion for developing the perfect jig mold. He didn’t like what was on the market.
And, later he came up with a jerkbait not on the market. His lures have detail from a “stipple method” of painting jerkbaits with dot patterns. It’s a 22-step process.
Yes, he’s got the fire.
Then, there is the definition of the perfect vacation trip as relayed to Doty’s wife: a week fishing Taneycomo.
“I’m going to fish here on my day off,” he said. “It’s one of the best tailwaters in the world. Going on vacation somewhere else is not an option.”
That’s coming from someone who for several years was an Orvis-endorsed guide during the summer months in Alaska.
“I went out to Alaska when I was 40,” said Doty, now 51. “Those are 18-hour days. I was running around with 20-year-old college students.
“I tell people that if you want to learn how to be a guide, go to Alaska. I did and I loved it. I did eight summers there, but it’s for a young man.
“You learn a lot guiding in Alaska, including how to be around people for an entire day. You guide them, you sit with them for dinner and then fish some more. You entertain them as much as take them fishing. You talk to them for the entire time they are awake.”
The rest of the year there was some construction work between Springfield and Branson.
“That job was ending,” he said. “I was working for a friend and he gave me two weeks notice. My friend thought I’d be mad.”
Lilley found out and offered him a job at the dock the next day.
“I started before my two weeks were up,” Doty said. “That was about six or seven years ago. I wasn’t mad. Going to work here was just exactly what I wanted to do and then my friend I was working for could come fish with me or we could hunt. He did me a favor letting me go and I told him that.”
Before that, Doty ran a cabinet making business that grossed $4 million for several years. He had 12 employees at the peak.
“I got my college degree as a master woodworker on the GI bill,” he said. “I can work with wood. In the offseason (at Lilleys’) we may have new construction, remodels and about anything else you can imagine. You can make about anything with wood. I can build furniture.”
And, he can build jigs. He and Lilley came up with the idea to design a jig mold. They were not happy with some of the way commercial jigs were holding up on the river.
“The most frustrating thing in the world is to get a brand new jig wet on the first cast and the feathers come apart,” he said. “So Phil and I began to come up with our LLR (Lilleys’ Landing Resort) jigs.
“We were tying our own with jig heads from a supplier, but I didn’t like them. I asked Phil why didn’t we make our own mold.
“It was a 4-year process to where we are now. We wanted to work out a method for getting a true weight of a jig head.”
It explains a lot about Doty when he explains his frustration that commercially produced jig heads listed at 1/8 ounce aren’t really that.
“Do you know we’ve been lied to our entire lives?” he said. “They are .007 ounce off and that’s in every size. I found that out when I made a mold with a wood milling machine and noticed the difference. The jigs shrink just a little.”
There were other problems that Doty wanted to fix.
“The jig heads we were buying to tie with needed a little indention ring next to the head,” he said. “That gives you something that will hold the thread tight on the first wraps and that produces a final tie that’s not bulky at the head. You wouldn’t need as many wraps of thread to hold the feathers. Phil and I spent three months designing and tweaking the mold.”
So Doty and Lilley designed one with a slight ring indention.
“We also wanted a slight offset, like some others we’d used,” Doty said. “I also wanted the feathers measured more precisely than the jigs being tied elsewhere.”
Yes, most jigs on the shelves are tied out of the country.
“I understand, it’s cheaper labor,” he said. “We didn’t mind paying more for a precision tier. We’ve got 24 right now. I’ve sat with them and FaceTimed them as they tie so they are all exactly the same. If I can watch them tie, I can get them to be identical.”
There is a college student who is a whiz.
“He’s at College of the Ozarks,” Doty said. “He called me not long ago because he wanted to make it his living to tie jigs for us. He was tying single color jigs at 75 an hour. He thought he could just do that.
“I’ve tied over 100,000 and the fastest I can do that jig is 62 in an hour. But I made sure he didn’t quit college.”
There’s only so long you can do that repetitive motion in a day.
“We’ve poured over 270,000 jigs with our molds in the last year,” he said. “I couldn’t keep up with painting them and so I taught Blake. He was looking for work. But we’ve expanded him to full time here.
“I know his main goal is to be a guide. I’m like him, that’s really all I want to do. If I had it all to do over again (coming out of college), I’d have done this, just guided.
“I’m guiding about three or four days a week. I get as much pleasure out of seeing someone else catch a trophy brown as if I caught it.”
And, more times than not, Doty is instructing someone on how to “smoke” a jerkbait across the water to entice those big browns laying in the deep holes at Taneycomo.
“My biggest deal now are the jerkbait trips,” he said. “It’s caught fire on our fishery. About any day you go out on Taneycomo, you are probably going to see four to eight boats fishing jerkbaits.”
If they are smart, they have one of Doty’s hand-painted lures. The only outlet to purchase one is at the fly shop at Lilleys’ Landing Resort and Marina.
“It took me about three years to perfect what I’m doing in painting them with the stipple method,” he said. “I wanted a juvenile rainbow and then I came up with a sculpin.
“As I came up with the painting method, I wrote about it on Phil’s forum (OzarkAnglers.com) and the thread grew to 29 pages. It’s all still there, every step.
“There was not a jerkbait pattern on the market for a juvenile rainbow. That’s what the big browns are eating. So that’s where I concentrated.
“I’ve got some patterns that are 120 dots, some others that are 450 dots. I started with the juvenile rainbow after a saw a big brown spitting them up. Then, I did the sculpin pattern.”
Some of his early efforts were met with skepticism.
“It started off with heckling,” he said. “Then, I started getting encouragement. It was a long process.
“I started off by painting a plastic spoon. The first few I didn’t think were even close to being right. About 12 spoons later, they begin to look pretty good.
“The stipple process took 22 steps with nine different colors.”
Now, it’s the rage of Taneycomo. His baits were not for sale, but he presented his clients two boxed hand-painted lures at the end of every trip.
“Those painted jerkbaits have caught 32-inch browns,” Doty said. “The technique on fishing them has taken about four years to get dialed in right.”
Jig fishing is a great way to catch big fish on Taneycomo, but Doty doesn’t think it will match his hand-painted jerkbaits.
“I was averaging about 15 to 20 big fish a year while I was guiding with fly fishing or jig fishing,” he said. “A big fish is over 20 inches.
“Over the last couple of years, that’s really jumped. It’s a whole different ball game. I’m boating between 150 to 200 browns a year now with jerkbaits.
“You smoke that lure across the water and it produces that ultimate predatory reaction of a big brown trout. It is an intense trigger.”
And, the key is to “smoke” the retrieve.
“You pause or stop, that kills the chase,” he said. “I’ve seen it over and over. You see them coming, don’t pause it. They will sometimes come out of the water as you lift the lure to the boat.
“The number fishing my jerkbaits has just exploded the last two years.”
And, it’s not just fish 20 inches long.
“No, the biggest has been 15 ½ pounds,” Doty said. “There’s also been a 13 ½ pound brown. There have been a good number – maybe 10 a year – between 7 and 11 pounds. Last week, Blake caught 15 over 20 inches.
“My best day was six over 20 inches in four hours.”
There are regular clients who can probably fish the jerkbait without going with Doty, but love to be in his boat.
“I have one gentleman who had not caught what I call a trophy fish in over 20 years on this lake,” he said. “The first time I took him, he had a 9-pound fish tail walk across the water with his jig and throw it at the boat.”
Doty’s dejected client said, “I blew it.”
There was a promise from Doty that there would be more chances.
“It wasn’t 20 minutes later he landed a 23-inch brown,” Doty said. “It was his first trophy. Now he hires me eight times a year. There isn’t a time he doesn’t land a 20-inch fish. He doesn’t need me now, but he comes back.”
Doty has three sizes of painted jerkbaits, some as large as six inches long.
“I’ve got one that is only about two inches,” Doty said. “Depending on the size, we use several rods. I’ve had four rods designed.”
Go figure, nothing on the commercial market suited Doty as far as jerkbait rods.
“It’s a different style of fishing, with a sharp, violent down movement,” he said. “I’ve got the same eyelets all the way down the (rod).”
Going after the big browns is what it’s all about. And, it is always catch and release.
“You are not going to keep a big brown in my boat,” he said. “That’s just the way it is and I make sure you know it before we go.”
That mystifies some, especially the young.
“One day we had a big brown almost eight pounds in the minnow tank (for oxygen) trying to revive it,” Doty said. “We had it there for a long time before we could finally release it. An 8-year-old boy walked up and saw the release. He wanted to know why?
“I told him, ‘We are not eating it because tomorrow I’ll take you on the water and you can catch it.’ The light bulb went on.”
And, another fire was lit.