Shane Pierce has a servant’s heart. That comes across in an interview probably as much as it does on a guide trip on Table Rock Lake or the tailwater below that is Lake Taneycomo.
Sitting on a bench in front of Bass Pro Shop at Branson Landing, one of the elite fishing guides on those two Ozark Mountain fisheries unintentionally provided the lead (or the clincher) for the story.
“No one could have written this script,” Pierce said of his journey to become a fishing guide. “It sure wasn’t in my plans.”
The plan was to become a veterinarian after he left home in Hutchinson, Kan., and pointed a truck toward the Rocky Mountains. After working as a horse ferrier, then selling ads for radio and then a trade tabloid, Pierce headed for Branson where he fell in love with the fishery on family vacations as a kid.
“I was in Colorado,” he said. “I worked as a vet tech, shoed horses and played cowboy a little. I loved working with the horses. I did ferrier school and I loved it. But it was hard work. My body just gave out.”
And, there were other jobs that mostly paid the bills for a growing family. But when he got to Branson in 2005, the growing area offered a new way to use his awesome people skills.
“I could always sell, so I thought I’d get my real estate license,” Pierce said. “I had sold advertising for the radio station and for a trade magazine. I just had that gift.
“And, real estate was booming in the early 2000s here. It was going well until the recession and the crash in 2008. I was keeping two builders busy and then it all disappeared.”
All along Pierce, 51, kept his bass rods handy, fishing in jackpot tournaments and also several regional circuits with Tucker, his brother. They cashed lots of checks, but knew they couldn’t feed a family as pro bass fishermen.
But with the housing crash came the realization that maybe fishing could help the budget while the market took a few years to rebuild.
“I sure didn’t plan it, but it beats anything I’ve ever done. I can tell you my office is the most incredible place in the world.
“Now, I have not been to every bass lake or every trout river, but I’ve been to enough to know what we’ve got here in Branson with these two fisheries is pretty special. We’ve got pristine water, hills, trees, wildlife and a great place to live.”
No one argues.
Pierce stays busy from March through Thanksgiving most years. It’s every day on one of the two fisheries, and sometimes both.
“That’s the most incredible part of it, it can be a summer day when we start on Table Rock near the dam for smallmouth early in the morning, then switch to Taneycomo below the dam about 9 a.m.,” he said. “You catch bass and just about the time it starts to get hot (weather), you switch to the tailwater with those cold flows. Then we catch trout and they go home with both.
“How do you beat that? I don’t know any place where it’s so easy to hit both spots in the same day. That actually works pretty well because there gets to be a lot of boat traffic on the lake as the day goes along.”
It’s spin fishing, but with all sorts of combinations of baits, lures and flies. It can be a full family in his Alweld center console trout boat.
“We can probably put four to six in that boat,” he said. “But really after three or four, it’s better to split into a situation with two boats, two guides.
“I’ve got a strong network of guides so we can take big groups, big parties and stay together or in the same area of the lake or river. It’s a blast.
“It’s a job. It’s work. I’m a fishing guide, not a fisherman. So when people say I go fishing every day, it’s only partly true. But I love this. How could you not?
“We go onto the lake where you see eagles, different species of herons and even loons during part of the year. It’s something fun every day.
“How about getting to see a 6-year-old catch his first bass? Or hear him scream when there’s a 3-pound rainbow pulling line off his reel?”
Raw beginners are fun to get in the boat.
“I like teaching,” he said. “Oh, and the young ladies, they are the best learners. They are attentive listeners. They pick it all up much quicker than the boys. They are too hard headed.
“I have a lot of days where the girls or ladies out fish the guys. It’s a blast to teach anyone, though.
“Our fishing is not tough. Of course, the bite is better some days than others, but there are ways for even a novice to fish that they really have the fish on before they know that they’ve done anything.
“We can bass fish over suspended schools and the line is tight and the fish just eat the lure and swim off with it. There’s nothing more to it than just reeling. So to go catch a bass in that scenario is not hard.”
There are more exciting strikes.
“Oh, yes, in the (bass) spawn and that’s in the spring, the bass or in shallow water and it can be an aggressive strike, sometimes on top,” Pierce said. “But we find different ways for our customers to get bit (by a bass) and there are some great fish caught.
“I don’t think you can beat the fight of our smallmouth bass in Table Rock. It’s just an awesome bite and fight. Of course, the blacks and the spotted (Kentucky) bass are good, too.
“I’m an avid bass fisherman and I have been to one end of Table Rock to the other, but it’s like a new lake every day. It’s such a massive area that you never feel like you know it all.”
The trout fishery is really two areas. There are the regulations areas where trout must be out of the slot (under 12 inches or over 20) to be kept.
“That’s from Fall Creek to the dam,” Pierce said. “You are probably going to catch one or two 20-inch trout every time you go into that area. It’s really good if you are after big fish.
“If someone is interested in keeping fish, we might spend most of the day below the special regulations.”
His trout boat is solid, good in the big releases below Table Rock Dam. Pierce can handle the low water and the high flows when there is heavy hydro electric generation.
“The boat is 23 feet, wide and does not rock,” he said. “My clients like it because they can stand up to fish. It literally does not move.”
It’s a fun day for Pierce.
“I teach you how to (trout) fish,” he said. “I’m not the guide who hooks the fish and hands over the rod. I’ll teach you how.”
Clients get to pick the fishery. It breaks down pretty even, though. Both trout fishing in Taneycomo or bass fishing on Table Rock are strong.
“I started keeping track of my guide days in 2009 and I think what I’ve found out is that it’s about 55/45 toward the trout fishing,” he said. “Either one is pretty awesome and in the May spawn, bass fishing is really incredible.”
It sure beats trying to be a pro bass fisherman.
“I had that dream,” he said. “A lot of us do. But you do the math, not many in a bass tournament field are going to make a living. I thought about trying it, but I just didn’t think I’d make enough to support a family.”
Guiding was the perfect compromise.
“I’m on the water,” he said. “I’m in fishing. I’ve been fortunate. The docks have been good to me and filled in a lot of days.”
Most of his work is repeat business and through word of mouth. Pierce stays booked.
“I’ve got a network of the top guides to help me,” he said. “We work together, help each other on what the bite is each day and do group trips together. We share our information. I know about some who just don’t want to do that, but the way to do things is to help everyone catch fish.”
It’s clear you will likely catch your limit with Pierce. He’ll make it fun. There will be hollering and yelps as the fish are netted.
“Oh, yes we make it fun,” he said. “How could you not?”
Pierce said: “I could still be shoeing a horse!”