Photos and Video by Andrew McNeece, Bluff Line Media
Story by Thomas Malkowicz
Fog drifted over the river, heavy dew drenched every surface, and then warm rays of morning light penetrated our camp. This was the kind of atmosphere that a filmmaker dreams of. It just so happened that a new friend, Andrew McNeece, along with a few cameras, had joined my brother Mark and me on a wilderness paddle trip down one of our favorite Ozark streams. Our plan was to spend three days and two nights, fishing and paddling our way down 20 miles of river, and Andrew was along to capture the experience. He was on a quest to produce films focusing on fly fishing in the Ozarks, each story was about a different stream and the anglers obsessed with it. His goal was to produce 10 films in a series he was calling Ozark on the Fly, and the footage he was collecting on this trip was to become Volume 6.
This was going to be a little different than the previous stories because we not only going to be fly fishing, but we would also be paddling and camping along the river. Long before we loaded our canoe and paddle board with camping gear, Andrew let us know he had never been on an overnight paddle trip, but he was enthusiastic to join us on a trip, “When I met Mark, he told me about “Where’s Malko,” so I checked out your adventures. I wanted to include an episode in the series featuring a backcountry float, and you two maybe the best pick in the Ozarks for that.”
We weren’t worried, introducing people to this kind of experience was something we had become familiar with and Andrew seemed like a dude that would enjoy it. While Mark and I were very accustomed to paddling, fishing and even filming our adventures, this was the first time we had brought along a filmmaker.
This was October in the Ozarks, so the weather could have been anything from frosty morning in the low 30s, to warm sunny days in the 70s, and that is exactly what we got. After leaving our first frosty camp, the weather quickly got better and luckily so did the fishing. It was a perfect day on the river; fall colors, blue sky and even bluer waters. By noon, we were starting to figure what out what kind of flies the trout were targeting and at what depth to fish them. We stopped a few times along the way to visit a spring, eat lunch and fly the drone, but most of the day was spent with our lines in the water and fish in our nets.
As the sun got lower, we started looking for a place to set up our second night camp. After the two tents were pitched, we started a fire and heated up the cast iron skillet. We wanted to make sure Andrew appreciated and remembers his first few backcountry nights, so we grilled up a giant T-bone steak that barely fit in the skillet. We spent the rest of the night enjoying ourselves and telling stories — some of them were even true.
The next morning started with the normal routine of coffee, fishing at camp and then loading up the boats. We were on the river early in hopes of making the most out of our last day on the river. The reason we had decided on this specific river was because we had a chance at multiple species. We were hoping the weather would warm up enough to wake up the Smallmouth Bass. The conditions were perfect, and by mid-day we were not only catching bass we were able to jump in the water ourselves. The day ended with a surprise when Mark yelled out that he had another smallie on the line, when he finally got the fish his net, he realized he had not only caught his first Walleye, but did it on camera.
At the end of this perfect weekend, Andrew wanted to interview us on camera before heading back home to Arkansas. I noticed a theme in the answers that Mark and I came up with. As much as we loved fly fishing, it wasn’t the main reason we spend so much time on rivers. Of course, catching wild trout and native smallmouth is always rewarding, but so is watching a heard of whitetail deer look for a way to cross the river, or a Great Blue Heron feed on bait fish across from our camp. We enjoy sharing experiences like this, and introducing people to Ozark rivers was one of the main reasons we started our blog, Where’s Malko, and it was why Andrew had decided to spend the weekend with us. I wondered what motivated Andrew to keep producing fly fishing films and he explained, “There are always those favorite scenes, sequences where everything falls into place make for smooth editing, and it’s exciting to see that. Beyond the process, I love releasing these films. Sharing them especially with those involved. I like the thought of these films being around for folks to enjoy many years from now as well.”