December 26-27, 2020 we completed the Current River Challenge.
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.”
The first ever Ozark Streams Film Festival went off without a hitch! None of it could have happened without great film makers, knowledgable speakers, an amazing crowd and of course our Ozark Streams. We also want to thanks Friend of the Ozark Riverways for helping us make this happen.
Below is the entire program. Enjoy!
Friends of Ozark Riverways / Film by Tom Malkowicz
Ozark Stories: Meet Manley Smith / Film by Ryan Hanlon, Route 3 Films
Ozark Stories: Come Back to the Ozark Riverways / Film by Ryan Hanlon, Route 3 Films
Ozark Hellbender Conservation / Film by Beyond Motion Productions for the St. Louis Zoo
Ozark National Scenic Riverways – Beyond the Surface / Film by NPS Submerged Resources Center
The Current / Film by Mark and Tom Malkowicz, Where’s Malko
Standing on the Current / Film by Mark and Tom Malkowicz, Where’s Malko
Return to the Current / Film by Mark and Tom Malkowicz, Where’s Malko
My Ozarks Episode 1: Jerica / Film by Ian McGee
Wild River / Film by Alex Turley, Focal Imaging
Current Event / Film by Chris Orndoff and Aaron Vas
Spring-Fed / Film by Jon Link
Friends of Ozark Riverways and Where’s Malko are excited to announce the very first Ozark Streams Film Festival! As the first film festival solely dedicated to honoring beautiful Ozark streams of Missouri, we hope you will join us at the historic Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis where we will celebrate the Current, Jacks Fork, and Eleven Point Rivers! Ozark Streams Film Festival will screen several short films (with guest commentary between films), followed by Q&A.
The festival will include films and presentaions from the St. Louis Zoo, Missouri Department of Conservation, the National Park Service, Route 3 Films and More.
The film festival also has a film competition and the winning film will be chosen as the grand finale! We are looking for films that share a compelling story and capture the natural beauty of Missouri’s Ozark streams. Films should be no longer than 3 minutes and filmed only in Missouri. Films will be judged by 4 categories: Cinematography, Editing, Audio/Music, and Story-line. Please send a link to your original YouTube or Vimeo film to the following email address: OzarkStreamsFilms@gmail.com Deadline for entry is May 21, 2018!
Please note: Because many of our beautiful Ozark streams are protected and administered by State and Federal Agencies, it is important filmmakers follow all rules and regulations as they apply to filming on these rivers (e.g. US Forest Service, National Park Service, Missouri Department of Conservation, etc).
Get your tickets here https://www.landmarktheatres.com/st-louis/tivoli-theatre/private-screenings
By Thomas and Mark Malkowicz
Fly fishing has given us a whole new reason to explore new places in the Ozarks, such as the White River. It looks a lot like other large Ozark streams, but the White River also has a western feel about it. It can be much wider in spots, and has a bedrock bottom in places. We started in the upper part of the river at Twin Bridge, which is home to the native Bronzeback, also known as the smallmouth bass. Twelve miles downriver, past the massive Rainbow Spring, the White River turns into world-class trout water.
By Thomas and Mark Malkowicz
On April 30, 2017, two inches of water flooded the Aker’s Ferry Canoe Rental shop. The Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR) and the surrounding communities were hit hard by this year’s historic flooding. Yet just a few weeks later, the outfitters were up and running; the park service had re-opened many of the access points on the upper Current River; and we were headed back to our favorite Ozark stream.
Paddleboarding has somewhat changed the way we approach backcountry travel. Growing up canoeing rivers, we could never get enough; our trips got longer, our boat got heavier and heavier. When we were not paddling, we were packing backpacks with ultralight gear and hiking deep into the wilderness to find seclusion and a sense of exploration. The boards bring it all together, there is a sense of freedom when traveling light with only the minimal gear needed.
by Thomas & Mark Malkowicz
One of the things that drew us to stand-up paddle boarding was the fact that it was a new sport. Even before our boards arrived, we started researching places around St. Louis that would be interesting to paddle, and we noticed there wasn’t much information out there.
The most rewarding parts about our new hobby was that it gave us a reason to explore parts of our city that we had never been to, and look at familiar places in a new way.
By Mark Malkowicz
This is a story and video of how my girlfriend Rachel and I traveled across Death Valley from Las Vegas, Nevada to Lonepine, California with hopes of reaching the summit of Mount Whitney. Standing at 14,508 feet, Mount Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. Our plan was to take the standard route known as the Whitney Trail but having left the first week of June, the trail wasn’t yet clear of snow. The snowy conditions forced us up by way of “the chute”, a winter or spring variation of the route.
The chute is a steep band of snow leading to the ridge that would eventually take us to the summit. In the early morning hours, the chute is icy, making it ideal for cramponing our way up. Later in the day however, the hot California sun warms it and the ice turns to a wet slush. Our plan was to get up while it was frozen and back down before it got too wet.
This was Rachel’s first climb but despite her lack of experience, she was strong all throughout the summit day, making her a killer climbing partner. Not sure if either of us would have made it without the other and I’m looking forward to getting back on a mountain with her someday.
By Thomas Malkowicz
Full throttle across the Caribbean Sea, our destination was the small island of Caye Caulker. Every seat on the water taxi was full, and, from a small window, Belize City was disappearing behind the boat. My wife, JoLee, and I are in Central America, on a 21-mile trip north into waters that become incredibly clear and blue. Small green islands are stretched out all along the horizon. Compared to the heat of Belize City, the air became noticeably fresh and cool as we approached the island.
Blackbeard Island National Wildlife RefugeThe free Belize Illustrated map I was reading during this 45-minute voyage was filled with information that explained why this area is a destination for people from all over the globe. It states that, “Belize is a haven for abundant flora and fauna … Belize has the lowest population density in Central America … the climate is pretty much near perfect … and Belizeans make you feel as welcome and comfortable, like nowhere else.” Perfect!
The day before, while waiting in line at the airport a gentleman had advised us to skip Belize City and hop on another plane. He explained it would save us a lot of trouble if we just flew to Caye Caulker. But being on the water is why we came here, and it only seems proper to explore this tropical setting aboard a boat.