For our latest video of the week, we had the chance to sit down with Andrew McNeece of Bluff Line Media and talk about his latest film of the “Ozarks on the Fly” series. We also got to hear from both of the guides featured in the film.
FlyLords: What gave you the idea to film on this stretch of water for Vol. 5?
Andrew: This “Ozarks on the Fly” was a tough one. I had the bright idea to do a story on the recent introduction of Bonneville Cutthroat to the Norfork tailwater. The local TU chapter has been working hard the past few years importing eggs and digging artificial redds in hopes of growing a self-propagating population of those amazing fish. It would have been great except, as target fishing can go, we did not catch any Bonnevilles! For whatever reason they eluded us, and it’s difficult to make a film about a fish of which you have no footage! However, all was not lost. Guide Brad Smith is a true angler, so we did have footage of some great brown trout! I long thought it would be cool to do an ‘above the lake, below the lake’ story, so plan B? The North Fork of the White in Missouri is quite a different river than the tailwater, and I thought that dichotomy was interesting. From there, the story began to take on a life of its own. From the Henry Schoolcraft expedition to the building and impact of the dam, we briefly hit a lot of topics on this one. Somehow it all came together and I feel fortunate to have covered one of the best fisheries in the Ozarks with such great fishermen. I think the film, though a big departure from what was originally intended, tells a more encompassing, holistic story that has lasting value.
FlyLords: How have the dams positively or negatively impacted the fishing?
Brad Smith: The initial damming of a natural free flowing river had both negative and positive impacts to the area’s economy and natural landscape. While dam construction created an influx of new jobs to the area, local farms and homesteads had to be relocated from the valleys to be filled by Lake Norfork. The ability to control the massive floods that had impacted areas all the way to Arkansas’s Delta region were now able to be controlled allowing commerce to operate more smoothly with less fear of massive floods.
We all love the cold water fishery dam construction created now, but at the time of construction, the area’s residents hardly saw trout as a fair trade for the loss of all the native small mouth bass habitat. Today, the lakes and tail waters below are the lifeblood of the local economy creating countless outdoor opportunities.
FlyLords: How do you see the fishery changing over the next 50 years?
Brad Fitzgerald: The biggest question on the North Fork of the White right now are the rainbows and the impact of the flood and the stocked stripers. The rainbows haven’t been stocked since the 60s, but the numbers have been down from those two factors. The riparian corridor took a huge beating after the flood of 2017, so since then the water temperatures have been higher in the summer. Also, the stripers have been coming up the river in greater force the last few years. So, will it stay an amazing trout stream or will it become more of a striper river? I’m partial to great trout fishing and hope it is restored back to that, but it sure is fun to catch big stripers in a small river.
FlyLords: What type of techniques were you using to catch these trout?
Brad Smith: We mainly fished large 5-8” streamers on sink tip lines while filming. The Norfork is short, only 4.8 miles before it dumps into the White River, but is great streamer water when we’re seeing some generation. With an abundance of stocked trout, larger more mature fish have an easy time growing huge on the hatchery supplied meals making streamer fishing a great way to target mainly larger fish.
FlyLords: What’s next for Ozarks on the Fly?
Andrew: On New Year’s Day we released the sixth episode. This one tells the story of two brothers, Tom and Mark Malkowicz, who have grown up floating and fishing these rivers together. I went out with them for a backcountry journey along one of Missouri’s most beautiful spring-fed rivers to catch wild rainbows and smallies. Because we spent a few days camping and floating, the film takes you along for a more immersive experience. I’m really excited about this one! I plan on making four more episodes to finish out the series over the next year or so. Once all ten episodes are complete, I’ll release a supercut. I hope the series inspires new and seasoned anglers alike to enjoy the ample opportunities this region has to offer while also promoting respectful and sustainable fishing habits.
Be sure to keep up with Bluff Line Media on YouTube to see their future episodes!
This interview was conducted by FlyLords team member Conner Grimes (@doublehaulmedia).