Most fishing guides dream of reeling in success to trade up for bigger and bigger boats with monster horsepower engines.
But Kyle Kosovich of Springfield launched his outfitter service in the last year to resurrect the laid-back river float trips of bygone decades. With the backing and blessing of friends and family, he built his ideal watercraft – a 20-foot longboat powered only by his own brawn, brain and paddle.
“A canoe is just hard to guide out of,” Kosovich said on a guide trip last week, admitting he had even tried tying two together. “And not everybody can wade fish on the North Fork; it’s a slippery, fast river. So I did a lot of research. I wasn’t a big fan of the drift boat since they were designed for fast western streams-- with high sides. I had oared a few, and they are tough to oar down the river, especially when a gust of wind blows – and it usually blows upstream.”
He found some plans online of the old White River jon boats made famous by Jim Owen and Charlie Barnes when the floaters could cruise 250 miles from Branson to Cotter, AR. Once the White River was dammed for flood control, the non-motorized jons disappeared, but the lure of the longboat folklore lived on. Kosovich just mulled over handcrafting such a boat and guiding from it, until his friends spurred him on with a surprise “board meeting” at the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks office where he works.
“Long story short I went in there all frustrated and flustered thinking I was having to do a big presentation,” Kosovich said, “and I saw all my friends sitting around the table and didn’t even see all these sheets of plywood leaned up against the wall.”
He didn’t finally understand their plan until one friend said, “Here are your board members,” pointing to the plywood.
As a native Ozarks river rat, growing up on Bryant Creek and the North Fork of the White River, he offers adventures on those waterways plus the Eleven Point, Gasconade and James rivers all year long. With a degree in Fish and Wildlife Biology from Missouri State University, and current and past projects with the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Watershed Committee, he is an avid instructor about river ecosystems as well as flyfishing.
“I like to tell kids that trout come from trees,” he said, relating that children (and adults) can better visualize the interdependence of nature when they can understand that a tree leaf falling into the water becomes the food for an insect that then feeds fish. With a practiced hop out of the boat, he likes to seine a spot of the river bottom to show the crawfish, scuds and other underwater critters to clients – both to choose the appropriate fly and to remind them of all the creatures depending on the river.
Kosovich worked with the conservation department as an undergrad leading stream sampling crews around the state, which heightened his appreciation of the diverse water that marks Missouri. He joined the watershed program as an Americorps volunteer in 2006 and now is projects assistant for the Watershed Management Plan Grant. His Longboat Outfitters, in cooperation with Ozark Regional Land Trust, has received a Missouri Teaming with Wildlife mini grant from the Conservation Federation of Missouri for re-invigorating the Bryant Creek and North Fork Conservation Opportunity Areas.
Kosovich tailors each trip to the client, following their preferences whether to focus on the world-class fishing or to allow opportunities for caving, arrowhead hunting, frog gigging or just relaxing on the water or by a campfire – especially while he cooks. For a day trip that might be a quickly prepared shore lunch of chicken fajitas set to sizzling over a small butane stove – with even a table packed into the longboat. For an overnight campout, dinner might be cornmeal catfish with all the fixings, hickory-grilled steak or spaghetti with homemade beer or wine. As a lean 25-year-old who is admittedly always hungry, food is an important part of the total sensory experience – whatever the special dietary needs.
To Kosovich, a float trip is a one-of-a-kind adventure that can never be rated by the number of fish caught. He advises setting aside more than one day to allow for changes in river and weather patterns and just to “let the wild river wash away that entire residue of civilization locked up inside from work and real life.”
Recently he and his wife, Bethany, hosted a couple celebrating their first anniversary for an overnight float trip, providing the tents, food and all equipment. The trip was something close to both their hearts since they both started fly tying and fishing at a young age – and actually fell in love on the river.
“In high school I found out there was another student right there in Dora who loved to fly fish – and here was this gorgeous girl,” Kosovich remembers. Growing up on her family’s River of Life Farm, a premier 350-acre resort along the miracle mile of the North Fork’s wild river management area, Bethany agreed to a wager for a kiss on their first date – spent flyfishing on the river. She had thought she was pretty safe, he said, since he had not caught a fish in their first few spots. The two dated through high school and married while attending MSU’s West Plains campus before re-locating to Springfield. She now serves as children’s small group coordinator at the Fellowship Bible Church in Rogersville.
Paddling easily down river, Kosovich said he will keep assessing and tweaking his unique new business. “It all comes back to a bunch of friends helping me start my dream, “ he said. “That’s why I wanted to call this boat ‘Amicus’ because it’s Latin for friendship. We’ll keep doing the best we can to provide the best Ozarks
tradition and see where it goes.”
Fishing the North Fork of the White
The North Fork of the White River is unlike any other stream in Missouri, or the whole Midwest for that matter. It is a freestone stream formed by natural runoff and seven springs – Topaz, Spring Creek, Blue, North Fork, Rainbow and Althea, giving it the resemblance of western, mountain waters although located in the heart of the Ozarks.
Another unique aspect is the fact that it is home to rainbow and brown trout. Most Ozarks waters are stocked with trout but the North Fork hasn’t been stocked with rainbows since the 1960s. They are wild rainbows, born and raised in the spring-fed river. Brown trout, on the other hand, are stocked annually. Several thousand browns are put in every spring.
Food forage includes stone nymphs, a variety of mayfly nymphs and midge larva, caddis flies, sculpin, crawfish and many types of small fish forage including darters, shiners and creek chubs.
The North Fork has been called the slickest river to wade in the Ozarks because of its hard, slick bedrock bottom. There is plenty of gravel in areas, but most of the long, slow runs have a slick bottom with long runner trenches about the width of your boot. These can grab you and trip you up if you’re not careful.
Most of the time the water is clear, and the trout spook, leery of anglers and the plop of their fly lines on the surface of the water. Stealth fishing is a must, even to the point of crawling up on some pockets when the sun is bright and the water calm. You should pay close attention to your attire. Don’t wear bright colored shirts, jackets or hats.
Anglers have to treat these trout like what they are – wild trout. They aren’t ignorant stockers that will take the first thing that floats down the river that looks good to eat. They will only take lures and flies that are presented in their natural state.
That’s why this river is so special.