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Kyle Kosovich takes clients on river excursions in handmade longboats.
Kyle Kosovich takes clients on river excursions in handmade longboats.

After 5: Puppet Masters on the River

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As winter conditions thaw, fishermen in the Ozarks are returning to the waters.

Even Gov. Jay Nixon got in on the action, casting his woolly bugger fly for trout on a chilly opening day March 1 at Bennett Spring State Park in Lebanon.

Days earlier, Cycles Unlimited owner Ashley Burchfield floated down the lower North Fork River near Tecumseh on a guided overnight float-fishing trip. Burchfield grew up 15 miles from the river and wanted to bring back childhood memories of weekend canoe excursions. This time, he hired Kyle Kosovich of Longboat Outfitters LLC to lead the way.

“To have an option to go fish it with a pro was a very cool way to do it,” says Burchfield, who’s an avid fisherman and calls fly fishing his primary game.

Kosovich started Longboat Outfitters two years ago, putting to work his education of fish and wildlife biology and a skill of handcrafting longboats.

As a river guide, Kosovich aims to renew an Ozarks tradition of multiday river trips with White River johnboats.

On the overnight trips, which range between $600 and $1,000 per person, clients may sleep on cots arranged on a gravel bar and eat dinner over an open fire. “You get to fall asleep with the whip-poor-wills and wake up with the frogs,” Kosovich says.

During the day, fishermen stay afloat in Kosovich’s handmade longboats, which are capable of carrying heavy loads across shallow areas and were used around the region before canoes gained popularity.

“Getting to do what these guys did years ago is a hell of an opportunity,” says Burchfield, who’s planning a July trip with Longboat Outfitters.

Kosovich and his guides are responsible for setting up camp, which may include accommodations such as wall tents and Dutch ovens, for hot biscuits, cobbler or apple pie.

“The food is always really important,” he says.

So is education.

“A guide is much more than just showing you how to catch fish. You learn a lot on river systems,” says Kosovich, who is studying at Missouri State University for his graduate degree in geology, geography and planning. “I like to teach people how to identify the hot spots, by reading the water, looking at the bank. You’re looking for habitat, so you have to know a little bit about your fish.”

For instance, small-mouth bass enjoy deep runs of fast water with rocks and places to lay low in the middle of the day.

“It’s all a big science experiment,” he adds. “You go out there and think it’s going to be the best day, and you get skunked. That’s what keeps you coming back. If you had it figured out every time, the game would be over. It’s all about the hunt.”

Each client has his own motive for heading out into the elements, Kosovich says.

Others who have enlisted Kosovich for his tours include Jeff Hutchens of Hutchens Industries, Phil Lilley of Lilley’s Landing Resort in Branson, Jay Nicholson of The Nicholson Agency and attorney James Owen. Clients from Kansas City, Colorado and Chicagoland also have visited Ozarks’ waters under Kosovich’s direction.

Burchfield, who fishes about 30 days a year, is in it for the hunt.

“I like to sight fish, placing a fly and watching how the fish reacts. In the presentation of a fly rod, you can get pretty creative and do some magical stuff with it,” he says. “It’s like a puppet show. You’re the fly master, and you have this huge puppet display with the fly rod and sometimes you get a sucker to eat it. It’s a real treat.”

The hunt, however, does not always return a catch. The North Fork wasn’t kind to Burchfield last month.

“That’s why they call it fishing,” he says. “We cast a whole bunch. Catching the fish is icing on the cake.”[[In-content Ad]]

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