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Wild Side: Extreme trout fishing in N.C.

Brian Wilcox fishin for brook trout in North Carolina supervised by his dogs. Dan Wilcox photo.

Twenty years ago my brother John and his friend Dan Heindl started a Boy Scout troop in Madison Wisconsin to teach boys character and about the outdoors. My nephews Brian and Patrick became Eagle Scouts interested in kayaking. The Boy Scout troop merged into an Explorer Post with boys and girls who were interested in kayaking and rock climbing. My nephew Brian became an expert kayaker who won a junior Midwest whitewater championship.

I accompanied the Explorer post on a number of float trips down northern Wisconsin rivers in my open canoe and slalomed down some class 3 whitewater runs that pumped me up with plenty of adrenaline. Looking back upstream after some pitches down the Red and Wolf Rivers, I wondered how I made it down without getting Maytagged (kayaker jargon for getting stuck in a hydraulic back-roller as if in a washing machine).

My nephew Brian went on to be a kayaking and rafting guide on the Chattooga River in South Carolina and north Georgia. Remember that big sinister-looking river in the movie Deliverance? Brian has done a number of first descents down really steep creeks in the Appalachians, hiking his kayak into wilderness areas, launching off rocks and plummeting down waterfalls. Now that he's married and a father, he says that he's growing more conservative in his kayaking adventures.

Last year Brian visited us here in Wisconsin and became interested in trout fishing. He got into fly fishing around his home near Asheville, North Carolina. His friend Keith, a native mountain guy and expert kayaker, and anglers at the local fly fishing shop showed Brian how to catch the native brook trout. Now he's an avid fly fisherman.

I visited my nephew Brian, his wife Elizabeth and their new baby Grace in Asheville a couple weeks ago. I looked up good friends Brad and Deenie from many moons ago who own a greenhouse and a home in the mountains near Asheville. Brad showed us their cabin on the south slope of Black Mountain. Their property is the last private land on a stream with Pisgah National Forest above it. The name of the stream is sworn to secrecy and with limited access, there's still a healthy population of native brook trout.

Brian and I hiked past Brad's cabin up a valley with really steep sides. The stream cascades down through car-sized boulders. Tulip poplars and sweet gum trees tower over 100 feet tall. Sadly, all the big hemlock trees have died from infestation by the wooly adelgid insect. Rhododendron and mountain laurel form a tangle of brush along the creek thicker than any tag alder swamp in Wisconsin. Spring flowers carpeted the forest floor. It was steamy and the tree frogs were loud.

We wondered at first if there were trout in the stream but Brian caught a 10-inch brook trout in the first pool he fished. We leap-frogged up the stream, climbing mossy boulders up and around cliffs and cascades. Each pool was different and a challenge to fish. We caught a nice batch of trout on small grasshopper flies. Driving over scary steep roads, we adjourned to Brad and Deenie's house for a fine dinner of trout and Thai food.

I enjoy trout fishing around here but it is pretty leisurely compared to the combination of rock climbing, brush busting and precision fly casting on North Carolina mountain brook trout streams. I'm off now on a pilgrimage to the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage for the Wisconsin fishing opener, back in familiar territory.

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