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River wild

7/2/2010

Stephen Browning, who, among other things, fishes the Bassmaster Elite Series, keeps finding himself in the strangest of circumstances.

He was a contestant on Wild Rules, an outdoor survivor show that aired on ESPN2 in 2003, and he recently floated North America's largest river for a show called Mississippi River Quest scheduled to premiere Saturday, July 3, at 7 p.m. ET on the National Geographic Channel.

PHOTO GALLERY

River wild

Browning, Bill Bowles, and Marcus Eriksen used canoes, kayaks, a jet boat and a pontoon craft to navigate the 2,300 miles from its headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico.

When asked to explain what the experience was like, Browning was uncharacteristically short on words.

"What was that like?" he said laughing.

Browning grew up on the Arkansas River in Arkansas close to the lower half of the Mississippi. His idea of the river was a high, muddy stream that flows through the Delta. The top of the river, he said, is nothing like that.

"It's this pristine, scenic relaxing type of enjoyment," Browning said. "It was a challenge, but danger was not a big presence at the beginning. As the journey took us further down the river and we experienced the flood waters and navigational hazards, it was a little more true to the picture a lot of people have in their heads."

The three men spent the first five days in a canoe, and the next 450 miles in a Triton 20-foot center console jet boat, with Mercury 110hp motor. But the majority of the trip was in a 30-foot pontoon boat.

"That seems like a big boat, but it's just a grain of salt in a salt shaker on the lower half of the Mississippi River," he said.

Browning said the trip wasn't a test of survival and the show is more about the people who live off the river, than the river itself. The group stopped at museums and factories along the river, talking with the occasional commercial fisherman and farmers who still use the Mississippi as their source of income.

"It was interesting to get a piece of their lifestyle," Browning said. "We'd stop in these communities and bum a ride to grocery and gas station. It's pretty funny seeing three guys walking down town with 6 gas jugs, looking for help."

They were able to do some fishing, which Browning said helped "kept my sanity intact," including a guided trip for catfish in Memphis.

"Our main goal was to catch a big musky in the upper regions, but weather -- in particular an October snow -- kind of put the brakes on that," Browning said. "We caught some northern pike, which we as bass fishermen tend to kind of think of as a pain because they tear up your baits, but Marcus and Bill were not avid anglers and they loved it."

The trip was not straight through, and took quite a bit longer than expected because the pontoon boat was significantly slower than expected, but eventually Browning, Bowles and Eriksen chugged past mile marker zero and into the gulf of Mexico.

"It was one of those feelings where you were sad the trip was over because we had a lot of fun," Browning said. "It was a very eye opening experience from a standpoint of learning a more about the Mississippi River and people along the way. It should make for a great show."