Au Sable River Fishing Report [22 September 2005]
B and I were fortunate enough to spend last Thursday streamer fishing the Au Sable main branch with author and veteran guide Bob Linsenman. The weather was mostly overcast and occasionally quite rainy, we were teamed up with a fishing and writing expert and his sturdy drift boat, so we expected a fully rewarding experience. And we did have a great day on the river. The trip was arranged earlier this spring as a birthday present for B, so we had been looking forward to this day with Bob for a few months. B had made arrangements to stay at Gates' Lodge for the long weekend while we enjoyed both the Au Sable and Manistee rivers.
We both enjoy Bob's writing and recognize his vast experience and expertise in a trout stream. We own and have read most of Bob's books on various technical flyfishing subjects and we tend to flip to his magazine articles first. Though his books are mostly focused on the 'how-to' and 'where-to' aspects of fly fishing, his shorter stories and essays appearing in magazines are often lighter, humorous and are often a delightful mixture of actual experience and fictional embellishment. He's currently working on a novel. We found him to be just as witty and knowledgeable in person as he appears on the page. We've fished with guides a couple of times before and have had great times, with or without catching a lot of fish. But this float trip provided a level of flyfishing and intellectual satisfaction and comfort well beyond those experiences. I've added Bob to my personal short list of favorite flyfishing acquaintances that I'd hang out with again - in a heartbeat - if given the chance.
Admittedly, B and I have not fished the Au Sable River as much as obsessive-compulsive, flyfishing Michigan residents should. Though we certainly appreciate its beauty and large fish population, we've also found it to be slightly more popular and busier than we normally prefer - with both fishermen and canoe traffic. However, I think we enjoyed the river sufficiently on this trip to overlook any volume of other folks sharing the stream. After a couple of days on the 'big water,' we both commented that we expect more frequent trips to the lower Au Sable in the not-so-distant future. We had never really explored very far below the confluence of the South and Main branches and found the larger portions of this river, below Mio, to be absolutely spellbinding. The gorgeous and 'fishy-looking' water of the bigger river is plentiful and it's clear that stories of huge and healthy trout lurking in every deep, dark pool and logjam are probably accurate.
Like most other Michigan streams his fall, the Au Sable's water levels have been well-below average. For the bulk of September, the river has been flowing at about 50-60% of its normal volume - so the water was low and clear for our long weekend of fishing. Low and clear is not usually predictive of good fishing, but we did have the overcast and cloudy skies on our side.
We met Bob at his fly shop, then followed him to our put-in at M-33 in Mio. B strung up her 9'6" fast-action 7 weight rod with a long 25' heavy sink-tip line. I rigged my 9' super-stiff Lamiglas 6 weight with a similary heavy and long 250-grain sink tip line. We anticipated a day of chucking big chickadee- and kitten-sized streamers and needed long heavy sink tips to get them down quickly and to keep them down during our jerk-strip retrieves. We also rigged up a couple of lighter 5 weight rods with floating line in case we decided to switch to dry flies or nymphs during our float. We loaded our gear into Bob's big aluminum drift boat and shoved off. B and I started casting immediately as we were drifted along a very nice looking run within seconds from the boat ramp.
We drifted downstream with birthday-girl B in the front and I in the back of the boat. Bob deftly maneuvered the boat downriver into optimized lanes for casting toward the left or right or both sides simultaneously. He directed one or both of us to switch sides frequently as we came upon extra-likely pools, runs and riffles - we quickly followed his orders realizing the knowledge and experience speaking. Two other boats were drifting this same section on Thursday - one from Bob's shop and another by a guide that Bob knew. All 3 boats leap-frogged each other downriver - we recognized the couples in the other two boats as others staying at Gates Lodge with us. We casted stacked blondes, madonnas, bunny-strip leaches, wooly buggers, trick-or-treats, and JJ specials among other big good-looking flies. Before long, the skies darkened and a light rain began to fall. Bob suggested donning our rain jackets. I appreciated his attentiveness to our comfort. I suspect he recognized our hyper-focused, obsessive fishing demeanors, having been there himself, and correctly assumed that we'd forget things like rain jackets, food, oxygen and bathroom breaks were it not for his sane reminders. At many points during the day, he'd question whether or not our shoulders, arms and/or hands were cramped, realizing that throwing heavy lines and big, wind-resistant streamers can take a physical toll after awhile. Oh sure, our limbs got tired and sore, but we really didn't want to stop and waste this valuable fishing opportunity. We were OK with paying for it later. After the rain stopped, we pulled into the Meadow Springs access and Bob whipped up a very satisfying lunch of grilled pork chops, potato salad and cole slaw to warm and re-energize us. After a short rest, we were ready to get back to the river and, hopefully, to the fish.
When passing a really nice-looking pool, Bob would occasionally mutter, "Come on baby. Come on fish..." I imagined this was usually because he had a long and personal relationship with its residents, so I paid particular attention to casting well at those points. Bob was very complimentary of our casting and our persistence, though both features had declined over the course of the day. We moved quite a few fish, some really nice ones. I had a rainbowy-looking fish of maybe 16" or so chase my fly briefly, but I did not lead him far enough into temptation. We hooked and caught maybe 8-10 browns and rainbows in the 12" range and had a quite a few short strikes. I caught one small brookie by the wrong end. Coming in backwards, he initially convinced us that he was a larger fish. We didn't catch any fish bigger than 12-13" but we did bag a grand slam - catching rainbows, browns and the one little brookie. Bob and B at least got to see a really big fish. It was a gigantic brown trout that Bob guessed weighed maybe 10 lbs. or so. I missed the whole thing since I was casting off the other side of the boat. I just heard the simultaneous "Oh MY GOD!! Hoe. Lee. SHIT!" exclaimations as the big fish came into the clear and smashed the surface after something. We dropped anchor for a few minutes to regain composure and take a few casts toward his location. Without results.
As we neared our take-out at Comins Flats, the sun was retreating over the horizon but I was wishing the day wouldn't end. Trying to prolong the experience, I even got a second wind of sorts and my casting started to improve after it had declined from my overworked arm muscles. Bob beached the boat and I reluctantly got out and packed up my gear. We were tired; there was no denying it. We never switched to our smaller rods or smaller flies; we had continuously chucked big flies on heavy lines for 7 or 8 hours. My body was sore and tired, especially my right arm, shoulder and hand. And my brain too. I had been focusing intensely on my fly in the water all day. It was a good variety of tired though. The best. A happy, satsfied tired. I decided a couple of thngs - that I want to fish this stretch of river many more times, and I definitely want to fish again with Bob.
Things I learned
- A little fish in the trophy water is a 12-incher
- I've been attaching my leader loop to my fly line loop backwards
- A new knot for tying on streamers - it leaves a loop for better action
- Shupac and his friends did an awesome job of river-cleanup
Visible scars : one finger blister
Wildlife sightings: 3 Pileated woodpeckers, Belted kingfishers, an osprey with a fish bigger than ours, a grouse, wood ducks, Red-breasted mergansers, unidentified flycatchers and a mink
Rating of dinner at the AuSable River Restaurant in Mio: 1.5 stars out of 4
Did I get to use a spey rod?: No
Enjoyment grade for the day: A+++
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