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Fishing Report

Fishing Report

A secret stream? Maybe...

09/10/14 We had a wonderful river clean-up despite the high, chocolate-stained water. Folks found trash where they could, and discovered some new garbage "honey holes" as well: along bridges, accesses, and access roads. Every bit helps -- and we filled the dumpster to the brim this year. Fun items found: picnic umbrella, wooden bear, and a bag of VHS tapes (which prompted us to ask our 15 year-old dishwasher if she knew what a VHS tape was. She did).

Yesterday, September filled me with wanderlust, and Kyle and I hit the road for some adventure with a small boat, a clutch of fly rods, a mountain bike to move the vehicle, and dreams of the giant brown trout. It was too beautiful a day: 70 degrees, south wind, scant clouds. But it might be a hopper day, we reasoned. And if not, the stream was small enough and the shadows deep enough to keep browns interested in chasing streamers.

What you never count on in any adventure is an unexpected, human-made obstruction to your success. People mess things up! We knew something was amiss when we pulled in to drop my bike off at the take out. The river was not high, but it was the color of concrete. Opaque, cold-looking, and unfriendly. Visibility was less than a foot.

"Remember when they were working on that bridge upstream?" I said.
"Yeah," Kyle said. "But they wouldn't be allowed to do this."

In short, they were. Within a half-hour of launching (and one small trout to hand), we came to the bridge, which had steel girders blocking the flow, and two pipes spitting out many gallons of water (one was spitting clear water, one was spitting the concrete-colored water).

"Maybe we can pull out here," I said, ready to call it a day. I figured, given the blockage and the ruined trout fishing, that one of the sympathetic fellows working on the bridge could give us a ride back.

"We can get through there," Kyle said, indicating the small rapid that existed between the girders and the cement side of the bridge.

Kyle's point was that we weren't quitting. We'd come a long way to fish, and fish we would. From start to finish, concrete water or no concrete water.

It became a tale of two days. The first of optimism dashed. The second of optimism growing. Below the bridge, Kyle moved a fish.

"There's hope," he said.

in the late afternoon, the water began to clear as the workers reached the end of their day and quit pumping in the dirty water. We moved fish -- most were small and chased near the safe, shallow, inside of the pool. We figured there were big fish in this river that we simply weren't catching. The sun. The stained water. Or both. But it didn't stop us from imagining a huge brown bolting across the small stream, so huge in the confines. Would we drop the rod? What would we do?

It was a day, Kyle later mused, that was rife with anticipation. So much so that as we neared the end of the float, we only wished the river would continue; that the fixed end that we'd chosen by locking my bike to a willow tree was miles further downriver. And that somewhere along the way one of those big trout would scare the shit out of us.

Today dawned with a forecast of worry: severe thunderstorms, heavy rain (one to two inches), and canceled trips. I anticipated a day of rain-driven work: ordering for next year, sorting papers, maybe a garage project. Alas, the deluge never happened, and so Matt and I went fishing instead.

We saw the hatches of the season: afternoon olives, Isonychia, a few cahills, one lost looking orange sedge (typically a nocturnal bug). And certainly there is dry fly fishing left. There'll still be a few tricos on the warm sunny mornings. The afternoon olives will only get better from here. A good sunny day will result in flying ants. Blind fishing Isos and attractors will catch fish (one of our clients landed a fish pushing 18" on a Madame X yesterday). But for many, the fall streamer season is something anticipated as soon as the marquee hatches of June taper.

Fall streamer fishing is not the sling and strip fishing of the spring. Instead -- at least in the upper river -- it is pinpoint fishing with small streamers and floating lines for a mix of pre-spawn brown and brook trout. Typically this is small fish fishing. On a sunny day, it may only be small fish. But it is very active fishing, and the number of trout seen during a good day of fall streamers often exceeds expectations. The surprising charge of a big trout is so exceptional as to remain in the memory until spring.

TGIF: Thank Goodness It's Fall

Today began windy and drizzly and full of bright brook trout. One nice male was full of color. Another big female, over a foot long, was pale green across her flanks. A few hours in and we began to pick up some browns. These two were small fish. But like all the trout after this high, cold water summer, they were in perfect health. Each one could have been photographed as the quintessential trout.

"You want to switch before the good riffle?" I said.
"Nope," Matt said.

The good riffle isn't a riffle at all. It's a wide shallow flat with rocks slightly smaller than bowling balls. It is knee deep across the left bank with a few old covers. The right bank is sandy, lined with tag alders, and the bottom is strewn with submerged logs. No one ever fishes it, surrounded as it is by bottomless bends and bright gravelly riffles. It's one of the worst looking stretches of river in the float. For that reason or others, it's also one of the best.

Along the tail end of a cut log halfway through the run a good fish snuck out and was hooked. Solidly, I thought. Then the hook pulled. The trout swung wildly in a tight circle. I cast again. The fish circled again, found the fly, and destroyed it. It was a short tug of war. The trout had nowhere to go and the tippet was too strong even if he did.

It was a fine brown, dark with fall color already. One of those swamp-browns that makes up for its lack of spots by the size of each one. It looked exactly like a brown should look in a cedar-strewn river.

"What are we going to call this place?" Matt said. It was not the first good fish we'd pulled from the run over the last few years. "Maybe the unexpected riffle?"


We explore to find such spots. From ill-fated trips to cement-colored streams, to uncovering a boringly awesome fall riffle on a famous river like the Au Sable. There is simply no secret so sweet as your own.


Manistee River Clean-up, September 20

Join a huge group of volunteers for the Manistee River cleanup and cedar tree planting sponsored by the Upper Manistee River Association. Volunteers will meet at 9 AM on Saturday, September 20th at the Old Au Sable Fly Shop. Food will be waiting for you upon your return. Contact Andy Partlo at 989-348-3330 or [email protected].


The River: a movie all about the Au Sable

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Truthfully, I wasn't really interested in writing a fishing book, but I had the opportunity to do something with Lyons Press, which had been a dream of mine in high school. Dreams and feelings change, but four years ago there was little indication I'd be owning a fly fishing lodge and lots of indications that I wouldn't. So I signed on for a book. Several extensions and kids later, it's done. And I hope those that buy it feel I did this very special region proud. It's available now with free shipping on the Gates Fly Shop website: