Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Au Sable Trout are Pickier Than Your Trout

Somewhere on the Au Sable at dusk
Places that have hard to catch trout have a few things in common:  high angling pressure, relatively flat water and prolific insect activity.  They're home to trout that eat a lot of food, and who know what food is supposed to look and act like.

Sewing my fly fishing oats in northern Michigan, I always considered Au Sable Holy Water trout to be the toughest to catch.  That changed when I moved out to NY for five years and got a taste of the Delaware system.  Trout on the all branches of the Delaware were a pain in the ass, particularly the West Branch.  I'm sure if you talk to a guy whose homewater is the Frying Pan, or the Letort, or insert renowned trout stream here, he will tell you his trout are the hardest to fool.

I've been told by guys who have fished a lot of those famous places, that the two toughest are the Henry's Fork and West Branch of the Delaware.  When I asked them which was tougher, they would struggle before settling on the West Branch of the D, but those guys were New Yorkers, they are supposed to say that.  And being a fellow New Yorker at the time, I wanted to believe them. 

But here's the thing, they had never fished the Au Sable. 

I'm really loving Scientific Anglers' new ART taper
Now I'm not going to make the case that the Au Sable has the pickiest trout in the U.S., cause I'm not sure I'd believe it.  But they can be tough to fool- one stretch outside of the Holy Waters immediately comes to mind and I would put it up against the West Branch of the D.  What throws the Au Sable out of whack is some of the best, most-fished hatches happen at night when our finest trout specimens have thrown caution to the wind. 

Having fished the Au Sable pretty extensively in the dark, one of the things that always amazes me is how many large trout call it home.  Never in a million years could you convince me there are so many large (greater than 20" long) fish in the Au Sable if I had only fished it during the day.  Yet, most guys who come and fish the Au Sable, but only during the day, will probably catch some fish in the 7" to 12" range and go home thinking the Au Sable is just a bunch of pretty scenery and dinks.   

I think that's cool. 

I fished the Au Sable system the last two nights.  Saw sparse Hendrickson spinners and a couple black caddis in the air on evening one.  Got a little fish slime on my hands, but it was slow.  Last night I got home from work and talked my way out of doing some stuff around the house to go fishing instead.  It was in the mid-80's, there just had to be a spinnerfall, no way I could waste that kind of weather doing chores when there was bad weather coming later this week. 

You know its getting serious when you bust the net seine out
I never know where exactly I'm going to fish until I get there, and when I got there, the air was filled with Black Caddis.  I laid my rod down on some dead cedar branches and started catching them and taking pictures and all the other stuff bug geeks do when there are bugs everywhere and no fish rising.

I found a nice log to sit on and called a friend to pick his brain on broadheads and arrows shafts.  He already has me talked into switching to the Tooth of the Arrow broadheads this year, now I'm just trying to figure out what kind of arrows I want to run behind them.  I was leaning towards Easton FMJ's, but now I'm kinda thinking more about Carbon Express Maxima Hunters.  I'm gonna think on it some more, but my goal is to build an arrow in the 500 to 550 grain range so I don't have to make any changes to my setup when I go out west for elk next year, and so I can gain confidence in it through hunting whitetails this year. 

I've got the arrow building bug bad right now.

Just as our conversation was about to end, a few fish started to rise.  I wouldn't call them happy fish, but one was close, so I put a #14 Hendrickson spinner out there for a few (what I thought were) really nice drifts.  Switched to a #16 hemingway caddis.  Switched to 6X.  Switched to one of Dennis Potter's caddis patterns.  The caddis were mostly gone, and hendrickson spinners were bobbing up and down 30' in the air.  As far as I could tell, there were none on the water but I switched to a #14 egg laying Hendrickson spinner that John ties, and that was the ticket. 

It took 3 fly changes and 6X tippet to fool this little guy-- check out the red spot on that adipose!
While all that was happening, there was a grouse eating poplar buds 20' up a tree in front of me, and another in full strut walking the bank behind me.  The one in the tree was literally hanging upside down from the end of a skinny little poplar branch that was bowed over in the shape of a rainbow.  SNAP!  The branch broke and it fell and righted itself and landed gracefully like it was just another day in the office before flying back up for more.  Both of those birds and a third roosted in a different tree just a few yards away just before dark.

I left shortly after, giving in to the fact that the evening rise was over.

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