Slowing Down, On the Banks of the Au Sable

I dropped off a raft to a guide in the Grayling, Michigan area named John in the late afternoon and headed over to a lodge to see about some fishing. The drive was uneventful and traffic was light due to the current stay-at-home order throughout the region. I actually managed to do the whole drive without stopping which is rare for me. John was pleased with the raft and excited to get it out on the river. He has a nice Au Sable river boat and an older aluminum drift boat. His son has had one our rafts for a year or two and John said he enjoyed fishing out of his son's raft. It's always nice to hear that, it's the best kind of compliment.

The lodge was only a couple miles from his house and I found the shop with a few customers out front buying tackle and gear through the carry out window, again, due to the statewide stay-at-home order. I bought my license, my first trip North this year, and a cheeseburger. The cheese burger was a welcome bit of nourishment. It was a nice slab of beef with a healthy set of vegetable accoutrements. I made quick work of the cheeseburger, downed a beer and quickly made my way back over the truck, but had to remind myself to slow down. I tend to be fairly hard charging in these situations to my own detriment oftentimes. The older I get, the more I focus on trying to slow down and take things more in stride and not rush. I’m not perfect but I’m improving in that regard.

The lodge is nestled nicely along the banks of the Au Sable a few low buildings paying respect to the pines, peat duff and tannic river flowing just behind it. The river was a bit high but dropping from a big rain a few days prior. According to the reports yesterday the wind was blowing fairly stiffly but had laid down a bit today and brought in a bit of sunshine. The word was that if the temperature warmed even a little, we might see a decent spinner fall. But as these things go, the wind seemed to be holding on a bit more than expected with sporadic cold gusts blowing just enough to keep the bugs from reaching full blown identifiable hatch mode. Nevertheless, by the time I put on my waders and rigged up a rod there were Hendricksons popping off with enough regularity that I suspected we might see a few noses popping up here and there.

Just as I was wading into a spot, I got some hints from the guy at the shop; pointing out some fairly specific holes that hold fish. He mostly pointed out the obvious deep troughs and mentioned bigger fish typically holding there. Those kinds of hints I usually abide by until proven otherwise. I started across the river up by the bridge and fished the fence run right in front of the shop. I had tied on a bead head hare’s ear that I like to swing. I’m not a huge fan of indicators and dead drifts. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s how similar it feels to fishing with a bobber and I just feel like I might as well be using a wax worm and a spinning rod. So I like to swing, it’s just personal preference I guess. And if I’m going to use an indicator it’s going to be a big fluffy dry. I’ve seen too many fish eat the indicator. So any indicator I use damn well better have a hook in it.

That bridge run, while delicious looking, held no fish who wanted to play. I re-rigged with a prince nymph and ran that back through the run. Step, swing repeat. Nothing again. So I walked back across the bridge and decided to just take a nice long look at things and see what I could see when I really slowed down. I sat down on the bench by the river and just watched. I saw an otter swim right underneath me and disappear under the dock structure. An osprey or an eagle, I couldn’t tell which,  flew overhead and fought with a couple black birds in their typical quarrelsome way. I heard a Grouse drumming in the distance. I watched as a few Hendricksons slowly dribbled off the surface of the water. I saw a few float past me, like little sailboats drying their wings.

It wasn’t the kind of hatch that would cause the river to come alive but they did seem like enough to peak the interest of a trout at some point. I found some peace with the breeze blowing past me and red wing black birds flitting about making their rattling chirp. And then, across the channel, right off the grass bank, a trout flipped out the water and snatched a Hendrickson from the surface. It wasn’t at all where the guy from the shop said they would be, but then never are, it seems. Also, this was a small one, so not probably going to tussle with the big boys in the deeper run the shop guy pointed out.

I watched the seam for a few moments. And sporadically the fish were there rising with splashy exuberance to take the flies drifting their way, only inches from the grass line. The fish were sitting in soft water on the back side of a seam created by a small log jam and the point of the island. The main current flow would make it a tough cast with a quick upstream mend to get into the lie without the fly dragging.

I cut off my nymph rig and tied on a brownish looking fairly generic dry fly in about a size 14. I picked up my rod and slowly made my way over to the edge of the river and took a few careful steps in. The river flowed left to right and the wind gusts blew across my shoulders downstream. With the wind blowing downstream, the cast would need to include an upstream mend almost  midair to get the fly to land just right and not instantly drag and submerge. I tried it a few times but it didn’t seem to want to take. I cast into the tree but l got my fly back with a touch of luck. A few more casts and it became apparent that getting the fly to dead drift through the feeding lane was impossible. I made a hefty punch of a cast into the lie and the fly instantly submerged and dragged under. Giving in I just let it swing out. It was a well tied dry fly that popped to the surface and skated nicely when it came too tight. I love skating a good dry fly almost as much as I do swinging a wet one. Fishing for trout in Scotland has taught me that some trout, not all, but some, do like a well skated fly. A good take from any size fish on a skating fly is as infectious and addictive as anything in the world. 

I decided maybe I’d just skate a fly? Why not? I made another cast and without fail, as soon as the fly hit the water it started to skate, a big splashy rise seized it, head and tail completely out of the water like a miniature great white during shark week. Right where he was supposed to be, in the most unorthodox way possible that beautiful little brown was fooled and I was rewarded. While it wasn’t a huge trout and by no means anything remarkable to anyone else it was in fact a small victory. 

I slowed down for a long moment and observed the river. I saw the trout actively feeding. I made the right cast. I connected with a fish. I’m going to work on slowing down more and just taking a longer look at everything, it really helps.

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