12/23/15  What I’ve learned from full-time Northern Lower living is that some winters are for fishing, some are for skiing, and some are for surviving.  This isn’t some Alaskan off-the-grid family reality show.  I mean, it’s 10 minutes for a Spike Burger and a Blue.  But thawing out septic lines and watching the aforementioned Alaskan shows just to make you feel better about your life isn’t as romantic as it once was.  Hard winters lose their luster fast, like a cheap but flashy Christmas toy.

We had this easy winter coming.  And not to jinx it, but when you wake up on a day off and have hundreds of miles of open and accessible trout water to choose from, you feel good.  We’ve been trading off hours in the shop to fish hard this December.  This winter is for fishing.  So far.

Jordan put some fly tying off for later to go try out the new Rio Czech Nymphing Leader (not yet in stock, but will be soon!) on some trout in some flat water.  He called me at 9 am.  Already four trout landed.  Not bad for what I would consider un-nymphable water.  Jordan is constantly discovering new opportunities, even in supposedly “known” water.  The house he and Denny occupy is 3/4 fly tying station, 1/4 bed/kitchen/bathroom.

That same day, Verlac and I ventured into the South Branch for an afternoon streamer toss.  The river was perfect as only the South can be: 250 cfs, red-stained, and smelling of wet evergreen.  There is no other river quite like it.


We expected instant gratification.  Who doesn’t?  Water temperatures were good.  Water clarity perfect.  Water levels dynamite.  The air temperature was in the 40s.  But aside from one small brown right away, the river seemed empty, except for a few big trout we kicked off spawning gravel (yep, still.  And it was surprising.  I’ve seen browns on gravel during these winter warm-ups into January…but we saw at least six active redds).

There are many “cues” people cite when explaining fish activity.  Jimmy talks about the birds singing.  I always seem to do well when the deer are moving.  Others look at the barometer.  Weather.  Wind direction.  Who knows?  Is it all connected, or a series of happy coincidences?  Either way, something happened at 3:30 pm, because a fantastic trout appeared behind Matt’s yellow streamer, trailed it at high speed, turned away, returned, swiped dramatically, and ate.

At the same time, my phone was ringing with a number from Atlanta.  I answered as Matt fought the fish — some fishing partner I am — and it turned out to be a call for health insurance.

“Do you fly-fish?” I said, as Matt netted the fish.

“Excuse me?”



“That’s too bad, because if you did, you’d understand why I can’t talk right now,” I said.


It was a beautiful trout.  Perhaps one of the most beautiful.  It fought like a tail-hooked pit bull and in the hand it glowed in select spots brilliantly red.  It was the start of a great hour of trout fishing, with another big trout to hand, and enough follows to make every cast seem capable of being the one.


The trout themselves are special, and so different.  The day before, Matt, Alex Lafkas, and I floated the big water.  The three of us have fished together on and off for like twenty years.   It was fun to be back in the boat with both of them.  Lots of old stories, sure.  But fun just to fish.   Matt struck lucky again, with a fish of a different hue:


That too was a great float, a steady punctuation of opportunity and learning.  Two large trout came to Alex’s fly.  One refused to eat, one ate at the wrong time (at least from the angler’s perspective!)  The fish Matt landed attacked a streamer at the base of the stairs of an access site — go figure — and fought tiredly to hand.  But it looked to the picture of health, as many of the trout have this winter.  No leeches on the flanks.  No scars, or empty bellies.  The slow days seem to be slow not because it’s winter, but because the trout are full!  This is a GREAT thing.

From all of us at Gates: Merry Christmas.  Most of us will be decorating trees and cooking and doing lots of dishes.  A few will sneak out for some fishing.  And while I’m decorating trees and doing dishes…I’ll be thinking of those quiet rivers too.  Here’s how to protect this one:

Matching Grant #1 is Fulfilled: on to Round #2!

We raced through Round #1 of the No Fish Poop Matching Grant to help fund our legal opposition to the permit for a fish farm located at the old Grayling Fish Hatchery.  Another anonymous donor has stepped up and offered $10,000 more in matching funds!  We’re racing toward that goal now.  This has been a humbling experience, and Katy and I are backlogged processing thank you notes.  We need A LOT to make this happen — it starts with all of us saying no to a permit that aims to treat the Au Sable like a septic field.

August 25, 2014 John L. Russell

Here’s how to do it:

1. Mail check to:

Anglers of the Au Sable, PO Box 200, Grayling, MI  49738


2. Donate online:


Go to “One-Time Donation”.  In the box entitled “If you would like this gift to go towards a certain cause The Anglers are working on , please note below” type “FISH FARM MATCH”


Watch this video or check out the Anglers of the Au Sable’s new website (www.ausableanglers.org), and learn about the fish farm and what a bad idea it is