12/9/15  Any one day of the past ten would be a cancel-all-meetings fishing day during a typical December.  Not in 2015.  It’s one cloudy 40-degree afternoon after another.  Not even a glimmer of ice in the guides, and the chill doesn’t hit until the take-out.  With so much open water to fish, you can go crazy trying to figure out what to do and where to do it…an excellent agony.


Max escaped school to float the river with Josh Nethers

We’ve been spinning up some cool winter streamers.  What do we look for?  The fly has to sink, yet hover.  It’s probably a physical impossibility, but we think we got something close.  We call it a Wedgehead, though it’s really a Conrad Sculpin modified by whim and new material (the original was way ahead of its time…or we were behind it).  What else?  Galloup’s Peanut Envy, Gartside’s Soft Hackle,  and the good old woolly bugger are other good ones.   These flies slink, for lack of a better verb.  They hit, dive, and then stop and pulse.  The more movement near the cover, the better.  A floating fly fished on a sinking line can work, and some work exceptionally well.  A depth-charge fly — all lead and tungsten — can work too.  But something in the middle, that casts well yet can handle a variety of retrieves and water types, seems to be the best.

What this means is mounds of feathers, deer, and sparkle by the vise.  To a normal civilian, tying streamers seems to be as much about the mess you make as it is the fly you produce.   It’s the chainsaw tree carving of the fly tying world.  The end result is big, as flies go.  But given the sheer tonnage of materials it takes to produce, a streamer seems a somewhat small thing.

Floated the upper river with Matt yesterday.  It was a strange, low-ceiling, gray day.  The river seemed eerily quiet.  The reflection of the low clouds made the glare difficult to see through.  The river valleys are quiet this time of year.  And the grayness made our station on the river almost uncomfortably isolated.  It wasn’t the kind of euphoric isolation one feels in the middle of a large wilderness.  More like the kind of isolation one would feel if stuck in a photograph.


Alright amateur naturalists, what animal digs this strange den way up a hillside and goes to the river so much as to leave an unmistakable trail?  I’m looking for enlightenment on this one…

We heard grouse drumming and flushed several from a hillside.  Saw some whitefish swimming over shallow gravel.  Spooked an eagle several times from the big riverside pines.  Had an enormous beaver swim right down the length of the boat.  We just couldn’t find a trout for the first half of the float.  Not a flash, pull, chase, follow, or even mysterious bump.

I think floating lines catch more winter streamer trout than sinking lines.  But whether it was the day, the water temperatures, or whatever, we switched to a sinking line and the Wedgehead and finally moved a couple and landed one real dandy that gave Matt a chance to display his new ink.

151209_Ink The next 5 days look wonderful, with highs in the upper 40s and lows at or above freezing.  This means that if you have the chance, and either love or want to practice some of your winter techniques, there’s no time like the present to head to the river.  All three branches of the Au Sable are open, accessible, and wadeable…as is the Manistee.  The lower rivers are fishing well from a boat.  You won’t move or catch a lot of fish, but this is trophy time at it’s finest.  And even hooking and losing two giant trout, as my friend Tanker did on Friday, is enough to make a day in my book.

We have a few open rooms this weekend and off-season rates of $50 single/$75 double.


Holiday Shopping at Gates Fly Shop

Our fall “gift” catalog is in the mail.  We ran out of room, and are tweaking it for spring 2016, but we hope you like it, and will consider us for your holiday shopping.  Check out our online fly shop at: http://www.gatesflyshop.com.  Don’t see it?  We’ll get it for you.


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