On Monday I left my Orvis sales meeting (during which we cast the new Helios 3 at passing bikers in Traverse City) and hit the Sand Lakes Quiet Area with some poppers.  It was eighty degrees and the air smelled like rotting weeds.  It was a great warm water scene.  There were bass cartwheeling out of the water for dragonflies and swimming in the very shallow water flats in small hunting schools of 1-2 lb bass.   Bluegill made their characteristic popping noises in the lily pads.  I smacked a gurgler in front of the first bass that I saw and it destroyed it.  This happened repeatedly.  It was nice to laugh about it knowing no one could hear me.

Bass Flats

Meanwhile on cold water, Alex and Dave launched and began tossing big hoppers down the bubble lines.  These sort of crazy things happened:

What a day!

It was so good on the first lake I came to that I ditched my notion to explore other lakes and to enjoy this one.  I began to hunt the big weedy flats sight casting to passing bass.  I ran into a heron that was doing the same.  This was one of the few times that I’ve been able to outfish a heron: all it took was the kind of unexplainable feeding frenzy that I’d waded into the middle of.

About halfway through my walk the bass had vanished and the lake had gone quiet.  Whatever it was, it was now over.

One of the mysteries of fishing is why, all at once, seemingly all the fish start feeding.  This is especially true in the middle of a bluebird summer day with a storm rumbling in the distance and air temps in the 80s.  There have been a lot of books written about trying to predict these magic moments, from old Fish and Game calendars, to very scientific formulae.  After a great day on the water, we tend look back with confidence: well of course they always bite on days over 80 with a half-moon in early August.   But most a lot of it is BS.  Your best hope in hitting the sweet spot begins with actually going fishing, sometimes when the conditions are seemingly against you.

And so we’ve been just going fishing.  Sorting through the blankets of trico spinners in the morning with 8x and patience.  Fishing the mid-a.m. olive hatches with soft hackles and little nymphs and assortment of dry flies.  Dissecting the shadows with small terrestrials.  One gentleman even caught a 21-inch brown on a Hares Ear wet fly in the middle of the day (only fish I’ve caught all week over ten inches, he said).  In the evenings, the process happens in reverse: fishing the olive spinners, the small caddis, the cahills…and then, if the motivation is high, swinging some gurglers after dark for the night shift browns.

The next week should offer what we needed most: a cool down, some clouds.  The rivers are all flowing above average for this time of year, which is great.  Cool, cloudy days like the one we’re having right now will keep the bugs hatching throughout the day and the fish rising.  This is all-day technical fishing to fish rising in the mid-river seams and bubble lines.  The other option, of course, is to ignore these fish and work the cover with bigger dry flies or even small streamers.

We have a lot of cool events coming up including the Kid’s One Fly (Box) Challenge and the Midnight Derby next Saturday (see below).  The River Cleanup (postcards go out this week) is already only a month away!

The Kids One Fly (Box) Challenge: 

The Anglers of the Au Sable sponsors this annual event. This is our 5th Kids One-Fly (Box) Challenge for anglers 17 years and younger. All participants will receive a complimentary fly box with donated flies and, if needed, volunteer chaperones to take them to the river (or pond, or lake, or creek) for a morning of fishing. Awards! Prizes! Anglers must use the flies in their box of choice. We do this because kids are awesome, and a kid fly-fishing is even awesomer. Our favorite event of the year. We’ll meet at the lodge at 9 a.m.. Kids receive instruction and a casting lesson from FFF Certified Instructor Mark Hendricks. At 10:30 a.m., we go fishing! Meet back at the lodge between 12 and 2 p.m. for lunch, drinks and awards. We try to have enough rods and waders for youth participants, but encourage those that have their own to bring them.

The Midnight Derby: 

Have you ever seen so many people who think going fishing at midnight with a box full of mice is cool? Neither have we. So we celebrate it: a night fishing one-fly “competition.” Every year we raise well over $1000 for the Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. This is a fun event. Not a serious competition…though we do offer some real prizes through our partnerships with Hatch Reels and Sunrise Distributors. Includes a huge barbecue at 7 p.m., music, and the infamous mailbox challenge. The bell rings at 8 p.m. Anglers may fish anywhere on the Au Sable and Manistee Rivers, but must return to the lodge by 3 a.m. with a picture of their RELEASED trophy. The Derby is open to everyone and anyone, from guides, to those being guided, to folks casting off their docks, and anyone else who wants to go night fishing for a good cause. $50 per team of two people.