As humans, I don’t think there can be better weather.  The cold nights have stained the highland maples, turned a few ferns, and left the dawn heavy with fog.  The days are crystalline and blue, maybe a light breeze, dry aired, and around 80 degrees.  As anglers, such days are for chopping wood.  Yes, there are some brook trout to be found, maybe a trout or two after dark, but what we want is what we’re hopefully going to get next week.  Cool, cloudy, and some rain.  That is September weather.  And that is what can get September trout on the move.

We got a taste of it this past week.  On Monday, I woke to the sun and cursed the mistaken forecast.  The wind was cold from the north east and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  Denny and I were to fish that day, and we weighed about five different options before settling on fishing the lower river because the it fishes passably well on clear days, and what few clouds had arrived by noon were blowing in from the east…or, as it’s known to the Au Sable angler, downstream.

A six-foot spring in the middle of the woods

It was a slow start, but Denny cracked a nice fat trout on a small streamer fished on a sinking line.  I tried a darting fly on an intermediate line to no avail.  We switched, and Denny lost a dandy at the net.  Or I lost the trout in trying to net it.  Either way, the dandy was lost.

I switched to a sinking line and decided to try the middle of the river down a big seam, and almost missed a little gravel shelf on the right.  The water was dirty from last week’s rains, but not so dirty I couldn’t see a silvery brown appear and devour the streamer.  From nowhere — these fish seem to come from nowhere.

In big water, it’s a slow day until you catch a few nice trout.  Then it becomes a great day.

There’s a small side channel down there I’ve never taken a boat down and we decided to go down it.  Because, we figured, if not now, then when?  I rowed over and Denny snagged a log on his first cast, whipped at it, and broke his barrel swivel.  We retrieved his fly and rowed to the middle of the river and dropped anchor.

“We weren’t meant to go down that side channel,” I said.

“Nope.”

Denny then took an inordinate amount of time to rebuild his leader.  “The problem,” he grunted through gritted teeth, “is that I have a fifty pound butt section that won’t hold a knot and I should just cut it off but I’m not going to.”  No problem.  I put my feet up on my boat bag and thought about fall.

I’m excited about fall.  I’m ready for ice in the puddles at the lodge.  The shadow behind the streamer.  The soft gathering of afternoon olives in a backwater.  The big spread of stars on a fall night.

As I sat thinking about fall, about time, the way I can slow it just by putting my feet up and just sit in a boat on a river, sans phone, and feel it…there was an enormous explosion upstream and to our right, maybe forty feet away.  We turned, saw the back of something come out of the river, in the shallows, a foot deep at most.  Another swirl, a third explosion.

“Otter?” I said.

“I’ll believe it’s an otter if you don’t catch it.”

I grabbed the nearest rod and hucked a cast short, gathered myself, and fired the fly up past the boil.  The second strip stopped dead, and there was a golden twist in the current that materialized into a nice head-shaking brown.

“We really weren’t meant to go down that side channel,” Denny said.


The mainstream is still carrying a stain but the North and South Branches are running clear.  The South Branch is low and clear and fishing pretty well.  Dry and droppers fished on long leaders and with fine tippets are catching trout, as are tightline methods (the dirty water makes it easier to approach the pools right now).  Small streamers are a go to all September and October.  Sparkle minnows, Black Ghosts, and Coachman streamers fished thru the little drop-offs can make for some great fishing.

John working a creek

Fishing ants and other small attractors in the bubble lines and drop-offs can be great, especially through the later afternoon.

As the weather cools off next week, I expect we’ll see the #20 olives really get going, and, with a few clouds, some of the best streamer fishing of the year.

Fall is magic on the Au Sable.


What an awesome river cleanup!  We worked hard, we worked all day, and we cleaned the river.  Almost all the garbage was recycled — how cool is that! — and we pushed through high water and cleaned from tip to stern and then some.  Nice work everyone.

Old meet new

So mark your calendar for next year: the first Saturday after Labor Day.

Still got more to give?  Couldn’t make it this past weekend?

Join Anglers of the Au Sable for a cedar project on the Manistee on Saturday, September 22.  We need volunteers!  We will meet at the Old Au Sable Fly Shop in Grayling at 9:30 a.m. and depart for the river.
Driving directions will be provided. Lunch will be provided. If you have hand trowels, mini mauls, post drivers, etc… please bring them. Work gloves and water proof boots are recommended.  Your help is greatly appreciated in supporting the Cedars for the Au Sable program!

Please R.S.V.P. to [email protected] if you are coming to assist in food purchasing.

Thank you for helping continue this wonderful program!