The fishing picked up on Sunday and continued to improve right through a blustery today (Wednesday).  The hendricksons, mahoganies and black caddis are now hatching throughout both the Au Sable and Manistee River systems and the last two afternoons have produced consistently rising fish in some, but not all, river sections.  Depending on the rain tonight, which is supposed to be less than an inch, the rivers are running clear for this time of year, and at around normal flow.  The South Branch is flowing over 400 cfs but it is being fished by folks that know exactly where to wade.

Some dry fly goodness

I’ve hit a few very light spinnerfalls two of the last three warm evenings and managed a nice but fluky trout on Sunday evening.  I spent the first hour of  working a large trout that was rising very sporadically to the last of the hatching mahoganies and hendricksons.  That trout was not a crowdpleaser.  It would let a dozen duns drift by and then eat the thirteenth and fourteenth and then go quiet for five minutes and ignore about fifty duns.  I’d say it was a game of cat and mouse, but no, this trout was way ahead of me.  Finally, after only four casts from me, it quit rising altogether.  I decided to go shop another bubble line downstream.

That bubble line turned out to be dead, but the river was beautiful.  As I stood admiring the river at dusk and not feeling particularly optimistic, a trout rose fifteen feet from me.  A good trout.  The tip of its tail signed the river’s sunset surface.  Funny what the heart does in the spring when a trout rises at dusk.  My second cast was on the pretty good. As I watched my fly, I saw through the reflection that the trout was also watching my fly.  I didn’t see it approach.  It was just there, as if an apparition, as if it has been painted into the water suddenly.     I fed some slack into the drift.  It was a precious second.  When it ate the fly it didn’t lunge.  It just opened its mouth and let the water sweep the fly in.  It leapt three times at a distance and once in close.  These first good dry fly trout are magic.

The apparition

It’s been a tough, late spring.  But the trout we knew were there from our earlier nymphing efforts are now starting to rise, more and more every day.  And while the wind wrecked much of the big water today, the sheltered upper river produced two hours of pretty good dry fly conditions.  Unlike last year, the North Branch is producing some fish, the mainstream is clear, and the forecast is solid.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see widespread spinner flights tomorrow depending on the rain (will there be fog?  Will there be too much wind?), good hatches on Friday, and a profuse mix of bugs this weekend as water and air temperatures warm back up.

Joe with a midday sipper

We’ve been finding success with a wide array of hendricksons.  The fish are now used to the duns and blind fishing size 14 flies in the bubble lines will sway some fish.  Dry and dropper fishing has been pretty effective throughout the day, as have two double dry rigs (hendrickson and black caddis, mahogany and caddis, and so on).  Once the hatches start, I find it helpful to put the rod at ease and spend some time watching.  Yesterday, during a pretty killer hendrickson/mahogany/black caddis hatch, the trout were rising primarily in the shadows, and tight to the wood.  Instead of watching the water in a general sort of way, I focused on specific spots: the strained little bubble line, the flat log, the little backwater.  It was amazing how many trout I found rising consistently once I trained my eye to a few square feet of water.  Every trout seemed to have its own story.  One fish that was leaving a single large bubble along a log was hooked, and fought into the sunlight.  It was black as cast iron, darker even than its shadow on the bottom of the river.

It’s been a fun few days, and there’s plenty more to come.  I’m wind-whipped and slightly sunburned and there are about a hundred things I need to do, 99 of which are to go fishing.

This Saturday: Fly Casting with Mark Hendricks, 8 am – 12 pm:

Learn how to properly cast a fly rod with Gates Lodge lead instructor Mark Hendricks.  Even moderately advanced casters will benefit from this course.  Mark is a IFF Certified Casting instructor with hundreds if not thousands of hours of professional fly-casting instructing experience.  Some of our regular, accomplished anglers seek his tutelage just to iron out a hitch in their casting stroke, but beginners or never-befores will go from zero to forty feet (or more) during this course.  For more info, click here.