I got fried on a little bass fishing adventure yesterday. Forgot sunscreen, didn’t dress properly, and didn’t really care. I know I’m supposed to care, but it’s hard to care when the bass are eating popping bugs. I like popping bugs for bass. I don’t love it, but I like it. There’s hardly a type of fishing I dislike. Give me a cast net and a school of minnows and I’ll probably try to catch them, too. Anyway, it was worth the sunburn.
Again…it’s been a pretty great week on the Au Sable. A shot of rain stained the river, and the cold nights kept the trout happy. By tomorrow afternoon I think the Holy Waters will look more or less normal, just a slight stain down the middle. The South Branch never really came up. The North Branch flashed and will be back to clear. Summer rains shuffle the deck, move the fish around, give the trout some terrestrial feed, and otherwise make for a healthier fishery. We’ve been doing well fishing attractor flies through the afternoon, and hatch-matching the tricos in the morning and the olives in the evening. As we move into mid-August, I start attractor fishing right into dusk. This can mean hitting wood with skunks and night caddis, or size 12 or 14 parachute Adams, and seeing what I can fool into rising. This is one of the best ways to tempt a big fish in august…other than night fishing.
I’ve been doing a bit of night fishing in some of my teenage spots. It’s been a bit crowded up here in Grayling: not anglers, just summer people. At one well-known pool, there was a big party at the house on the bank, and they were boozing. I had my red-light on as I landed a fish, and one of the party-goers also had a red light on. He pointed his red light at my red light, and said that his red light was reflecting off the forest (?). I netted the trout and released it and snuck away.
It was fun to return to some of these old spots. One other pool I fished a bunch when I was younger has an old retaining wall where, years ago, Alex Lafkas caught a 19″ brown at 8 am on a Houghton Lake Special. Our plan back then was to fish Houghton Lake Specials, wet, through the tricos in the hopes that large browns were out eating small, trico-feeding brook trout. Rusty seemed to think it was a pretty good idea, and so we did too. This was before streamer fishing really caught on in a modern sort of way. We were whipping those flies around on floating lines and five weights and jerking them back through the river during those summer mornings. Anyway…this wall has always captivated me. Not just because of Alex’s 19″ brown, but also because I’d caught a 14″ brook trout on a trico there, had a night of casting at lunkers eating night caddis (something I’ve seen, or in this case heard, very rarely), and the pool is just old, Au Sable-y, and mystery-laden. Wading down toward the wall the other night my heart rate quickened because it’s just so magic to me, still. I slowed down, of course, and fished very carefully through it enjoying the swing of the line, the way the middle current accelerated the fly from the dark water from the wall, and painted a wake through the reflection of the house lights. Right in the sweet spot of the wall I blew up a big fish.
Okay. Time to slow down even more. I rested it for a minute, and fired another cast. The trout burped, but didn’t take. A few drifts. Nothing. I waded downstream and caught a small trout and returned to the wall. On the first cast, I had a good pull, in the terminology of a spey angler. But the fish released immediately. I tried a few different flies. Nothing. Sat on the bank. Stood up. And fired a cast upstream of the trout, well upstream, ten feet upstream anyway. I thought I’d change the angle of the swing, but I miscalculated. The fly caught the wall. I flicked the tip of my fly rod, the fly splatted on the surface, and the river opened up with a bass drum. It was a big noise. Oh man, was it a big noise. This was a different fish, a much larger fish, undoubtedly the king of the pool. And it just never touched the fly.
On the next cast I caught the first trout, a sweet hook-jawed male over twenty-inches long. I never did hear from the mega-trout but I’ve added it to the little list I keep in my head.
I also caught this dandy rainbow, a rare trout for the night angler:
It’s been a very good August. Between night fishing and day fishing, small streamers and dry and droppers, hatch-matching and attractor dry fly fishing, things have just aligned well for the trout, and bass, anglers. The white flies are trickling but not hatching in a meaningful way but I look forward to adding them to the mix of general pleasantness that we all need more of. I generally refer to August as the month that makes me want fall to happen. But this version of August is a little better than past models. Enjoy it.
And now it’s time to clean the river. Yep, we’re going to give it a shot in 2020. Dumpster in the yard, Rusty’s poker sticks, and a hopeful attitude that we can get this job done. Folks have been inquiring how we’re going to do it, and we thought we’d try circulating this little list for people to sign up. Check out the beat list here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/16flYuJuli-Kdpv1B5NMVWW277NRTqikJzkDtZKIFUJs/edit?usp=sharing. This will give real-time data so you know what beats need “help”. The goal is to get as much of the river cleaned as possible, of course, but with a definite focus on the stretch between Wakeley and Mio Pond (this means you, folks with boats!). Please check the list and email me — [email protected] — with questions, or sign up!