May 27, Garage Sale Donations at Gates Lodge, 9 am – 11 am
Got old fishing and hunting stuff? Or, old art, collectibles, camping gear, or just some sports equipment? Think no one would want it? Think again! Mason Griffith Founders Trout Unlimited needs YOUR donations to make their All Sports Garage Sale a successful fundraiser. This great event relies on you donating your old sporting gear (fishing, ice fishing, hunting, etc) to them, which they will sell on August 11th at a big old garage sale.
It’s easy, bring all your stuff to Gates Lodge on May 27, from 9 am – 11 am. Volunteers will remove from your life, and even say thank you!
A little river conditions interlude before I hand this week’s report over to my friend John Bebow. The fishing the last few days has been difficult. I try to factor in all the different experiences possible when I write the report and, well, that’s impossible…but I try. A few poorly-timed storms raised the water levels on every stretch of river. The Main and the North have recovered. The South, almost certainly aided by a Lake St. Helen discharge, remains high and discolored. My experience with the Lake St. Helen discharges is that it shuts the South Branch down for a few days and after all the low water and good early season South Branch fishing it’s a bummer to lose it now. I expect it to clear up by the weekend. I did find a few good fish rising there on Monday, at dusk. I traveled to the spot specifically for this trout — to settle a debt, as my friend Dennis says — and as smart as this trout was the first time we met, he was as dumb as could be the second time. Thank goodness. Still, until the river gauge shows a marked decline, or the river clears considerably, the South Branch will probably be slow fishing.
Both the Main and the North were also slowed by the high water and both have fished better in the last few days. I had a very good report from the North Branch — it sounds like the brook trout are waking up with this warm weather — and the Main fished much better today than it did yesterday.
The good news is that this heat has EVERYTHING hatching and spinning and as the trout recover from their high water subsurface worm-feeding spree (which is almost certainly why they weren’t rising real well) anglers are going to enjoy some fine bug soup: #16 sulphurs (aka light hendricksons), black caddis, popcorn caddis, mahoganies (the #16s), the other mahoganies (#14s), and a few dribbling hendrickson and hendrickson spinners. Add some stoneflies and you have just a lot of different ways, and times of day, to catch some trout. We need a few more dry days to urge along these mid-May bugs and the trout that like to eat them. It looks like we’re going to get them.
Nothing Happens Next, by John Bebow
Dawn breaks on the first Saturday of May. You jump out of bed, already late, and motor north three hours for the first of three planned Au Sable adventures before dark.
Along the way, you reflect on the magnificence of Opening Weekend. Quite clearly the best ever at Camp. Fantastic steaks and red wine. Songs new and old among the guitar pickers around the campfire. Laughs deeper than last summer, because y’all hadn’t seen each other in so long. So much to celebrate, including the rare Hendricksons on Opener itself.
And the fish! Oh, the fish! Happy Greg netted that two-footer on the first cast down in the big water, the only head you’d seen rise all day, or all spring. Simultaneously, Otis and Jimmy had a banner day upstream, achieving the “Crawford Slam” with big bass on the pond and a couple dandy trout during the hatch. For an encore, Otis bagged a 22-inch brown on Sunday on a streamer.
What a start! You feel authentic joy for the boys. Yet, ‘round about Pinconning on the drive back north it happens. Doubt creeps in. For you, personally, it’s been no bumps, no hits, no errors. As it almost always is on the Au Sable this early in the season. There’s no telling how long the no-fish purgatory can last. Push out the worst-case scenarios and irrational fears that snakebite will last all season. The only way to break through is get back on the water and stay there.
Saturday is jam packed. Morning bass and pike endeavor. Nothing. Afternoon on the South Branch. Nothing but peanuts and beer. Evening spinner watch on the Main Branch. Nothing. A warm evening at Bud’s Cabins with pals old and new, reliving fishing conquests old, but not new, at least not for you, because you don’t have any.
Sunday morning monsoon makes a streamer float look ideal. Greg moves a big butter stick but it doesn’t eat. You cast your ass off and yet there is nothing. It should’ve been better. You remark that’s the way of May – it is rarely as it seems or as it should be.
Still mid-afternoon. Might as well leave the waders on, take a drive, and hunt one last well-worn trail for a few hennies and a big head. It’s been tough down there. All the jedi knights have been up and down the trail for a couple weeks now. Some straightened hooks. A tragedy or two at the net. And a whole lot left out there, unmolested. Somehow, today, the trail is empty. One Jedi must be guiding. Another is reportedly taking the day off out of frustration. A third spends much time with his girlfriend these days – his romances are always good for the rest of us on the river! A fourth is, well, he’s rightfully secretive and you won’t see him until you do, and then not for long, but it always feels good when you make the same judgment as he does. He’s not down here, either.
Bugs should be going by now, but you don’t see any. Well, maybe a couple. Then a couple more. Wait, it’s building into an armada of sailboats again. And they said it was likely over? It’s first week of May – rarely as it seems or should be. Ventures down here are the closest you come to bird watching. That’s essentially all you’ve ever done down here. Watched. You’ve seen some huge trout. Seen ‘em rise with impunity. But you’ve never caught one. They are bastards. Big. Smart. Wary. Keep the faith. Keep walking.
There’s a disturbance, not so much a rise as a throat clearing gurgle. It’s right beside you. Right down the embankment. It must be on that foam covered log. You stop in your tracks. You back up slowly. Thirty seconds. A minute. You’re watching the log. It must be on the log. Down here, they are so often on the log, or behind it, or deep in the drowned alders, in impossible spots. It goes again! Another gurgle, accompanied by a jaw clap. It’s not on the log. You were staring right at the log. You widen your field of vision. Thirty seconds. Another minute. There! There it is. Four feet out from the log. Big swirl and another jaw clap in the soft water. Just off the fast flow of the bubble line.
In the open.
You freeze. You don’t have your camera.
Picture or it didn’t happen. Go back to the car and get it. NO! Remember all the fish you’ve spooked down here simply by lifting a rod tip in the sun, or tripping over rocks or, I dunno, breathing? No. You cannot walk up the trail past this fish. He might not come back. Who knows how long these bugs will last. It could be over by the time you get back here with your precious hero shot machine. And, dummy, you are a helluva long way from needing a camera.
Swirl. Gurgle. Pop-goes-the-jaw.
You ease down through the alders thirty feet downstream of the bastard. And freeze again.
You’re not ready. This is the right fly. Dun with a shuck. But the leader is set up for yesterday’s small-fish aspirations. 5X tippet. There is zero need for 5X after two inches of rain and the river all dirtied up. This is a 4X fish. Or a 3X fish. Dumb ass. You’re going to lose this fish on 5X.
You breathe. And remember a Zen passage you texted to a fishing buddy just the other day… “Nothing happens next, everything happens now. There is no next. Next is an illusion.”
You’re in the water. In close combat. It’s too late to fiddle with tippet. Nothing happens next. Live this moment. Trust it. Go.
The measure cast is the right distance and safely out in fast water. Second cast drops the fly at the top of the zone. It’s right there.
Swirl. Gurgle. Pop. SET!
You’re tight to him. He bolts to the middle of the river. Oh, God. It’s lethally fast and deep out there. The bastard takes line like a bonefish. Until he doesn’t. He stops short of the middle of the river and bulldogs. He’s cutting you a huge break. Suddenly he’s like a dog on a leash as you reel and gain purchase. He’s in the soft water now. Just sitting there.
Easy. It’s 5X. Don’t f— it up now.
The leader knot tinks on the last guide. It’s close now. Get ready. Sure enough, you bow to him as soon as he runs again straight downstream in the soft water. He cuts you another break. All he has to do is keep going another fifty feet and he’ll find the safety of a gnarly logjam.
Apply the brakes. Remember, it’s 5X. Apply the brakes. Oh, Jesus. It’s 5X.
Somehow, he lets you walk the dog again. It’s the first week of May – rarely as it seems or should be. The leader knot is back in the last guide. The fish bellies this time. He barely fits in the net and writhes with all his remaining power. The fly pops out of his kype. There’s no time to measure. He’s 22 or 23. Obese. You can’t fit your paw around his silver sides and hanging belly. You pick him up with both hands. There’s fear in his eye. He needs to breathe. You let him. He hangs there in your hands and regains enough strength to bolt downstream.
You stare into the ageless rocks on the river bottom. Nothing happens next. Nothing happens for quite a while. Just joy. Eventually, you look up, find the leader, and examine the fly. The hook is bent wide open. You stare downstream and shout.
How did this hook stay in your mouth? Definitely not as it should be!
The open hook is the only picture you can share. Yet you will own and see with perfect clarity this fish, this moment, as long as your brain remembers your own name. Probably longer.
Hardy Day: May 20, 10 am – 2 pm
Hardy Representative Dirk Fischbach will be at the lodge this coming Saturday with a full suite of Hardy (and Greys) rods and reels, and a special promo: Spend $200 on Hardy and Greys products, and enter to win a free Hardy reel. Have old Hardy reels you’d like to sell or trade? This is the day to bring them in.
Hardy is famous for its classic, collectible, made-in-England reels. They also have an incredible line of rods and more modern reels. This year Greys, a prominent international company under the Hardy umbrella, released the Wing series of rods. At under $400, these have been one of our most popular rods in 2023 and are worth a test cast.