Mid September on the AuSable is a mixed bag. You just never know what your going to get. The first couple of days were cold with near freezing temps at night. The water temps were 52F and fish hunkered down, not moving for anything. Then it was 80F days with warm nights and you were kicking the bag off and sleeping in a t shirt. The rains played tricks, too. This time of year you expect the odd deluge but instead, it was spotty mini showers for a day or so, then clear blue skies for several days. It’s not what you want. You give up on the idea of moving to campsites on the west side of the state, for the salmon run. It was too beautiful to leave the spot you were already in.
The coyotes were calling all over the place, owls hooting, and night herons squawking. Squirrels were in a frenzy, dropping pine cones and acorns from the trees like a rain storm. Buck whitetail’s were showing full clean racks and heavy necks, ready for the rut. You could here the "bear dogs" hot on the trail hoping to tree that bear and the signal collars on the bird dogs moving in the brush nearby. There was lots of orange moving in the forest. Sometimes you would hear the crack of a shotgun. All I could think of was free fly tying materials with ever report. Then you have the ever present military manoeuvres. Constant gunfire from, 20 MM, 50 MM, big tank guns, rifles, fighter jets, helicopters overhead, preparing soldiers for a war far away. I was thinking of my son, waiting for his call and hoping it wasn’t going to happen while we were away.
It’s an interesting time to be above the thumb, but believe it or not…it is also the quiet time. The wind blowing through trees, blue jays chatting it up, like a gang of budgies and you…just you…the only ones in the whole campground and you have the river all to yourself. The sound of aluminium canoes crashing into each other and scraping over rocks is gone. The kids are back in school, and the fair weather cottagers have gone home. You still see the odd canoeist out there but they are more skilled and wiser about their place in the river and more respectful.
You can hear the fall warblers moving through and the mice moving below the bracken and leaves trying to avoid the owls that hunt them. The air has a crisp clean smell to it. The river itself is spotless and pristine.
The Anglers of the AuSable had their big Annual River Clean up, just a week or so previous…and what a difference that makes. What a dedicated group of people they are.
The water is low and gin clear. The fish are starting to move into the middle of the river and are keying on ants and BWOs during the afternoon, Iso’s at dusk and a big hatch of #12 Autumn Sedge when the smaller stars start showing. I’ll have to remember to have a couple of those for next year. Stimulators worked though.
When we arrived, the trees were still all green, but they starting changing to fall colours later in the week. It starts out, a tree here, an acre there, then before you know it, the whole forest is busting forth in color. I wish I could have stayed another ten days to see it come to full color, but it was spectacular non the less. It’s not just the trees that change. The brookies and brown trout put on their fall colors as well. This is really the time to be there.
Fishing the AuSable is more challenging than fishing our annually stocked tail waters. These fish are wild. They are much more skittish and easier to put down. The water is clear and they take a long look at your fly, so presentation is everything.
Even the typically suicidal Brook Trout has seen everything go over his head and he’s much wearier then the brookies in our northern rivers and creeks. I loved fishing for these guys. I don’t get that chance very often.
If you want brown trout, you have to be willing to loose flies, and fish in the hardest places. Typically you bounce your flies off the logs and over hangs and you keep moving, looking for players. If you want a crack at the bigger ones, you need to be willing to put in night duty and I would suggest a beefier rod than the typical day time 3wt. You can have surpises though. One afternoon, I was fishing this section,
for brookies. I was watching as one came up, looking intently at my fly and just in the process of taking it, when I saw a big wake moving in like an F-118 Stealth Fighter Jet. The brookie had taken the fly, the 20+ inch brown had taken the brookie…and I ended up with ZIP! No fish, no fly…just a stupid look on my face. "What the …."
Oh well…the fishing only picked up after that.
I also had a big surprise on my last day fishing. I was bouncing small steamers and ants off the logs that afternoon, on a new piece of water. The goal that day was to just learn a couple of sections of new water. A couple of anglers in kayaks said they saw three 18 in. browns come out from under a big log jam when a beaver went under there and disturbed them. I’m still trying to learn where to look and so I waited until after the paddlers were on there way. I decided to pop a few casts off those logs in the hopes that one might come out. On the third cast four fish came out…and what a surprise! Two were around 18 inches. One was a good 23 inch female and then the BIG HOG! It had to be at LEAST 26 inches (closer to 30), in full dark fall color and sporting a big kipe (sp). It was as big as any steelhead I’ve ever caught. They all came out and settled to the bottom of the river, right in front of me. My husband had been watching. He said, “What are you going to do now?” I looked at my 3wt rod, then back at THE fish and said, “Nothing!” “I need a bigger stick!!” So we just watched them. That was enough to make my day. The thrill was finding them. If I only knew about them a day earlier, I could have made plans to go back…but I WILL remember that spot for next year and have a bigger rod, a bigger net and stronger tippet ready, and if all I do is get something like that to come up and look at my fly…I’ll be happy!!