This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm
July 28th, 2008

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Actually they don't go bump. They pop, at least some of the big ones do as they hatch out of the mud.

The Hex

That is the famous Hex, the reason we spent a night floating down Michigan's Au Sable River in a long narrow Au Sable river boat (also called a Jon boat). This is a typical one below.

Au Sable Riverboat

We made arrangement early in the week with our friend Steve Southard to float the river as there should be some Hex appearing. We all watched the weather in hopes we'd be able to take a float without rain or have a storm mess up the river so it wouldn't make any sense to go.

Monday evening we met Steve at his new shop, hooked the Jon boat on its trailer behind the pick up and headed down stream. The intent was to drop the boat off at the Townline road access, drive farther downstream just past McMasters Bridge and drop the trailer and pick up there. JC followed Steve through eight miles of jumbled sand roads. Eventually they both showed up back at the Townline access where I had been 'holding the fort,' and putting the rods together. Two separate groups of people came and went in the time the guys were gone. One group, two brothers who are also guides were floating the same section we had planned to float. We passed them forty-five minutes later. In the dark.

We also passed an individual on the bank who Steve greeted by name. JC and I never saw the fellow. That has something to do with night vision and being intimately acquainted with the river. Actually, Steve grew up on the river. His dad was a teacher in Grayling, and bought property on the Au Sable where the family lived. Steve's sister still lives on the river. In fact we all considered pulling out at her place if the weather turned any worse. We got a little wind, but the lightening was our main concern. As it worked out, we were able to make the McMasters landing without any problem, or getting soaked by the approaching storms.

If you can imagine floating at night, without any light, listening for the sound of a fish rising, an insect hatching (the 'pop') or the fluttering of lots of wings. Yes, you can hear them! You also hear the sounds of the river, and if you know approximately where you are, you know if there are riffles or fast water ahead. A couple of times I smelled sweet fern, something we don't have here.

You float along almost in total silence. The water barely laps at the sides of the boat as we slide so smoothly down the river. We all had some version of lights. JC and I had the new under brim lights Joe (the bread god) brought for the Meet and Greet, and they worked just dandy. Steve wore a head lamp, and I don't recall him using it at all.

Steve of course knew places where the big fish were, or most likely should be. We pulled to the side of the river and waited to hear a fish. He rose. Steve said to let it rise a couple of time before JC made a cast to it. After the second rise, it stopped. JC did make a couple of casts, no fish. We did put a light on the area, it was a downed sweeper, wonderful fish cover.

Just below us we spotted a dim red light in the distance. It was another angler in a boat, waiting for the hatch. We passed him and another further downstream. Steve asked if we could pass and of course we did, but the courtesy was nice.

The stop, wait, pattern the fish and cast was repeated a couple of times. Had there been great numbers of Hex hatching we would have had lots of opportunities for catching a big one. The bigger browns for sure prefer feeding at night when they aren't as vulnerable.

One of the fancy places we passed was awash in bright mercury vapor lights. Really hard to get your vision to adjust back to dark after that. A couple of years ago I remember seeing some of the local guides who were wearing two pair of sunglasses during the day to help protect their night vision.

The river gradient drops in the short distance we floated, which put us through some nice riffles as well and long slick glides. This was the fourth of July weekend so a lot of cabins and cottages had folks around. It was lovely to see the places lite up - and hear laughter echoing across the water.

We hit the take out around one-thirty am, Steve secured the boat back on the trailer, we gathered up the rods, extra warm clothing (which we didn't need) and headed back for the Townline Road where we had left our rental car. It was two-thirty when we got back to our room.

It was a lovely trip. The fishing isn't just about the fish. ~ The LadyFisher

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