Welcome to Eye of the Guide

Part Sixty-three

Signs of Spring . . . Grayling Michigan

By Steve Southard

AuSable River Browns

One of the most impressive sights in nature has to be the tremendous leaps adult salmon make over dams and waterfalls on their way upstream. Due to rising water levels and warmer stream temperatures, we had the opportunity to witness something equally spectacular - large AuSable river browns took turns trying to leap over the Grayling city dam. These pictures serve as an example of the quality of fishing we are fortunate enough to have in the Grayling area. We know the fish are there. It's just a matter of enticing them into taking our imitations of fur and feather.

What's Happening

The big melt off that has already occurred here in the north and the sight of big browns trying to jump the low-head dam just upstream of the shop (picture above) are both sure signs of spring. It looks as though we're going to return to a stretch of messy late winter weather as we move into the weekend. Not too surprising . . . it is way too early for spring to take a firm hold on the north.

Early season fishing opportunities will abound! With another early spring in progress, there are already nice fish periodically being taken on nymphs & streamers in the 'holy water', the section of the AuSable Mainstream just east of Grayling (from Burtons Landing to Wakeley Bridge,) that is open year-round for catch & release, flies-only fishing. Beginning on April 1, there will be quite a few more sections of stream open for catch & release fishing . . . including most of the AuSable North Branch & South Branch and the Manistee from M-72 to CCC Bridge . . . as the new inland trout regulations go into effect.

Among other revisions, effective April 1, 2000, the fly-fishing-only sections will be open for catch & release fishing when the general and extended seasons are closed. There are now seven classifications of trout stream and accompanying regulations in the state. We've got the 2000 licenses and handbooks on hand and available in the shop (Fly Factory in Grayling MI). You can also GO HERE online to view or download a copy of the revised and updated Michigan Trout Fishing Regulations 2000.

Stream Conditions

The streams have begun to recede a little bit after coming up during the late February melt down. Water levels on the upper portions of The AuSable and Manistee had come up about six or seven inches. On the lower parts off the river the rise in levels was talked about in terms of feet.

After rising into the middle forties over the past few weeks, the stream temperatures returned to the lower to mid thirties. As we get our next hit of warm weather late this weekend and early into the week, we should see another rise into the 40's.

Hatch Activity

Break out the cigars and scotch! It's becoming time to fish the late winter / early spring hatches. The first bugs to be seen each year are usually the tiny early winter black stoneflies. These winter bugs usually migrate toward shore and crawl out of the river in order to emerge from their nymph casing. A wise trout will take up a position near the shore and pick off the nymphs as they head toward the bank. The egg laying females crash hard onto the water and become easy food for hungry trout. From here on out, keep your eyes open on warmer sunny days for the early dark bugs.

Nymphs are an ever present food source for our resident trout and it isn't often that a wise old fish will let a succulent little bug float by without opening his mouth and inviting it in. While a fish usually won't travel far to get a meal in really cold water, they also won't pass up an easy opportunity for some nourishment. Fish slow and get to the bottom where the fish are!

Streamers are definitely going to catch some fish when the weather is a bit warmer. The fish should be hungry after being dormant for so long and it could get pretty hairy out there.

Michigan Trout Stream Emergence Schedule

Flies To Try

Wipe the dust off your floatant, the surface activity has begun! You should have a couple of Soft Hackles, beadheads and a few small stonefly (Nymphs and Stimulators #16 - #20) patterns in your fly box in case you happen upon some afternoon hatches. Itching to dry fly fish? With these unseasonably warm temps, it is not unreasonable to carry some small blue-winged olives, in addition to the tiny black stones.

Try general nymph patterns like Hare's Ears, Pheasant Tails, and Prince nymphs as they represent a wide range of insect species. Nymphs with rubber legs also produce quite a few fish this time of year. Fox squirrel nymphs, Rubber legged Stones, and Wet Skunks are all good choices. Save room for a couple of big & ugly nymphs, such as a beadhead rubber-leg fox squirrel nymph #6-10, which has moved some nice browns this time of year.

One of the great things about this time of year is the fish that are caught seem to be a bit bigger on average. Try Zonkers, Muddlers, Matukas, Sculpins and Woolly Buggers in larger sizes (#2 - #8). If we get any sun, you'll want to try something with a little bit of flash. Mickey Finns, Gray and Black Ghosts, Clousers, and Bullet-head streamers should all produce on those bluebird days. We may start to see some really aggressive fish if the weather continues to stay warm so be ready for the shark attack!

There are Steelhead to be caught in the lower AuSable and Manistee Rivers. You'll want to focus your fly selection toward the nymphs, speys, and streamers. Slender black Stonefly nymphs, small Hex nymphs, Green Caddis Larva, and Hare's Ears should all produce fish for you.

If you have questions on fishing the AuSable or other regional Grayling streams or lakes feel free to ask us! Steve Southard
Phone: 517.348.5844

About Steve Southard:

Steve has spent time on and along the upper AuSable River for most of his 48 years. His parents began fly-fishing the McMasters Bridge area (20 miles east of Grayling) in 1939. Frequent camping trips gave way to a riverside cabin and lengthy summer fishing vacations in 1960. In 1979, Steve left an executive position with National Bank of Detroit and joined other family members to purchase and operate Ray's Canoeing & The Fly Factory. Subsequently, Steve, wife Cecelia and their three children became the owners and operators; they have re-established and emphasized the history and tradition of The Fly Factory as a premier fly shop and The AuSable River's Original Fly Shop and Guide Service. Steve regularly guides on the upper AuSable and Manistee rivers in his tradional 24 foot cedar plank AuSable Riverboat. Our sincere thanks to Steve for sharing his knowledge and love of the river with us. ~ DB

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