Welcome to Eye of the Guide

Part Two

AuSable River, Holy Water

By Steve Southard

Fishing falls hatches can produce surprisingly pleasant results. The bigger Michigan brown trout are notorious night-time feeders, not often hooked with dry flies during daylight hours. However, the low-light conditions on overcast fall days and reduced river activity can bring these better fish to the surface.

Late last September I floated and fished with a friend on the lower half of the AuSable's renowned "holy water," a classic gravel bottom, easy-to-wade 8 mile section of river just east of Grayling. The lower third of the holy water has more deep runs and pools that are good holding water for bigger browns than the upper section - which has long riffles, punctuated by some deeper runs on the outside bends.

Misty rain, occasional showers and tentative appearances by the sun alternated throughout the day, not at all uncomfortable with low to mid 60 degree temperatures. On this day we benefitted by drifting in the riverboat and covering more miles of stream than we would have if we'd waded. Size 20-22 baetis were hatching sporadically and there was occasional, but not sustained, feeding activity through much of the trip. We were pleasantly surprised to find four or five decent fish steadily working a narrow feeding lane in a 5 foot deep, eddy-filled run along the outside of the bend.

AuSable John Boat

After watching the feeding patterns for a few minutes, we spotted what appeared to be one of the nicer fish in this pod regularly sipping olive duns at the tail end of a small eddy, where the currents re-converged. A traditional hackle-tip olive was floated through the feeding location, the drifts timed to the trout's feeding rhythm. On the third drift, a natural riding next to our imitator disappeared into a small swirl. A signal to change flies.

After changing to a #20 paradun, the final 10 inches of 6x tippet was treated with leader mud to make the leader less visible to our wary target. On the first cast, the fly drifted through untouched. The second drift brought results - the fly drifted downstream along the outside of the eddy edge and, reaching the converging current lines at the lower end of the eddy, paused for just a moment before being swept away. There was a splashy rise and the 4 weight rod flexed under a heavy load. After a ten minute battle, holding the trout away from heavy cover just a foot or two away, we slid the riverboat downstream to land (and then release) a nicely colored 19-inch brown. Several smaller browns and brook trout were landed and released through the trip on a day when this section of the AuSable was ours alone to enjoy, we didn't pass another person on the stream.

Tips From the Guide!

The cooler days, splashes of color and hatches of the early fall season have returned to the upper AuSable and Manistee Rivers. You can be sure that the Olive Paraduns will be in my flybox as I re-visit some favorite stream sections before general trout season closes on September 30th.

And during the extended season of many miles of nearbly flies-only water through the month of October. This "holy water," the mainstream of the AuSable is open year around to flies only fishing.
~ Steve Southard

About Steve Southard:
Steve has spent time on and along the upper AuSable River for most of his 46 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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