There are four ways to fish the AuSable - classic; wet fly-upstream, nymph,
dry fly-long leader downstream, dry fly upstream, and sweeper fishing.
Sweeper fishing is a throwback to a grander, earlier time. A time
when sports were escorted down the river in elaborate river boats. Flat
bottomed boat stable enough to stand up in, with a picnic lunch, wine and or a
bottle of good scotch, a live well and pegs to hold 4-5 rods.
These boats, up to 27 ft long, dragged a chain and were poled
by a guide with a wide brim hat who fished a automatic fly reel. The
guide would pole with one hand then plant the pole and cast with
the other hand. He would control the boats speed by lengthening the
amount of anchor chain let out behind the boat. Depending on
the amount of structure and holding, a good guide would move
through each section a the proper speed.
What are sweepers? The AuSable uniquely blessed with
dead downed trees that are there year after year. There is no spring
run-off here and bank side cover abounds.
The trick was to throw a fly back into "holes" in the downed trees
where all the nice trout live. Nothing in life is harder than to watch
a monster regularly feed 12 feet back in a sweeper with no holes to
cast through. It was a specialized act.
These flies were sweeper flies - from time immorial on the
AuSable this was the way it was done. You didn't have to know about
those funny flies on the water. You just had to know how to throw
flies back into the sweepers. Generally there were muddlers or skunks,
like these are.
I guess I was known as a fly man and one guide who fished
the water 3 days a week said, "What are those yellow flies?"
Looking at his act it was understandable, he was a sweeper guide. All
his clients, mostly older clients, relished a fine day floating the river with
a few drinks, a great boat lunch, and the chance to haul real hogs out of the
The sweeper outfit was a 6-7 wt with a weight forward line and a 7-9 foot
leader. The trick was to throw a tight loop that didn't open up until the
line and leader was back into the sweeper. The fly was brought out in 6-12
inch rips. Short strikers were common - hence the trailer on old Wallace's
streamer. Most of the fish orientated to the edges, explaining the popularity of
skunks and rubber legged flies of that type.
I fished big muddlers. What a thrill watching a big fish smack
at your fly 4-5 times following it out of the sweeper. You couldn't stop.
If you did the fish would "give up". When a fish was hooked no "finesse"
was used. Just drag the hog out.
Sounds like bass fishing doesn't it? But it was sure a thrill. You could
do it wading but the class act was to do it by boat, covering 4-5 miles
of water, taking the easy shots.
I fished it differently. I walked my boat, positioning it exactly where
I wanted it. The sport didn't have to think. The correct position was
chosen for him.
I was scum, since most of my clients couldn't really fish sweeper I
used a set of pruning shears to improve the hole. Not the hole that everyone
else used. I liked holes that faced up stream. Holes that you would have to
partially pass to throw into. If your client hung one in a "hole" you had two
to three rods available to give him three or four shots. Then you would
wade over and remove the flies.
This was not a 5x act. These were the gov's sweeper flies. He was a
contemporary of the inventor of the Adams and Skunk, and since he always "tied
to pattern" I would suspect these skunks were real close to the original
patterns. George always said over one-half his streamer flies came on the
What could be better ; a leisurely float, a great boat lunch, a few
drinks, and big trout smacking at your fly on top - your heart in your mouth
as you watched that pig follow your fly for seven or eight feet and hit at it four
to six times. Some guides used nothing but muddlers and skunks. And at
around dark would sometimes fish 'mousies' which were deer hair mice.
Few fished after 4:00p.m. as gentlemen had to clean up before dinner at Cal
A way of life that is slipping past. The good guides are gone. Most just
take a boat ride. Few now can throw that fly 8-10 ft back into a sweeper.
A class act that will never return. When I see the flies I think of the AuSable
and an act that was dying when I was young.
The old gov did it to a tee - but he should as he had been doing it for
50 years. I just was fortunate enough to observe his act. The last time I saw
him, his niece was working a boat for him below Stephans Bridge - he couldn't
wade. I waved and said "Hi".
I will always think of the old gov when I fish that stretch. The gov
didn't invent the sweeper act, but he sure did refine it. If old gov waded it
was sure hard to fish behind him. ~ old rupe