Michigan Out of Doors and Hex Fishing

I typically tape every episode of Michigan Out-of-doors off of my local PBS station. I wait eagerly for the occasional fly fishing related segments they run. Well, when they announced that they would be on the AuSable chasing the hex hatch, I was excited for the episode to air.

However, it never showed up on my Tivo. I don’t know if the Detroit PBS station did not air it, or I just missed it. When I was up at the AuSable this past month, the worker at the Old AuSable factory happened to mention their visit in the shop. So, I decided to do some searching and found out, that because the show has recently separated from MUCC, it seems to havea revamped web site.

The best part is the web site has episodes available to view online, including the hex fishing episode at the AuSable River. If anyone has the recipe for the Kennys Golden Eagle hex pattern listed in the show, let me know. It looks pretty nifty. Here’s a link to that episode:


The big 2009 fishing Trip – September 2009 on the AuSable

Silhouette Fly Fishing

Day 1 – The Arrival

We were able to rent the same cabin we rented last year on the banks of the North Branch of the AuSable river.  I was nervous about traveling with the canoe on top the minivan, but the trip up went quick and uneventful. We even stopped briefly at Cracker Barrel for dinner.

When we got to the cabin, we unpacked and took a few pictures.  My little girl was as happy as I was to be there:
Dad and Clara
The river was calling my name and I had my waders on as quickly as possible. I finally ended up catching a few small brookies as it was beginning to get dark…
Blurred Brookie

There was a nice trout feeding lane that several little brookies were holding throughout the weekend. It looked something like this:

Day3 – Bad day fishing is better than a good day working

Every morning after I had at least one cup of coffee, I would go out and either work the banks or throw on my waders and fish alone.  It is very peaceful and serene fishing a river in the morning by yourself (and sometimes cold).  I caught a bunch of brookies over the course of the weekend.  Most of the fish were in the 6″ to 8″ range.

Streamside catch

Pretty soon Clara will be able to fish with me.   For now, no baby waders, rather she just gets to see her daddy in waders.

Soon to be fisher

My original plan was to float the big water that is between Mio and Comins flats.  This is the float trip I took last year, and as an inexperienced canoeist I began to worry about attempting to float and fish this section. I was excited to hit the tail end of the white-fly hatch, and I had heard that they were having the annual river clean-up on Saturday which meant that there would be a ton of people on the river on Saturday.  Instead of the “trophy waters,” I talked to my father-in-law about floating the North Branch which I thought would be a much safer bet.  While it was a much better decision to go this route, I definitely had a rough day ahead.  With the canoe loaded on the “fish car” (I’m now borrowing Voelker’s car title), we headed off to a  canoe access point on the North Branch of the AuSable and were going to paddle back to the cabin.

The Fish Car

I joked with my father-in-law that I was planning on naming the canoe “Serenity” which is the name of a favorite sci-fi movie, and also the feeling one gets when being on a river.  I’ll probably stick with the namebecause it is pretty darn cool, but actual serenity was not achieved on this voyage.

Canoe Trip Preparations

Even my dog River would be joining us on this inaugural journey.  While not the best swimmer, River seemed to be okay for most of the ride, but he had some moments of fear.

River Dog

The North Branch is definitely a beautiful section of river:

Sheeps Pasture

So, as we’re getting ready to disembark, I did a double-check of all equipment and realized my wallet containing my fishing license was missing.  My wife graciously offered to go back to the cabin and return with my wallet.  Unfortunately two things happened.  First, she took a wrong turn and went about 10 miles out of the way, and took near 45 minutes for her return.  Second, she never found my wallet.  I checked everything again when I realized a combination of a broken belt and wearing my waders caused my pants to fall about five inches lower then they should have.  My back pocket containing my wallet was behind my knee, and no one was very happy that I had my wallet the whole time.

My father-in-law hopped in the canoe, and I followed.   We took off from the access point, and canoe completely turned around and we were floating down the river backwards.;  I realized I had a lot to learn about navigating a canoe.  A short time later, I had to get out of the canoe because the water was too shallow.  I almost went head first into the water because my wading boot had caught on the canoe.  When I looked down, the reason it caught was because the sole completely fell off.  We were having a hard time navigating the canoe, and my lack of skills caused us to hit many log jams and trees, even head-on once.  At least four times the water became so shallow, I would get out and push us through the rocks.  Also, the loud noises started to have an effect on my dog, and he was getting antsy from being confined so long.  My father-in-law was pushing us to keep going because I think he was afraid we were not going to make it back before dark.

The culmination of bad luck happened when we came around a bend and saw the only other person of the entire trip. A gentleman was fly fishing just north of Kellogs Bridge, and we moved to the right of the river to make sure we did not interfere with his fishing. My father-in-law leaned back and said, “Let’s at least not embarrass ourselves in front of another fisherman.” As we approached the man, we moved to the right and I gave a greeting with the nod of the head. A few seconds later, the canoe grinded to a halt atop a gravel bed, directly parallel to the fisherman. My father-in-law said hello, and I think I said we were stuck. The fisherman jokingly asked if my dog was going to get out and push, and I got out and pushed us along.

Eventually, the not-so-fun fishing adventure had turned into a somewhat decent canoe ride. Finally we stopped the canoe to fish, and I caught a big creek chub.  I would say it was not a prized fish.  We finally got the hang of canoeing and probably the highlight of the trip was when we stumbled onto a couple deer taking a rest at the river.

When we finally made it back to the dock at the cabin, and my wife mentioned that she kept seeing huge fish near the the bank.  I immediately rigged up a large nymph thinking I would have a go at them, but stopped when I realized what was happening.  It seemed as there were brook trout spawning right off the bank under a big log.  I attempted to take some underwater video below, and here is a picture of some of the fish.
Brookies spawning

I did go fishing again later that evening, and did catch a few brookies that exceeded the 8″ range, like this one below:

Nice Brookie

At the end of the day, the canoe ride tired me out but good, and I started to doze off after putting my daughter to sleep while sitting on the couch.

Day3 – Out-fished by a girl

Almost every morning, the difference in water and air temps caused a mist to settle on top of the water, making for a picturesque view from the cabin.
Misty stream

Without wading boots, it would be difficult to fish. I decided to go to the Gates Lodge and buy a pair of wading boots. Their least expensive pair were a pair of Orvis Pack and Travel boots, which I liked because they were so light. I bought that and my wife decided that because I had packed her waders, she would be a fishing license for the day as well. I noticed that they had several leaders made by Kathy Scott, so I bought one because I had bought her DVD on how to make them and now I would have something to compare against.

With new wadding boots, my father-in-law and I took off to fish the AuSable mainstream. I decided to check out a new access point listed in the handy AuSable River Guide. When we came to the small parking area, there was another fisherman eating his lunch. We swapped a few stories, and he said the fishing was slow and he had only caught a few small fish. My father-in-law tied on a white wulff, and ended up catching a small brookie. My highlight of the visit, was when I had an 8″ to 10″ brookie smash a hopper pattern I was tossing next to a grassy bank. The fish went airborne to try and eat it, but there was no hookup. I did end up running into some more deer though:

As we waded out, an AuSable River boat passed us by, asking how we did. I told them it was slow, and the guide said, “At least your fishing.” He was right.

We headed back to the cabin, where my father-in-law made up a pot roast in a dutch oven. We took some pictures of my daughter too:
Can Clara Canoe?

My wife and I then geared up, and fished while dinner was cooking. It ended up being the best night of fishing and we caught a bunch of brookies, and I finally caught something other than a brookie when I hooked two browns.
Fishing as a couple

The average brookie we were catching looked something like this:
Average Brookie

The first catch of the evening looked like this, but the big one was just up around the bend for my wife:

First Catch

After attempting to match the hatch by fishing with some BWO emergers and dry flies, my wife kept catching brookies on a dry adams. So I switched over as well, and that seemed to be what the fish were keying on. I ened up with my biggest fish of the trip:
Good Catch

I told my wife to wade down and take a picture of my nice sized brookie which ran around 10″ or so.
Better Catch

She took the picture and asked, “Where did you cast to catch this one?” I pointed to the nearby log jam, and she casted almost exactly where I had, and immediately hooked an even bigger fish. Both mad and excited, I helped her get it in a take a couple pictures:
Better Fish Closeup

After releasing the trout, I went to grab my fly rod and it was missing. I panicked, looked around, and saw my rod slowly moving downstream about 10 feet away. I about lost my favorite rod and reel… oops. And, I was out-fished by my wife.

Day4 – Dream Stream

I fished early that morning, but caught nothing near the cabin.

Working the water

Last year, I got lost out in state land trying to find a stream referenced in an old Michigan Trout guide I had bought off of Ebay. I used an atlas to discover this hidden gem of a creek, and told my father-in-law that it was a short drive there. It ended up being about 6 to 7 miles away, and when we came to the first access point I quickly became discouraged. I knew this would be a small stream, but it looked as though it had greatly dried up. We travelled downstream and found a nother set of two-tracks I could venture into with the minivan. I came to a hill, and told my father-in-law I would take the walk down to check out the conditions. What I found was my dream stream I had been imagining for months. This was an ankle deep stream with holes that were about knee deep. As I surveyed the water before going back to tell my father-in-law, I saw a trout rise. I definitely wanted to fish here. I could tell my father-in-law was not having as much fun as I was, so I explained that sometimes it was about the challenge of fishing a highly technical stream. When you have to work for the fish, it is much more meaningful. I had a few tiny fish that I moved, but neither of us caught anything. I did find a place I will need to explore again though.

Later that afternoon, we went into Grayling and I got to visit the new Old AuSable Fly Shop. I picked up some stickers for the canoe, and some tippet. It is a nice place and highly recommend it. It even looks like they rent out fishing kayaks, which I think might be something fun to try in the future. We also stopped into a souvenir shop and I bought a fly fishing T-shirt before heading to dinner. We ate at the Canadian Steakhouse which had really good food. The restaurant has a lodge-type theme to it, and was very clean. I highly recommend you check it out if you are looking for a place to eat in Grayling.

We went back and I geared up for my last evening of fishing, where I again caught a few more brookies.

Day5 – The fun ends

After catching small brookies all weekend, I thought I might just be able to coax a big fish out early in the morning. I decided to fish with a zoo cougar streamer, basically using Kelly Galloup’s method. Toss the big chunky streamer in a grid pattern across the water attempting to trigger a huge fish to come after it. After fishing both up and downstream with this method, I had no takers. I think I sacred all the other fish into hiding as well, as I walked out of the water without catching anything that morning.
Misty Stream

Another AuSable trip in the books…
Morning on the water

The canoe has landed

Well, the canoe has left the building, and that building was Dick’s Sporting Goods.  With my big fishing trip around the corner, I decided it was time to buy the canoe.  This is what I bought:


The cost of the canoe at the store was: $499

Here’s what  I did to save money:
I bought a $20 off coupon from Ebay = -$17
The canoe had some scratches/blemishes = -$50
Opened a store credit card = -$10 (plus additional $10)

Final Cost: $422

I had $150 in gift cards that I had been saving up as well.  Then I asked about a “Package” deal by adding paddles and life jacket vests that they were trying to clearance out for the end of season.  They took $10 off each $60 vest, and paddles were $15 each.

I figured out I saved somewhere in the neighborhood of $125 total.  Time to go canoeing.