Trip Report – The Big One Got Away

My first fishing outing if 2011 is now at a close. Several friends and I rented a cabin in the Grayling area, and we headed up for a few days of fly fishing in that area.

Day 1: Evening on the main branch

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The first evening had what was probably the best weather of the whole trip. We originally planned to wade from the canoe launch at Stephans downstream. Unfortunately a half dozen other guys did too. With 10 anglers walking through the river, I just didn’t think it was going to increase our chances of hooking into fish. With that in mind, we packed it up and headed for another popular access point.

Once we arrived, there was another angler coming out of the water. He said it was slow, but with the sun setting we had our hopes up. Bugs were slowly picking up, and soon there was a pretty strong caddis hatch going. We spread out on the river and started to fish to the few fish that were rising. There were a few fish caught as we fished until we could no longer see.

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Day 2: Dodging drops below Dam 4

On our second day, we headed for the north branch with reports that sulfurs were coming off fairly decent. We decided to float down the river in hopes of reaching some infrequently visited water.

The sun was shining as we left the Old Ausable Fly Shop, and I laughed at the weather man who said it was supposed to be raining. After loading the canoes, I attempted to retract my meteorologic taunting when the sky behind me moved from a grayish color to a near black sun blocking wall.

It was hard to tell if it was thunder claps echoing across the valley, or mortar shells exploding at the Grayling artillery range, but either way the rain began to fall. We danced the “put in and take out car shuffle” before we began wetting our lines, dropping off gear and our vehicles.

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The heavy rain fell north of us, so we did not end up too wet. However, the wind picked up and made for some difficult casting. We floated, we fished, and after the trip was done we had seen a mere handful of bugs hatching, and caught a couple tiny brookies between us.

After refueling our grumbling stomachs, we headed to the main branch hoping for an evening hatch. I was able to fish at an access point that was new to me, but with the water slightly up the wading was a tad difficult. A few bugs came off the water, and a few dinks were rising. Before dark a fish started to put on the feed bag in a bubble line. My friend threw a half dozen flies at him, but as the sunlight dwindled he would swipe at the flies but not keep any. My friend called me over and and said someone should try to catch him before we ran out of light. I tied on a henny spinner, and the fish was on with the second cast. It was a nice spunky brookie on a mission to eat.

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Day 3: Of minivans and two tracks

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The temperature on this day drastically dropped by around 20 degrees as we woke up to the upper 30’s on the mercury. I convinced everyone that if the fishing was already slow, the cold snap just ended whatever chances we had of catching a fish that morning. So instead of fishing we headed for Jay’s Sporting Goods in Gaylord, and decided to try to fish the Manistee River starting in the early afternoon. We came back to the home base, loaded up, stopped at Hartwick Pines for a quick look at pine trees that are hundreds of years old, and then headed towards the headwaters of the Manistee. We all got into some small brookies as the river heated up, and bugs began to come off the water.

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We hopped between several access points without any great luck. At one access, my buddy noticed a large fish just hovering under a log jam, and two more nice fish sitting at the bottom of a pool. Dries, nymphs, streamers, and more were dropped on their head without even making them budge. With time to hit one more access point, I told my buddies that the one access I always hear about is the CCC bridge and we started off for it. That is where the adventure begins.

The guide book we were using told us to take Manistee River Road to M72, then cross to a road named Riverview. The map showed that after so many miles it would become dirt, and it did. However, the longer we took it the worse the road became. First if was dirt, then it was a two track, then it was barely a two track. Mind you, we were traveling in my 10 year old minivan, and we probably needed to stop and turn around. But according to the map we only had a mile left, so I punched it. Over mud holes, through soft sand, and even a broken corrugated pipe, I didn’t know if we would make it. Then the road ended, and we were in the middle of no where. Funny enough we were probably a stone’s throw away from where we wanted to be,

I turned the minivan around and had to go through the obstacle course again, and almost got stuck once again. My buddies were coaching me through what resembled a two track while my adrenalin pumped, and we made it out of the backwoods. Backtracking to the mistake, we found Riverview road split and head southwest and we were basically on a two track that only a few landowners might use, and probably do so with a 4×4. Luckily, there happened to be an access point right where we took the wrong turn, and we fished there until dark. Unfortunately there were only a few bugs with fewer fish, and we headed back for our late dinner.

Day 4: Last minute unforgettable

We first packed up for home, and wanted to get one last shot at some fish. We headed to the “Trophy Waters” section below Mio, and stopped in at Bob Linesmans AuSable Anglers Fly Shop. We intended to fish nymphs to the smaller “dumb” trout recently stocked. Then I overheard one of the local guys say we was going to try out the new Ditch Pig later that day, and said the overcast skies should really help. A Ditch Pig is a streamer, and a huge one at that. So after overhearing that, I asked for a basic recommendation for tossing streamers, and I was told to switch between dark and light streamers. I bought a white Zoo Cougar and a black Zuddler-like pattern and we headed for the river.

The water was running fast and it was hard wading back into the area I wanted to fish, but once there I started tossing the white Zoo Cougar without success. I switched to the black streamer and about five casts later I moved a large brown trout out from a log, but he retreated quickly. I turned and cast to a log jam on the opposite bank, and that is when it happened. I saw a huge flash of yellow chase the fly, and the water even churned around the fly. There was a ferocious strike, my rod doubled over, and an enormous brown was on, and I started yelling, or better – I was hooting and hollering. I pulled my rod straight up to set the hook, and the fish shot straight up and out of the water. This was the biggest brown trout I’ve ever seen in person, and was easily as long as my arm. The brown fell back to the water, and my 5 weight rod began bucking back and forth. I tried to keep pressure on the line, but whether it was a head shake from the fish or my handling of the line, he came unbuttoned from the fly. This fish would have went 20+ inches, and maybe 25+ inches. Losing that fish will haunt me for quite a while.

I waded downstream, tied on a nymph, and caught his little brother before deciding I was done for the trip.
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