• Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon
  • Instagram Social Icon

© 2019 by Elliott Donnelley Trout Unlimited

AU SABLE RIVER, MICHIGAN 

 

Trip Details:

Location: Grayling, MI 

Accommodations:  Wa Wa Sum Lodge

Contact: Doug Conover, dconover56@gmail.com

 

Dates:  See Events Calendar for current year's dates

We stay in a turn of the 20th century log lodge right on the “Holy Waters” of the main branch of the Au Sable. The closest city is Grayling, Michigan. We fish all three branches of the Au Sable and the Upper Manistee.  If conditions are right, we fish the famed Brown Drake or Hex hatches.

 

Meals are catered (both breakfast and dinner). We share bathrooms and bedrooms, but there are enough rooms accommodate couples and members of both sexes. Each year, we also spend one morning working on a service project. Most anglers arrive Wed afternoon and leave after breakfast Sun morning.

Cost is $375. Advance payment is required. The cost includes lodging Wednesday through Sunday (4 nights) and 4 breakfasts and 3 dinners. This also includes a donation to Michigan State University (which owns the lodge) and its fisheries program. Drive time from Chicago is 5.5 hrs.

This trip takes you to the birthplace of Trout Unlimited in Grayling, Michigan. Here on the banks of the Au Sable River, you can sit in the same rocking chairs on the rear porch of the historic Wa Wa Sum Lodge, where TU founders Art Neumann, George Griffith and 14 others contemplated the future of trout conservation. This is our longest chapter trip at 5 days, providing you ample time to experience this diverse watershed with its brook trout headwaters; brown, bow and brookie main branches; and the nocturnal feeding brown beasts of the South Branch.

 

The 2 branches of the Manistee add additional choices for day excursions as well as the famed evening hatches of Drakes, ISO’s and the elusive Hex! This professionally catered trip includes a robust breakfast to fuel your morning excursion and then another late lunch that sets you on your way to the afternoon and evening hatch pursuits. We also have an optional Friday morning work session with our friends at Conservation Resource Alliance. This trip allows beginners as well as seasoned veterans to find drift boat guides or walk and wade options to suit every caliber of angler adventure.

The Au Sable and Manistee Rivers:

 

History and Introduction

 

In 1959, 16 trout fishermen gathered at George Griffith's house on the banks of the Au Sable. Concerned about the river's future, and that of its wild trout, they formed a new organization dedicated to sustaining the coldwater ecosystems that support wild salmonoid species: Trout Unlimited.

 

The Au Sable is one of America's quintessential trout streams. At the upper end it's wadeable, and the river is loaded with woody debris and small in-stream islands with soft, foam current seams rolling down the edges. The Au Sable's wild browns are educated, seeing a fair amount of fishing pressure and thus are not always easy to convince it take a fly. Perfect downstream drifts are necessary. Downstream, the river is driftboat water reminiscent of many Western streams as it broadens and picks up speed and depth.

During the 19th century, lumber barons stripped a great forest from this watershed, baring its sandy soil. The consequences of over-cutting, and of the boomtown mentality it generated in the region, still resonate in the Au Sable's current ecology. A notable result was the statewide extinction of grayling, the watershed's native salmonid.

TU and its conservation work has been largely responsible for the Au Sable's status as one of trout fishing's holy waters.

 

This river is an original. Sandy bottoms, wide meanders, leaning cedars, and lots of woody debris support healthy brook, brown and rainbow populations, and lunkers lurking beneath log-jams are common. Steelhead run the Au Sable, too, and it pays to be prepared for the silver giants.

 

Public access is adequate along most of the upper river and its tributaries, while boat launches are well marked on the lower river. Dry flies work well during abundant hatches, nymphing is productive, but working streamers beneath and around submerged logs and other woody debris draws the spectacular fish.

 

If you catch the Hex spinnerfall, be prepared to catch your largest ever trout on a dry fly, as these bat-sized, night-mating mayflies draw the river's biggest browns to the surface.

Fishing Tactics

MIDDLE SEASON:  The middle season begins on June 1. Sulphurs are still hatching, but brown drakes, Isonychia, and Hexagenia Limbata (“hex”) take center stage. Streamer fishing is best at dawn or dusk. The large dorsata stonefly (size 4) hatches at this time and deer hair mice start producing heavy fish at night or on cloudy days. Caddis, assorted stone flies, and Light Cahills are on the water.

 

The Au Sable River is without question Michigan’s most famous trout stream. It draws flyfishers from around the world. After the confluence of the East and Middle branches just west of the City of Grayling, the Mainstream, as it is called, is joined by the South Branch and then the North Branch before it flows over 200 miles to Lake Huron.

 

The Mainstream of the Au Sable River is Michigan’s most famous trout stream. Its history is legendary. A section of it is designated as a National Wild and Scenic River. Yet beauty prevails the entire length, from the headwaters north of Grayling, to its mouth at Oscoda at Lake Huron.

There are two areas of potentially excellent fishing. The first area is located just downstream from Grayling and the second is downstream from Mio. If you concentrate your efforts in these two areas, you will have more of an opportunity to catch larger trout. The upper section is known as The Holy Water. It offers good access, easy wading (by Michigan standards), fantastic hatches, catch and release flies-only water, year-round fishing, a decent fish population, and a chance to catch nice size fish. Browns will be the predominate catch.  The river bottom is mostly gravel with some sand and logs.

 

Much of the South Branch of the Au Sable River is located in Crawford County. Starting near the town of Roscommon and downstream from there is where you will find the best trout fishing. From Roscommon the South Branch flows northeast to the Mainstream of the Au Sable. Along the way it passes though the Mason Tract (all public property), which offers great access, scenery and fishing. Check the regulations if you’re not familiar with them as sections of this area are flies only and flies/catch and release only. Brown trout and brook trout are the catch. The South Branch offers excellent hatches, including tremendous hex hatches.

           

The river bottom is mostly gravel and sand, with lots of logs, of coarse. The current speed varies as the water passes over gravel bars and deep holes. Wade with caution just about everywhere along this river, as even if it’s shallow, there’s always going to be that log you didn’t notice!

 

The North Branch of the Au Sable River is located predominately in the northeastern part of Crawford County. This beautiful river flows south from the northern border of the county to join with the Mainstream near McMasters Bridge. Brown and brook trout are the resident species. Access is abundant north of Lovells, but harder to find south of this little town. Wading is fairly easy, except for the logs, of course, and the canoe traffic is minimal to nonexistent. The North Branch has excellent hatches and most of the river flowing through Crawford County has flies only.

 

Manistee River: fishing the Manistee River should be at the top of your list. It is a great river and fishery and offers the flyfisher an excellent opportunity to catch brook and brown trout. The Manistee River begins its journey to Lake Michigan northwest of Frederic in north central Michigan. It flows south paralleling the Au Sable River until the two rivers head in opposite directions near Grayling. This river is home to a fair amount of large brown trout (and brook trout for that matter). The Upper Manistee River is a fantastic stream for fly fishing for trout. The upper portion of the Upper Manistee (say, upstream from CCC Bridge) is wadeable and access is pretty good. The river bottom is sand and gravel and clay. The Manistee seems to have a sandier bottom than the Holy Water section of the Au Sable River; however sand traps are in place at some locations to help remove sand.  Fly hatches are pretty good on the upper Manistee and there are sections with special flies-only regulations. We’re excited about the newest fishing regulations on portions of the upper river (implementing more flies only water). This affects the section of river south of highway M72.