March 27th, 2006

A Fall Morning on the Au Sable
By James Castwell


It was late summer in Michigan, fall actually, the crowds of summer fly-fishers and party-going canoeists had left my favorite body of water. I had camped every weekend at Canoe Harbor on the South Branch of the famous Au Sable river and spent many hours on a choice stretch just upstream from my trailer. My Pontiac station wagon was alone in the campground this morning and I had the stream all to myself.

A quarter mile walk on a cedar lined path and I was at a 'put-in' spot I knew only too well. Many mornings I had entered the stream at this point during the season and fished my way gently downstream, the current pulsing at my knees, prodding me along. The temptation was always strong to move too rapidly but I had learned the seams, pockets and lies of many a trout and knew that was not the right way to fish this section.

Mornings are magical on most rivers, especially this one. Light fog hovers a few feet above the flow, rising finally when the sun bores it's way thru the dense cedars and jack pine lining the edges. Fallen trees, roots still gnarled tightly to the shoreline, boughs sweeping the currents, hence the name, 'sweepers.' Among these fallen guardians lived the object of my search. Brown trout, big ones holding out for one last meal before retreating to the depths for the day.

The water in fall is lower than other times of the year and some of the places I had fished before were now mud or even dry land. The speed had dropped and made presenting a dry fly more enjoyable than throwing a brushy fly to fast moving currents like in the high run-off waters of the spring. I moved carefully down the center of the stream. The water level made it absolutely perfect to make casts to either bank, perhaps thirty feet of fly line and twelve feet of leader plus tippet. I was selecting my targets with care and precision. My casts were straight toward shore, ninety degrees to the waters flow. A few quick mends and a dry would float for a goodly distance.

I often tried to match the hatch but at this time of year there was little to copy. A few trico's flittered about, not enough to bring up any action. Small yellowish mayflies of some sort, probably saw half a dozen if that many and no fish saw them that I could detect. There seems always to be the odd stone fly and or caddis but none this morning at all. So I just put on a Adams type dry and went to work.

Presentation is always important but at this time of year I think it is even more so. All I was doing was 'pounding them up' as some might call it. And there weren't any that obliged as carefully as I worked. Cast after measured cast, I advanced from run to pool to ripple to run etc. Nothing showed except for those little guys sniping at fuzz in the middle of the river. Seems they must live out there and are almost always poking their little snouts out and snatching at who-knows-what. They were not on my target list this day.

Ahead on my right hand side there was a slender sweeper, long dead and nothing but the main trunk still exposed, somewhat supported just inches above the surface. The kind that would bob up and down in the high water earlier in the year. Roots on the shore, main trunk out over what now was barely a few inches of water. And a small pocket of water right near shore. Perhaps just big enough to hold a brown trout. Maybe.

My cast was on target. The fly dropped gently as a falling feather, the leader lightly coiling on the surface, not dragging in the least. I let it sit, and sit, and sit. The god's of the stream supplied me with one of those memories that clips it's way forever onto your past and it is as vivid now as then. I missed the fish. Big time I missed him. Not only that, I didn't even give him a sporting chance at my offering. He was not in the pocket where I thought he might be. Oh no.

The bulge and widening vee of wake started at least six feet to from the right of my fly and was closing. The shape grew larger and I could see a tail breaking the misty surface. Try as I might there was no holding back. It was like it was playing out in slow-motion. Closer he came, tail slowly fanning, Vee moving ever faster; but no, I was faster. With a practiced flick of my wrist, up came my rod tip and with it my hapless fly, now streaking airborne above my hat, and never to be chomped on by a brown trout at least two feet long. At least not this day it wouldn't.

Now I had been fishing this run for months and had never seen such a fish, not here or anywhere else on this stretch. But, I guess he was just enjoying the sunrise and resting after his excursions of the 'night feeding' they are notorious for. One last morsel before retiring I suppose, but it was not to be mine. Not a chance. Not if I had my way.

My nerves were shot. I was shaking. I may have even broken out in a sweat. If so, I wouldn't have blamed myself. I worked for it, I earned it and I darn well received it. One of the stupidest, dumb, worst fly fishing mistakes of my life; but one that I still remember... as one of the best. ~ JC

Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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