The Holy Water . . . received the blessing of "no-kill, flies-only"
regulations in 1988. The hard-fought victory came only after an
intensive, exhausting effort by enlightened conservationists led
by the Anglers of the Au Sable.
Today, all trout must be immediately released, unharmed. All
fishing must be with artificial flies and, although the Department
of Natural Resources does not so require, it is recommended
that all hooks be barbless.
The Holy Water is the heart of the river, the pump that pushes cold,
crystalline renewal downstream. Its fragile beauty is stunning. It is
easy to wade and fish, and is easily accessed at multiple public sites.
It draws anglers from around the world.
The South Branch
The headwaters of the South Branch begin at the outflow of Lake
St. Helen in southeastern Roscommon County at an elevation of
1,156 feet. From there the river follows a northerly meander for
37 miles to its junction with the mainstream at 1,035 feet of elevation.
The drop of just over 100 feet in nearly 40 miles produces a smooth,
even flow interspersed with lively riffles. The wading is generally
comfortable and the fishing, particularly in the Mason Tract, is
good throughout the season and superb during the major hatches.
The Mason Tract consists of 2,800 acres, 1,500 of which was
bequeathed to the State of Michigan by the estate of George
Mason in 1955. Mason died in 1954 and his gift provides public
ownership of 11-plus miles of beautiful and productive trout water.
Much of the surrounding lands are federal forest. Homes, cabins
and other man-made structures have either been removed or allowed
to disintegrate, and the natural forest has been permitted to rejuvenate
and heal the land.
In addition to the land gift, Mason funded the construction of The
Fisherman's Chapel on the river's east bank as a place for quiet reflection.
Construction was completed in 1960 and since that time, the chapel has
welcomed wedding parties, baptisms, eulogies, and countless,
peaceful meditations of anglers from around the world. In
addition to this magnificent gift, Mason was the inspirator of
Trout Unlimited. When you visit the South Branch take a moment
to whisper a "thank you."
Each year the South Branch produces extraordinary trophies and
indelible memories during the brown drake, Hex and
Isonychia hatches, but the Hex Vex is
supreme on both counts. From Chase Bridge through the
beautiful, wild Mason Tract and past Smith Bridge and the
Oxbow Club on to the junction with the mainstream, the
alluring pull of the giant mayflies is overpowering.
[For the FLIES for The Au Sable River, click
The North Branch
The North Branch of the Au Sable is popular with anglers for its
stable flow, cool water, diverse and prolific hatches, comfortable
wading, and easy casting. Experts and novices alike find it a
welcome respite from the often highly technical demands of the
mainstream. It is a serene haven, relatively free of canoe traffic,
and both brook and brown trout are often eager to join our game.
Flies-only regulations are in effect from the Sheep Ranch access
just north of Lovells to the North Branch's junction with the mainstream
approximately 21 miles downstream. An extended season allows
angling until the end of October, and many anglers take advantage
of this liberty to combine fly fishing and upland bird hunting in fall's
blazing colors and crisp, sunny days.
June is the magic month on the North Branch. A guided trip in a
classic Au Sable riverboat is a clear water float through history.
There will be a warm breeze and high anticipation. There will be
bugs dancing and lusting through the shadows. You guide will
stop the boat with his push pole and stare at the current seam
below an ancient sweeper. The water will bulge and he will say,
"There. Are you ready?" You will be ready.
Steelhead Water Foote Dam to Lake Huron
Steelhead can be found in the Au Sable every month on the year.
Sporadic surges of summer-run fish can show (briefly) from late
June through August, but this is hit or miss game with long odds.
The fall fish begin to trickle in behind the run of spawning salmon
in early September. This run accelerates through October with
aggressive steelhead determined to gorge on salmon eggs. The
winter and spring fishery peaks in late April and often continues
through late May.
An Au Sable steelhead is a high-energy package, a direct descendent
of the first steelhead planted in the Great Lakes basin, Dan Fitzhugh,
of Bay City, Michigan, made the region's first planting of rainbow
trout in the Au Sable River in 1876.
Perhaps it is due to relatively light fly-fishing pressure, but the Au Sable
steelhead are less finicky than their cousins on the west side of the state.
They are eager consumers, occasionally downright aggressive, and are
(in my opinion) the most powerful and electric of all the Great Lakes
The king salmon that rush in from Lake Huron in September are not
to be ignored. They reach weights in excess of 30 pounds and are
a real stretch for an angler's endurance - even with heavy 9 - and
The common misconception is that these fish will not take flies. But
they do. Silver fish, fresh in from the lake, are very aggressive at first
and last light. They will smash a wide range of large streamers . . .
Deep winter at the end of my favorite river is magical. A friend and
I will have it all to ourselves. We will share only with a solitary gull,
perhaps a mink twitching and scurrying through the logs. The water
will be very cold, near freezing. If the sun is shining and the air is
cold enough, we will see water vapor crystallize and shoot into
the air, then bend back toward us and the surface of the river.
Tens of thousands of infinitesimal jewels weave a tenuous shine
of light. It is called diamond dust and, on a
beautiful river, is reward enough. ~ Bob Linsenman
Michigan's Au Sable River system is what JC and I consider
our 'home water.' There is a huge variety of water within the
system, literally something for everyone. We previously did
a book review on this book with our personal comments in the
Book Reviews. dlb
For a MAP of The Au Sable River, click
For the FLIES for The Au Sable River, click
Credits: From Au Sable River part of the River
Journal series, published by Frank Amato Publications.
We greatly appreciate use permission.