Fly Fishing the North Branch of the Ausable River, Michigan

The anglers who watched the Canoe Hatch video of the Ausable River got a wrong first impression of Michigan’s trout rivers. I got phone calls and emails at the shop about how amazed people were that we not only kept our cool, but caught fish. One reason I didn’t mind the insanity, was that we rarely saw anyone else all week long. Except for the “Holy Water” and “Big Water” we never saw another angler fishing on any of the branches of the Ausable. Michigan has so much good water, that I didn’t want to show only that day, which was the exception for the week.


The North Branch of the Ausable was such a quiet place, even the riffle water blended with the sound of shore grasses blowing in the wind. On one of the last days an afternoon chill began ushering in thoughts of Fall, the journey home to Maryland and fishing the Gunpowder again. I tied on a favorite fly, an olive bodied, gray X-caddis to better work the riffles. As the sun dropped behind the treetops, fluttering gray wings and dancing bodies on the water brought splashy rises to a caddis hatch. A short while later I had landed over ten fish, used a good portion of my Frogs Fanny and felt the air getting colder. The seven and eight inch brookies fought hard, while the ten inch browns bulldogged toward structure. I lost all interest in nymphing, streamer fishing and what the big fish were doing. I was placing my powdered gray caddis near the naturals and watching it disappear in a white foam surge. As things began to slow Matt hooted from a stand of trees and we left the water satisfied with the quick hatch as darkness closed in on us.
The footage shows grassy riffles, weed choked runs and plenty of brush in the water. The North Branch brookies were aggressive and more orange on the belly than the ruby pink you see on brookies in Maryland. The buttery browns, weedy beds and clear water of this stream made it one of my favorites of the trip. A slow approach, minimal casting and proper fly selection was rewarded with wild trout in some great water.
When leaving home waters to experience something all together new, yet finding something all too familiar, a strange realization occurs. I will say that traveling and encountering a regional treasure can put into perspective an often underrated fishery that exists much closer to home. The pursuit of wild trout in beautiful surroundings is easily taken for granted when those trout are not large, abundant and easy to catch. Although the challenge in the simple pursuit of merely catching a trout, any trout, while far from home can be the most rewarding experience.