Photos by Marc Fryt
It’s early fall in Au Sable, Michigan, and the maples have just begun turning colors. Grouse can be heard drumming in the forest, and the streams drift low and clear. The late spring rush to launch boats at the local ramp is replaced with vacant gravel lots and a river empty of other anglers. Mosquitos and ticks have also receded. It is tranquil and pleasant to push the raft into the current at midday as gray clouds sprinkle raindrops onto the seats.
Much of the river surface is quiet. A few pods of brook trout feed infrequently under branches while caddis flutter in the air and bounce against the water. A few brook trout arch out of the water trying to nab them. Lindsay and her mother, Anna, take turns at the oars, back-rowing near every overhanging pine. Their dogs are also on board; one sulks and tries to stay dry while the other scampers around the boat to bark at any moving tree branch.
Lindsay gives occasional instructions to her mother about casting and mending line. But the fishing remains slow, and they take their time changing flies, donning and removing rain jackets, and watching turkeys peck the ground along the wooded banks. A couple of brook trout come to hand after being fooled by caddis patterns and small streamers. Jo Jo the dachshund nearly falls overboard while balancing on the bow and getting tangled in fly line.
Most of the houses along the river are closed and locked up, their residents now downstate or farther south. The smell of chimney smoke rests over a stretch of the river, and shots echo from bird hunters as they roam the timber for grouse and woodcock. Jo Jo barks in response to every shot that rings out. The raft floats over trout that are settled near the bottom of a deep pool.
As the afternoon progresses, clouded skies yield to patches of sunlight, and new guests begin appearing on the surface. Isonychia mayflies, with their dark mahogany bodies and slate-gray wings, ride alongside the boat. Trout become less reluctant to surface for these larger mayflies, and their rises can be seen downstream. Lindsay clips off a small streamer and grabs the fly box, which holds a few Hendrickson patterns from spring that match the Isonychia nicely.
The Hendrickson pattern brings a couple of larger brook trout to the net. Even browns and rainbows are enticed by the fly. Not long after, the air begins to chill as the sun dips, and the activity disappears with the waning sunlight. The Isonychia vacate the river, leaving only an occasional caddis dabbing the water. With just a handful of river bends before the takeout, Lindsay again ties on the small streamer and casts toward the bank while her mother feathers the oars to slow their pace. Another shot punctures the quiet, and Jo Jo scurries from stern to bow, barking into the woods.