AU SABLE RIVER
Located in the Northeastern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the fabled Au Sable River watershed contains nearly 180 miles of blue-ribbon trout water, making it the state’s and one of the countries most renowned trout fisheries. This is one of the many reasons why Trout Unlimited was founded here.
Winding through a gently contoured wooded landscape from its freestone headwaters north of Fredrick, to its frequently impounded tail stretch funneling into Lake Huron, the Au Sable River is large and varies greatly in size and characteristics along its length, providing fly anglers three lifetimes worth of water. On the Au Sable, one can expect a healthy dose of small to medium-sized rainbows, browns, and brookies, with the chance of tying into a 24" brown on every cast -- not to mention the healty influx from Lake Huron’s most important steelhead run. Roughly a two-hour drive north from Flint will get you into the action.
The headwaters of the Au Sable, just north of Fredrick, mark the beginning of a nearly 80-mile stretch of awesome blue-ribbon trout water. These waters are freestone in nature, clear and gravel-bottomed, that are dominated by brookies with the occasional brown. Pressure along this 13-mile stretch from Fredrick down to Grayling is minimal thanks to limited access. Just below Grayling, the East Branch injects a blast of cold water. Unfortunately, both sun-wilted humans and trout alike revel in fresh, cold river water making the fabled fishing town of Grayling a haven for canoeists and water fanatics alike.
Downstream a few miles from the town of Grayling, marks the beginning of what locals consider the Au Sable’s Holy Waters. This 9-mile stretch from Burton’s Landing down to Wakeley Bridge, is regulated by year-round fly-fishing only, catch-and-release designations. Both North Down River Road and South Down River Road parallel the river along this stretch. From the north, the best access point is the Whirlpool Road turnoff. From the south, access points are Burton’s Landing, Louie’s Landing, Keystone Landing, and Thendara Road. This stretch is crossed at mid-point by Stephan’s Bridge Road which provides excellent and easy access, coupled by a full-service Orvis fly-shop at Gates Au Sable Lodge. Access below this bridge is limited, so a float trip here is highly encouraged. Habitat in the Holy Waters is feestone in nature and the fishing is beyond excellent. The river here has a medium gradient, with a rocky bottom creating an ideal habitat for Hendricksons, Caddis, and Tricos. These insects hatch consistently between May through October. Fishing pressure here is relatively high, and the trout here are no dummies. Perfect dead drifts, and choosing the right fly are essential.
From here, the gradient drops significantly, and the river becomes wide, slow and sand-bottomed. This becomes perfect habitat for the famous Hex hatch.The browns grow thick in this stretch of river, and tend to hunker down in the deep holes. There is access provided to the river in three locations: White Pine Campground, Conner’s Flat, and Rainbow Bend Campground.
Just below McMaster's, the confluences of the North Branch and Big Creek add lots of fresh cold water to the Au Sable, helping to form a 200-foot wide trout river with some truly epic fishing. Here, the river again picks up its gradient and gravel bottom while retaining the prolific Hex hatches. The river is wide and big with lunker browns ranging from 22-28". No joke! Access here can be somewhat limited, but the river can be waded in summertime during lower water flows. However, many prefer to float this 15-mile section of the river using craft ranging from float tubes to the flat-bottomed Au Sable River Boats.
The Au Sable River is absolutely awesome when it comes to the variety of insects that hatch there on a daily basis. Starting in March and April you'll see BWO's followed by Caddis (particularly Black Caddis), Hendricksons, and Blue and Red Quills. May brings March Browns, Sulfurs, and Brown and Grey Drakes. Come June, hatches include Isonychia, Stoneflies, Yellow Sallies, Light Cahills and an unbelievable Hex hatch. In July, Trico fishing begins, along with terrestrials like grasshoppers, ants and beetles. In late July, you can expect to see a hatch of White Flies.
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