Night-Mousing the AuSable North Branch

23 1/2 inches, ready to go back in the river. A team fish: I hooked it, Joe netted it and Jambe Longue controlled the boat.
23 1/2 inches, ready to go back in the river. A team fish: I hooked it, Joe netted it and Jambe Longue controlled the boat.

Tuesday night, August 19,  2300 hours — North Branch, AuSable River:  Jambe Longue has dozed off to lala-land  in the middle seat of the Au Sable River boat (ASRB). I am in the front seat  and have been casting metronomically (if not exceptionally accurately)  into totally darkness for more than an hour. At one hole I felt some investigative bumps from something, but mostly nadatory piscatorial  interest. Still if you want to turn fishing into catching, you have to keep your line in the water. Cast, splat, retrieve the black Gurgler with slow, deliberate 18-inch strips, to simulate some sort of suicidal swimming river rodent.  Cast-splat-retrieve-Cast, splat, retrieve, ad infinitum, and the night grows longer in tooth.

And just like a plane crash on takeoff, BAM! I feel the fish’s weight and surge, and hear it slap water, and I set the hook and the scrap begins. We are at the end of a pool near some very fast current over a riffle with some depth. The fish hit just as I thought about lifting the fly to cast again. Now that I have it hooked, I can feel some weight, and it runs around a bit, shaking its head, but I hammered the hook a couple more times and Joe Guild, our guide jumps out of the boat with the net and goes forward, where he aims his hat light at the trout and yells, “Holy Shit, it’s a total hog !” Meanwhile, I am trying to hold the fish and wondering when we can get this over so I can take a leak. Jambe Longue is rudely awakened by Joe’s explosive yelp and the commotion of the whole hook-up,  and is mumbling, “Wha…What?”Joe is down stream in front of me on my starboard side, and the fish is running back and forth and he says, “My anchor’s not heavy enough to hold us, get out of the boat, quick!” And I do, and of course the current slams the wooden boat into the backs of my legs and nearly takes me out.But Jambe Longue is keen to the haps, and right on it. She jumps out and holds the boat in place while she tries to find the camera. I stumble around in the fast current, but get my feet set and hold the fish. Joe tries to net it, but it surges away and he is muttering all sorts of unintelligible (okay some things  I could make out, but won’t repeat them here. Don’t burn out your imagination trying to figure out what he said. It was mild compared to my normal run-of-the-mill frustration language)

“Can you move the fish over to me?” Joe yells.

“Yah.” I release my finger hold on the line, transfer the fish to the reel, lift his head, and steer him over to Joe, who slides the net over him and starts yelling happily. The North Branch is not usually known for such huge browns, but Joe had a hunch, and he was right.He almost always is.

The night before everyone told us fog would kill the fishing. It didn’t you have to lean on your own knowledge and hunches in any outdoor activity.

Minutes later we have the fish measured, photographed, safely released, and our heart rates slowed down. The total fight didn’t last more than 5-6 minutes. I had a short 12-pound leader on and this was more than enough muscle on a 6 wt rod and reel to do what needed to be done.

Joe put the fish in the so called “Hog Trough,” and measured it at 23 ½ inches, with a spectacular coloring and head.

Then it was Jambe Longue’s turn up front, and she began the endless casting routine, including a stop in a nice pool where she heard something hiss at us (a raccoon, we’re guessing; it was the same sound the coon made last spring when Shanny fought one).  She had a few fish bump lethargically  at her, but none with serious intent and the temperature continued to drop through the 50s and fog began to form on the water. In the last hole before time to pull the boat, Joe told her, “Last chance, last hole. You’re still in the game.” On her last cast she had a fish give her a decent thunk and she hooked him. Fourteen-inch brown. Not huge, but she’s caught lots of big fish at night. Still, she never quit this night, and any fish caught in total darkness is a real achievement and a lot of fun.

Along the float route on the North Branch of the Au Sable, from Dam Four to Kellogg Bridge, we saw a deer cross the river in front of us, heard Pats drumming, night hawks making their unique thunder-sounds and caught some small trout (browns and brookies and one chub) before darkness. We also had a streamside dinner of grilled Montreal chicken, and after dinner, added layers of clothing because it was clear the temp was going to keep dropping. The previous night we fished the whole night in warm fog on the Holy Water.

This adventure ended with the boat-extraction-from-hell-routine. Joe hooked a line to the 20-foot-long ASB, which had accumulated 100-200 pounds of extraneous water (from us getting in and out all the way down the river). He used the truck to skid the ASB up the ill-defined brushy trail, but it go cockeyed, so I got down in the ditch and held the pull-rope taut with my hands so the boat would slide by me, and past some obstacles.  Only I was at a severe angle and fell on my keesteroonacus and screamed for him to stop as the boat surged toward me.  Jambe Longue was 10 feet above me, illuminating the whole ordeal with a light. My hands were burned a bit, but no major harm done. Joe pulled the boat on out, and then we had to horse that sucker on to the trailer, and tip out  the water.

We dodged a couple of deer on the way back  to Gates Lodge, all of us done in after two nights of this sort of fishing. This day began by our running over a flyrod someone had left at the parking area at Dam Four. But it was okay. Jambe Longue squealing, “Joe stop!” and he and I both saw a huge orange butterfly wing away at that precise moment,  and we thought she didn’t want us to hit it. But somehow she had seen the rod and  we hadn’t and she was trying to warn us. When we told her our butterfly theory, she was totally disgusted, shook her head,  and scoffed at us with some words like, “Les jambon….”

The previous night of Monday, August 18, we floated the Holy Water, from Thendara Road to Wakely Bridge and Jambe Longue got another 14-incher and I got two nice browns, 18 ½ and 19 ¾ inches. Three jumbo browns in two nights is fine catching by any standards, and I still don’t understand why some anglers spend small fortunes to visit other countries, or even other states, when there are more big trout here than can be caught in a lifetime, and we also have the best salmon and steelhead runs in the country. Also, when you fish a lot and seriously you also get some skunk days and nights. That’s part of the game. And thought fishing is great on the AuSable, the scenery and wildlife equal the fishing.

A photo recap of the second night’s events follows.

My advice: Go fishing. At night. When there’s no moon. Using big, bushy mouse flies. You won’t forget it. Or regret it. [But you may feel creeped-out a tad in the dark from time to time. Not to worry. No bogeymen out there. And facing and dealing with total darkness will do you good in a lot of ways.

Phew. Two great nights on the rivers. Now it ‘s back to the UP to see what we can stir up that way.

Over.

Fish on, Joe out of the boat with net to get a head lamp on it
Fish on, Joe out of the boat with net to get a head lamp on it
Joe's Montreal chicken riverbank dinner
Joe's Montreal chicken riverbank dinner
Forget Me Not Island, North Branch AuSable River
Forget Me Not Island, North Branch AuSable River
I've always associated summer trout fishing with mouse flies with forget me nots
I've always associated summer trout fishing with mouse flies with forget me nots
AuSable River boat, all 22 feet of it, based on Native American dugouts. History says this sort of boat originated in the Adorondacks and was brought to Michigan by loggers. It drafts only 3 inches of water.
AuSable River boat, all 22 feet of it, based on Native American dugouts. History says this sort of boat originated in the Adorondacks and was brought to Michigan by loggers. It drafts only 3 inches of water.
First night's repast: apricot-hot-curry-lemon chicken. With Thai red peppers. Whew!
First night's repast: apricot-hot-curry-lemon chicken. With Thai red peppers. Whew!
Putting the boat in is no simple matter
Putting the boat in is no simple matter
Night fly: Houghton Lake Blaster, which approximates a swimming rodent.
Night fly: Houghton Lake Blaster, which approximates a swimming rodent.
"Hey, did somebody say DINNER?"
"Hey, did somebody say DINNER?"
Afternoon fog
Afternoon fog
Eerie twilight fog
Eerie twilight fog
1,2,3 PUSH or (We gotta get out of this place...)
1,2,3 PUSH or (We gotta get out of this place...)
after the haul comes the lift
after the haul comes the lift
"I AM pushing, dammit!"
"I AM pushing, dammit!"
"Geez, how far to go?"
"Geez, how far to go?"
"Almost there."
"Almost there."
Jambe Longue's first-night 14-incher
Jambe Longue's first-night 14-incher
Gates AuSable Lodge, a great place to park yourself and fish.
Gates AuSable Lodge, a great place to park yourself and fish.
Outside the room of a real fishing lodge
Outside the room of a real fishing lodge
Night One: 18 1/2 incher
Night One: 18 1/2 incher
Night 1: 19 3/4 incher.
Night 1: 19 3/4 incher.

More Randomonics

Back tonight from two nights of  Au Sable River, night- fishing.  Photos and details on that tomorrow. Meanwhile, some new Random sites and observations to share.

  • Manure spreader in operation north of Vogel Center, the manure smelling of a cross between dinosaur feces and rotted moose. Sheesh!
  • Sign south of Houghton Lake: “Grab the Rains.” Say WHAT?
  • AYCE chicken wings at joint north of Stanton. Took awhile for me to figure out AYCE is “All You Can Eat.”
  • Mini bulldozer on pedestal south of I-96, on M-66. No idea what that’s about.
  • Gliders were aloft in Ionia. One loose and sailing, a second being towed upward. There seem to be quite a few gliders stored at the Ionia Airport.
  • Somewhere along the way, an 8-point buck in velvet stood at the roadside in high grass, looking both ways to see if he could get across. I suspect this fella will live a long life.
  • Sign near Higgins Lake says, “Jesus Come into My Heart.” No explanation.
  • Lots of trees starting to turn orange, and some sumac in the red. Huh: not good signs.

Animal count for the trip: 12 turkeys; 12 kingfishers; 1 racoon; 6 sandhill cranes; 13 deer; 3 dead deer; 2 redtail hawks; 1 nighthawk; 6 great blue herons, 5 bald eagles; 2 broadwing hawks; 1 cooper’s hawk; and,  1 pat;

Last Post Till Next Month

Road trip! We head to Grayling tomorrow for some night fishing (tossing deer-hair mice) and perhaps catching the early part of the ephoron (white fly) hatch. From Grayling, it’s back to the Yoop for the rest of the month. If you’re around Newberry August 29th stop at the Old Bank building on the downtown main drag  for a book soiree. More rock-hounding and brook trout fishing this time up there, and with luck we might not make another ambulance run, and actually  catch some early pinks running up one of the rivers. Will also go back to the Crisp Point site for another site scouting  sortie. Meanwhile, the heat lamp is lit to the hilt in southwest Michigan, and we’ve been walking and piddling around. I’ll leave you with a few pix as we kick the tires and light the fires. Take care. Over.

Ryan Shaffer, 11, with his first flyrod fish, a nice bluegill. He also got a pair of small bass.
Ryan Shaffer, 11, with his first flyrod fish, a nice bluegill. He also got a pair of small bass.
Handy Tip: Usually dogs find water on their own, but there may be places you walk where it's not available, so you carry a bottle. Instead of a small bowl, carry a plastic bag and put it in a stump or depression in the ground and pour water into it. Works great.
Handy Tip: Usually dogs find water on their own, but there may be places you walk where it's not available, so you carry a bottle. Instead of a small bowl, carry a plastic bag and put it in a stump or depression in the ground and pour water into it. Works great.
Mama Redtail on her daily perch, watching her kid
Mama Redtail on her daily perch, watching her kid
Eensyteensy toadette
Eensyteensy toadette
Blackberries just ripening in Woods of the Blu Bra, and if you eat them warmed by the sun, they are actually sweet!
Blackberries just ripening in Woods of the Blu Bra, and if you eat them warmed by the sun, they are actually sweet!
Meet Megan and Liz, two young women with huge talent and modest about it. You can link to some of their work on this website. Here they are singing at their cousin's wedding, having just returned from a big gig in Cincinatti. They write some of their own stuff, have a large and growing following and work like dogs, as most artists do.
Meet Megan and Liz, two very intelligent young women with huge talent and a lot of modesty about their many accomplishments. You can link to some of their work on this website. Here they are singing at their cousin's wedding, having just returned from a big gig in Cincinatti. They write some of their own songs, have a large and growing following, and work like dogs-- as most artists do.