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.