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Fishing the Au Sable 'Trophy Waters'
Fly Fishing for Giant Browns
Previously published in the Michigan Streamside Journal
By Jerry Kunnath
Flowing water pressed rhythmically around my legs as I stood knee deep in the pulsing stream of the river.
The orange red rays of the waning sun filtered mystically through the black green boughs of a bank of
cedars, the refracted light glinting like so many crystals on the dimpled surface of the water. Marauding
clouds of tiny flies flitted through the air, seemingly oblivious of the hungry trout waiting beneath them. My
eyes carefully scanned the water's surface for the telltale flash of sun reflecting off gossamer wings, hoping
to see a sign of the larger flies that would possibly start the trout on their evening feed. The wind was ever
so slight, barely moving the leaf cloaked branches of the surrounding popples. I scanned the air for flies
spinning to the water to lay their eggs. Then it happened. My eyes caught the outline of a large fly as it
floated before me mid-way across the river. A few more were traveling behind that fly with more floating past
where I stood. First one fish rose and slurped a juicy morsel off the surface, followed by another, and then
still another. Soon I could see and hear fish all up and down the river, eating flies with abandon. Taking note
of the location of one of the closer rises, with a good visual of the ring pattern from the disturbance, I cast
my fly hoping to place it about ten feet upstream of the trout’s position. Luckily, my fly lit easily onto the
water's surface right where I had hoped and settled gently into the film as I did an upstream mend of my line.
I held my breath as my fly floated downstream toward the last place that I had seen the fish rise. The hair on
my neck stood straight up as I saw the dark form of the fish rise, slurp my fly into its gaping maw and lurch for
freedom as I set the hook solidly into its jaw. Minutes later, after a rod bending, reel screeching, arm
straining battle; I gently released the twenty-inch brown trout back to the element from whence it came. Once
again, the 'Trophy Waters' had rewarded me with a braggin' size trout. And I had thanked her for the privilege
by returning her treasure to the river's realm.
The 'Trophy Waters'
For more than a few years now, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has designated the section of
the Au Sable River between Mio and its eastern neighbor, McKinley, as a ‘Quality Fishing Area’. This river
section has special regulations, which include: The area is restricted to being fished by anglers using only
flies or artificial bait. No live bait is allowed in this section of the river at any time. There are also special size
and creel limits on the fish in this area. Currently, brown trout must be at least 15” long to be put in your
creel and all other trout must be at least 12“. Additionally, you may keep only two fish per day. [Check the
MDNR regulations to make sure-things change year to year] There are also special regulations for fishing for
pike and walleye on this section, although it is primarily a trout fishery.
Bob Linsenman is an outdoor writer and fly-fishing guide who operates a fly shop in Mio called the Au Sable
Angler. Bob has been guiding fly fishers on this 'special' section of the Au Sable now for more years than he
cares to own up to. Many of us consider Bob to be the man to see when it comes to angling for trophy brown
trout on the ‘Trophy Waters’ of the Au Sable. 'Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout', a book that Bob co-
authored with Kelly Galloup, is the 'bible' when it comes to fly fishing for giant brown trout with streamers. A
few minutes of talking with Bob about the Trophy Waters is all the time that one needs to see just how much
Bob loves this great river. Bob says that, "one of the obvious results of the special regulations on this
section of the river is that there are now bigger fish and more anglers". These special regulations, without a
doubt, have vastly improved the fishery in these waters.
Bob, and the other guides working out of Mio's Au Sable Angler,which include Scott Smith, Mike Moreau and
Mike Bachelder, run a 'catch & release' only fly fishing service. According to Bob, "Catch & Release is vital.
No matter what the statisticians say, kill a fish and it's gone, release it and then it is there growing bigger".
Giant 'super browns' [fish over 24”] are what this river section has become famous for. There are many fish
in this river ‘growing bigger’. Over the past five or so years, brown trout in excess of twenty inches have
been boated quite often. Bob's biggest brown trout so far this year [July 2004] measured 26 3/4 inches long
with a 17-inch girth. Now that is a big fish in anybody’s book. Chances are that this fish had been caught and
released at least once before. It is evident that most of the fishers have become aware of just how important
it is to let the fish, especially the brown trout, grow to become more mature fish.
Fishing for trout on the Trophy Waters pretty much entails the standard dry fly, nymph and streamer
collection that trout on other waters seem to favor. A fly fisher who carries a fly box with a varied collection
of seasonal dry flies and nymphs in different sizes, relative to what is normally hatching at the time they are
on the river; will have a good chance of connecting with some nice trout of good size. However, for the most
part, anglers will be wise to make use of large streamers [up to eight or nine inches long] when they are
gunning for the ‘super trout’ like the one held by Bob in the picture above.. To be able to toss these large
streamers you will most likely need a rod and reel combo in the seven or eight weight range. Your reel
should be loaded with a full sinking fly line to get the large streamers down in the swiftly flowing water
column, down to where those big trout lie. Attach your streamer to the fly line with a two to three foot length
of ten to fifteen pound test mono. This heavy leader will help to lay out the heavy streamer on your cast and
it will help you with landing one of those hefty giant brown trout after you connect. While on the river you will
want to cast right into or as close as possible to the more obvious types of cover, such as dead falls, log
jams, under-cut banks and other river structure. When casting toward the banks, it is a good practice to
bounce your streamer right off the bank. Many times those large browns lay right in the shadows waiting for
a meal to brush their noses. A well-placed streamer will sometimes do the trick. When asked what streamers
work best for the ‘super browns’ Bob recommends “the Kiwi Muddler, Madonnas, Trick or Treats, Zoo
Cougars, Wooley Skulpins, Baby Rainbows [there are some big rainbows in this stretch also], and the Baby
Browns.” Remember, those big fish will not waste much time chasing small, low protein meals. Most of the
time they prefer to gobble and munch on large mouthfuls, expending less energy for more protein. However,
do not get the idea that these big browns are a cinch to catch. They can be finicky and refuse your offering.
They can get lockjaw just like any other fishes. Nevertheless, a proper presentation and a persistent and
dedicated angler can lure these big fish to bite. Bob says, “If you can catch these fish here, you can catch
fish anywhere in the world”.
When You Go
Currently, the season on the Trophy Waters opens the last Saturday in April and closes the last Saturday in
September. The best way to fish the river, especially with streamers, is by floating it in a drift boat, canoe or
float boat. The Michigan Department of Transportation operates an access point with a boat ramp right off of
M-33 in Mio. That is a good place to put in the river. Eight miles, or about a five-hour float downstream, on
Oscoda County F-32 [North River Rd.] near Abbe Road, is a MDNR access site named Comins Flats. This
access facility also includes a good boat ramp. For wading fisher-people there are numerous river access
sites on both the north and the south banks of the river. The Federal Forest Service, at the Mio Ranger
office [989-826-3252] has a good map available showing many of these sites. Stop, while in the area, to see
Bob at his Au Sable Angler [989-826-8500] fly shop. He can arrange guided trips on the river with his guides.
Furthermore, Bob is more than happy to offer advice on when and where to fish. Not only that, Bob is one
interesting guy to talk to about just anything.
The Trophy Waters
The Trophy Waters section of the Au Sable is, by far, my favorite place to fish for trout. The Au Sable scenery,
beautiful and pristine, flows through one of the least populated areas in the State of Michigan. Most of its
banks are Federal property, designated as a ‘Wild and Scenic River’ on October 4, 1984. While on the river,
you are able to view deer, bears, numerous birds, waterfowl, and other wildlife. The water is pure and the
fishing is superb. In my estimation, it is one of the premier fishing destinations in our State, if not the
country. See you on the river. I will be the bald, tall guy with the big smile on his face. firstname.lastname@example.org
Fly Fishing the Au Sable 'Trophy Waters' for Giant Brown Trout
|Bob Linsenman with a 'Trophy Waters'
Bob Linsenman picture
|Sunset on the 'Trophy Waters'
of the Au Sable
|Au Sable Walleye
Sam Kim photo