Living in the Saginaw Bay region and being a die hard trout fishermen I have to incorporate a little extra time to get to a cold water tributary and these days more then a little extra money for gas. The nearest cold water is the Tobacco River, the Cedar River, and the upper sections of the Rifle River. I can't recall ever fishing the Tobacco River, but have spent quite a bit of time on the Cedar river and the Rifle. The downfall with the Rifle is it has what fly anglers refer to as a "canoe hatch." The Cedar on the other hand in the cold water section, canoe traffic is very scare. You might encounter a kayaker or two but nothing extreme. Actually the only kayaks I've seen on the cold water section was myself and a friend with a cabin on the North Branch of the river.
I fish the Rifle primarily for steelhead and typically move to another river system when the suckers become overly thick during the spawning season. The river is closed from Sage Lake Road down stream until the last Saturday in April each year and the upper section is open to fish until the end of September. Many friends including myself were once die hard fishermen of the section from the head waters to Sage Lake Road, but since alot of my pals are busy being parents getting away isn't as easy as it once was and since I developed an obsession for the Au Sable River and it's prolific hatches I might stop to the Rifle on my way home from the Au Sable to fish trout, but otherwise concentrate on the Rifle for winter and spring steelhead fishing. Don't get me wrong, the Rifle is an excellent stretch of water that lodges trout in good numbers along the section that runs along the Rifle River Trail up to the head waters. We've been up steelhead fishing in during the cold winter months and found runs holding good numbers of browns and rainbows and switched gears and turned the trip into a catch and release trout fishing expedition.
Above is a photo of my friend Mike with a little rainbow caught after first ice out in early March of 2010.
Above is a photo of Belle standing along the Rifle River.
Another small bow caught in the Rifle while targeting steelhead.
During the late spring and summer months the small mouth and rock bass move into the lower sections of the river in large numbers and for those of you who love to chase bass the Rifle lodges some very nice size fish! The upper sections of the river the water remains cold and the trout fishing remains great! Because there are so many feeder creeks and lakes that empty into the Rifle, after a good rain the river can take some time to recover. The banks of the upper Rifle and under cut and loaded with grass that sweeps the water making perfect hiding spots for trout and the hopper fishing can be really good during the summer months.
Above is a photo of a feeder creek which pours into the Rifle.
Above is another feeder creek pouring into the Rifle. A fun trip can be canoeing or kayaking the river and not only fishing the main stream, but parking at the mouths of the feeder creeks and wading up them.
Most all the water on the Rifle is very fly rod friendly, even some of the feeder creeks as pictured above.
A brown I caught just before a storm rolled in on the Rifle.
Above another great brown trout caught on the Rifle River!
If you decide to fish the Rifle River keep in mind there are some very large brown trout in the river and in the spring very large steelhead. I was fishing trout one day about six years ago, and hooked three steelhead I couldn't hold since I was using light tackle (my fault, I knew better). The next day I drove back up with my steelhead gear and high hopes and only landed one trout, a fifteen inch brown. Sometimes that's just the way it goes.
Photographed above is the main branch of the Cedar River in the cold water section. This river is filled with brown trout. There is no way for migratory fish to access the river which makes for no "steelhead surprise" when fishing during the spring months. The warm water section is excellent bass fishing and there is a campground in the city of Gladwin where as a child I landed an 18 inch small mouth. I haven't been back to fish the warm waters since, but it probably wouldn't be a bad idea...
I've spent a great deal of time over the last decade fishing the cold water of the main branch, the north branch, and the west branch of the river for trout. There are some tight spots, but for the most part the river is very fly rod friendly. The fishing pressure is very minimal, especially during the summer months. Spin casting these trout are a sucker for a grass hopper submerged under the water with a small split shot! Last year was the first time I made it up there fly fishing and if you all remember the summer we had last year it was hot! Over the last decade fishing this river in the cold water section I had never caught a species other then a brown trout, so this guy was quite the surprise!
The river has a mainly rock bottom with some sand and is easily wade able. And there are some very beautiful browns in this river system!
This fish was caught by a friend while fishing the river during the month of May.
I'm not much of a bridge fishermen, and never have been. Just so happens this was where we parked the truck that day. I think the only time I ever put in time fishing trout near a bridge was after hiking a section of state land carrying two rods, back packing my gear, with lunch and a container of food for Belle. That day I came upon two steelhead that wouldn't take anything I threw at them and out of frustration on the hike back, I stopped by a bridge that went over a paved road and caught three trout that were in the teens. Just goes to show, sometimes as we are searching for that perfect spot to fish we walk right passed them. These fish were caught up stream from where we parked on the main branch of the Cedar. There is quit a bit of private property on the Cedar River, but as long as you stay in the water your alright. I've found if you knock on the right doors, some of the property owners will allow you access to the river as well. I never understood the fear that comes to some anglers about asking for permission to access property to fish. For that matter, I never understood the fear of asking permission to hunt on a farmer's land. What's the worst that could happen? They could say no. I'm usually the guy who is designated to ask permission and have found remembering to use these words and phrases you will be treated with the same respect; "Yes sir, please, and thank you." I tend to strike up a conversation with the property owners and tell a bit about myself and inquire if they hunt or fish. Asking questions gets the property owner talking and before you know it the two of you are exchanging fish stories.
According to friends and fly shop owners in northern Michigan, the cold snap we had slowed down the dry fly fishing a bit, but now that the temperatures are back up the brown drakes are back! Some hex are coming off the ponds of the Au Sable, but nothing on the river yet. Iso's are hatching throughout the entire Au Sable River system as well.