Au Sable River Winter Steelhead Fishing
Each year I try to convince myself I'm going to make it up to the river more during the months of October, November, & December. Then hunting season begins... Last year I made it up for 2 days of November steelheading and stayed at the cabin on the Rifle River. This fall I made it up for a day trip on October 6th, duck season began on October 8th, and I didn't make it back up until December 23rd. Being a die hard waterfowl hunter as well as a steelhead junky, it's always a struggle what to do in the fall. Especially since myself & my father each own some prime hunting land and hunting whitetails & waterfowl is only in the fall of the year. No one in our group of friends loves waterfowling more then Belle!
Though Belle enjoys being on the water chasing trout & steelhead with us, she is a pure bread 100% waterfowling machine! She knows what "Fish on" means, she understands what's going on when someone grabs the net, but she associates the sight of a shotgun and the sound of a duck call with keeping her eyes in the sky and keying in on the birds anticipating their fall so that she can hit the water like she's storming the beach on D-Day just to make that solid retrieve. Sure we could hit the river for a little cast & blast, I have a few friends that do it, but when I can walk out my door with a bag of decoys, a lanyard of calls, and a shotgun and be in our duck blind ready to hunt in 30 minutes, well usually I just stick around home during hunting season.
October 6th I fished the river above the whirlpool access and there were already a good number of steelhead behind the salmon in the gravel runs gorging on loose eggs. I landed one steelhead that day and managed to avoid hooking any of the salmon that appeared to be clinging to life as they were turning black & growing fur. After seeing that many fish in the river that early on in October, I had a feeling it was going to be a great fall run. Even with all the pictures of fish friends sent me throughout the fall, I couldn't pry myself away for the waterfowl hunting. November was approaching & I was looking forward to hitting the river for some Michigan Chrome when on October 29th I saw a trail cam photo of a buck I became obsessed with. I was pretty certain he was nocturnal, but put in a lot of time in the field chasing this deer since it was easily the largest buck I've ever seen in this area. Without having any luck and consistently seeing deer every evening I made it out hunting, finally I settled for a 5 point buck. I kept hunting that big fella throughout the entire muzzle loading season, but had no luck.
December 23rd, 2011
I hooked up the boat, threw in a few 10' spin rods & a few 8wt fly rods, all the steelhead gear, & we headed north Au Sable bound! When we launched the boat it was 17 degrees. We had a daytime high of 26 degrees, but minimal sun, mainly overcast, snow showers off and on all day, and maybe a 5 mph wind. It was indeed cold, but on the stretch of the river we fished we never saw another boat! We did see 2 shore anglers but that was it! First cast on the day at one of my favorite spots to fish during the late fall/early winter, I hooked a nice adult fish. I admit I was horsing her a bit, which explains why she broke my leader... Though I lost the fish it was certainly something that would motivate us the rest of the day.
As we floated down stream and the day progressed we passed several pods of skippers which is always a good sign that the spring time planting is working well and the fish are returning to the river rather then being eaten by a predatory fish near the mouth or killed from an aerial attack by a commorant sitting in a tree waiting for an easy meal. The river was in excellent condition running at 1,100 cfs & we knew it was just a matter of properly presenting the nymph, egg pattern, wax worm, or spawn bag to one of these silver bullets hiding in the deep sandy pools.
It certainly looked like winter with all the leaves off the trees and that dead Michigan look. It would have been nice to have some snow for some better photos, but it's Michigan! It could be 30 degrees one day and 70 degrees the next.We had two more pools we had planned on fishing and when we arrived to the first it wasn't long before I had another fish on. She managed to shake the hook after a bit and the sounds of curse words echoed off the banks off the river. I knew there was more then one fish in this deep, dark, nearly dead pool with a run on the opposing side of the river. Then I felt the slightest tap as my line was riding on my fingers feeling for a bite....
Corey was taking action shots as I fought a nice adult steelhead and Belle rounded the banks waiting to see what was pealing line off my reel!
Success! A beautiful chrome hen smashed an egg pattern and was brought to hand. Now it was Corey's turn to put some chrome in the net!
We knew there was another fish in this pool since I hooked two and landed one. Not even ten casts later, I hear "FISH ON!" I looked up and saw another adult steelhead making wake on the other side of the river and running. Corey quickly redirected him and brought him back over to our side of the river.
Chrome in the net!
We still had some daylight left, but decided to call it a day and head home into the holiday traffic. By the time we got our gear off , the rods put away, and the boat loaded, it fell dark. Not sure we could have asked for a more perfect day winter steelheading. We had the river to ourselves and landed two beautiful steelhead.