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Alex Lafkas - Old Au Sable Fly Shop Guide - It Began With Rusty Gates

My first dive into fly fishing occurred when I was 15. It was the first summer I lived with Rusty Gates at his home off Black Bear Dr. He and Julie provided a roof over my head, food, a summer job and more than they will ever know or understand. I was dropped off by my Mother and as she was trying to give me a hug and a kiss goodbye, I was already sliding into my waders and stringing my rod. I would arrive in mid-June and fish hex with Rusty and before I knew it, the big flies were done and I had six weeks to play on the river. I loved it. Hoppers, Trico’s, BWO’s, White Flies in Mio, streamers at daybreak or night fishing till sun rise. Every day allowed for one type of pursuit or another. Sunrise and Daytime fishing were always my favorite. It wasn’t always the size of fish, and some days not the number, but it was fun.

Summer into early fall is a time of year I always cherish.

As we push into September we have our last few days of summer trout fishing approaching. White flies will last another week or so and the hopper/terrestrial bite will last until the water cools in October. On cloudy days BWO’s may be heavy with a mix of ISO’s. The small streams will produce best this time of year. Typically, the tailwater fisheries take a little bit longer to start fishing well as the lake above must cool before the trout will become active.

As the water temps cool the behavior of the fish will change. The brown and brook trout will become much more aggressive as they begin to think about spawning. Some of my largest brown trout have come in late September. Brook trout are light up like Christmas trees and some of them can run quite large. I’ve got a couple mid teen fish marked that I’d love to see all dressed up.

The night fishing should stay solid, as always the best fishing is usually around the new moon with weaker bite windows around the full moon. During the full moon, sometimes it’s best to fish the low light periods instead of after dark. I seem to catch more fish at first and last light during the full moon than the other moon phases. Some of the biggest fish caught night fishing, are around the September new moon as the water is usually at its lowest point of the year and food is scarce. September is also the month mice begin to gather food for the upcoming winter and are out and around much more often. But that can be a condition dependent bite, if the water is high, streamer fishing might be a better option.

The wet skunk is another great option for this time of year. I tie my skunks a little bigger than most. I fish them on a floating line with a twitch instead of the traditional strip. With just a little weight on the hook you will be able to stall the fly and let in hang in the water column. Another twitch and a pause, then wham! It is visually stimulating and very productive. This technique works very well on little rivers as you can hold the fly in the small spot which holds the fish. Usually with a sink tip the fly must be moved too quickly so that it doesn’t hang up and in a small river with little room to bring the fly back, it can present a difficult situation. I tie wet skunks differently depending on depth and current of the fishery. On the Sturgeon, I tie them heavy and fish them in an array of white/smolt colors. On slower rivers like the Manistee and Au Sable, lightly weighted or double wrapped chenille will work. On these rivers, and the many others like them, I tend to fish the colors that blend with the bottom of the river unless the water is high and dirty. Frequently I tie them with a shank off the rear hook to get more size out of the fly. The advantage of a shank over a trailer hook is that it is much easier on the fish and legal in fly water.

The hopper and terrestrial bite will change a little also. Instead of big hoppers and damsels, I prefer smaller hopper and ants. In Crawford County we have lots of sand, sand and ants. In late August and September the adult ants grow wings and fly to disperse the colony. Some days you will come to a stretch of river that will be cover with them and fish will be rising. Most times you don’t see that but the fish are always looking for them. You will catch nice fish on ants and you will catch plenty of fish also. It’s a great searching fly for this time of year and if it goes over a good fish that is feeding, they will usually inhale it with no hesitation. If you are fishing over gravel or areas without weeds a small nymph can be deadly when fished as a dropper. I like size 16 and 18 nymphs this time of year as the only mature mayflies in most rivers are BWO’s.

This is the end of one season that will transition into another. Next, Fall, is one of the best seasons for trophy trout but there is no rush. Take time to enjoy the last glimpses of summer. There are only a limited number of weeks to fish the little rivers as most of them will close on the last day of September. It’s a great time to explore some new water and give hope to a new section for next year. That is how I spend most days off in the summer. Poking around with the FlyCraft and finding new water that is less exploited. Fewer canoes and more willing fish, giant brook trout on my mind…but there is never enough time. It feels like one lifetime won’t ever be enough.