Au Sable River - Trout Fishing Profile

Fishing in Michigan
Excerpted from Trout Fishing Sourcebook by Mark D. Williams

Location: Northern Lower Peninsula (the North Country)
Section: 100 to 150 miles of river including the Mainstream, East, South, and North Branches
Maps: Otsego Lake, Turtle Lake, Johannesburg, Lovells, Comstock Hills, Luzerne NW, Red Oak, Mio, Fairview, McKinley, Alcona Dam Pond, Hale, Loud Dam
Best seasons to fish: Open year-round in the 9-mile flies-only, catch-and-release stretch known as the Holy Water. Fishes best in spring, early summer, and fall.
Type of stream: Limestone (with gravel bottom)
Species to be found: Predominantly brown trout, as well as some brook and rainbow trout
Stocking/wild status: These are wild trout.
Average sizes: 10 to 16 inches, with the real possiblity of catching brown trout from 2 to 10 pounds.

Regulations: The 9-mile section known as the Holy Water, from Burton's Landing to Wakeley Bridge, is catch-and-release flyfishing only. From the Mio powerline to McKinley, only artificial lures and flies may be used, and only two trout may be kept each day. Brown trout must be 15 inches and rainbow and brook must be 12 inches.

Well-known areas and places to fish along the river: One great thing about the Au Sable is that the trout hold in the places they should hold. Likely looking cover holds trout, and there is likely looking cover everywhere. Feeding lanes are obvious, as are the numerous submerged logs, underwater structures, dropoffs, and snags. Trees overhang the cluttered banks. The Au Sable is still complex enough, and the trophy trout wise enough, that hiring a guide your first few times is a good idea. If you want to fish a given hatch, wait around—the hatch will happen soon.

Recommended Equipment

Anglers don't need an especially long flyrod, a 7 1/2 to 8 foot will do, with 35 weight flyline. Sometimes, a 10-foot leader and thin tippet is needed to fool these selective trout.

Top fly patterns: Hatches are predictable and strong from spring to late fall. The prolific hatches are the major reason the river has held up as a nationally-rated trout fishery for so long. Try these flies: Stoneflies (black, lime, yellow), Rusty Spinner, Adams (a fly devised on this river), Sulphur Dun, Red Quill, Brown Drake, Michigan Caddis (imitates the Hexagenia limbata), Black Elk Hair Caddis, Trico, Blue Winged Olive, Hendrickson, Pale Evening Dun, Light Cahill, Muddler Minnow, Soft-Hackle wet flies, Hare's Ear, Matuka, Ants, and Bees. Nymphs of the emerging hatch are effective, too. The Wiggle-Hex pattern is effective below Wakeley Bridge when the hex hatch is on. The area from Wakeley Bridge down to Mio Pond is the best habitat for the lusty big insect, the Hexagenia limbata, for the river bottom is silty and the nymphs are burrowers.

Recommended Techniques

How about night fishing? From a boat? Night fishing is the best time to catch the lunkers, or any of them for that matter. Be careful at night whether floating or wading. Scout out the territory in daylight to become familiar with your surroundings. Matching the hatch is about the only way to fool Au Sable wild trout, in the daylight or under the Northern Lights. Matching the hatch also means long, delicate leaders, long casts to 40 feet, and accuracy to fill the feeding lanes. The trout see a lot of food and won't move far to suck down your imitation. The major exception is the hex hatch, a crowded affair, shared with indiscriminate rising trout and anglers from around the country.

Best access points: Guide's Rest, Keystone Landing State Forest, Wakeley Bridge, Stephan Bridge, Burton's Landing, Louie's Landing, McMaster's Bridge, Pine Road River.

Quality of Angling

The Au Sable is easily the best trout fishery in the Midwest and ranks in the top 20 in the nation. The atmosphere of the river, the tree-lined banks, and the easy, lazy flow, all add up to a serene experience, topped off by the chance (and probability) of landing heavy wild trout. The Holy Water is one of the most famous and most productive stretches of trout water in the country, but less famous, unnamed stretches can be just as rich and fruitful. The river gets big as it moves downstream and picks up tributaries, but the deep runs and deep pools hold lots of fish. The South and North Branches of the Au Sable have quality angling and predictable hatches of their own.

Wadeability/floatability: The Au Sable is floated in the low-slung, cedar, Au Sable riverboats. Boaters drop chains behind the craft to slow it down, poling the riverboats around the curves and from bank to bank. Some fishermen use aluminum canoes. The section from the upper mainstem down to the end of the special regulations has easy wading thanks to a firm gravel and sandy bottom, stable water level, and easy gradient. Many float the river, find a spot to wade, and then anchor up and fish the area. Below where the South Branch of the Au Sable enters the river, wading becomes treacherous and the Au Sable becomes big water. From this point downstream, floating is the only way to navigate the river. Throughout the river, there can be times when the dreaded "aluminum hatch" takes place, but the canoe traffic is overrated. The Au Sable is a long, big river with more than enough room and good fishing water for everyone.

Fly Shops, Guides, and Outfitters of Interest

Bill's Au Sable Rod & Fly Shop, 517-348-9777
Au Sable Lodge, 517-348-8462
The Fly Factory, 517-348-5844
Gates Au Sable Lodge and Fly Shop, 517-348-8462
Au Sable River Drifters, 517-826-5177
Skip's Sport Shop, 517-348-7111

Best Guidebooks

Michigan Trout Streams, by Bob Linsenman and Steve Nevala
Angler's Guide to Twelve Classic Trout Streams in Michigan, by G. Hendrickson, 1985.


Grayling is the best town to use as a base, but Roscommon, Luzerne, and Mio also have places to stay. There are ample accommodations and eateries in the area. Both state and national campgrounds are available near the river and its branches.

© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press and Mark D. Williams. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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