Fly Fishing the Canoe Hatch on the Big Water of the Ausable River, Michigan

On a recent float trip down the Ausable River in Michigan three anglers encountered the most prolific aluminum hatch ever documented on film. East coast anglers may find these “hatches” are spotty at best in comparison on most of their local waters. Brown and rainbow trout were biting subsurface and our indicators barely floated for thirty feet in the better runs. The screams and splashes didn’t bother the trout, but line management was taken to a whole new level to avoid hooking anyone. Personally my biggest concern was being run over while wading, as I was constantly playing a game of river Frogger to avoid the silver bullets and raft parties. Fly fishing throws many challenges at anglers, and all too often it is easier to make excuses than to adapt to tough conditions.

We answered “how’s the fishing?” a few hundred times before agreeing to a nonverbal response or lifting the rod in a well timed triumphant hook set. When hooked the trout headed to the nearest structure, usually tubers legs or canoe paddles. The fish seemed to enjoy the shade provided by six to ten canoes lashed together, in what I call a “warship.” The huge party boats consisted of rafts, tubes and air mattresses tied together, and some nearly spanned the width of the river. One huge raft pile I dubbed Bikini Island for obvious reasons. We heard local river float songs, got cheered on with each fish on the line and turned a few heads in the AIRE boat. We netted fifty trout between three of us, and an unopened can of Busch Light, which was highly prized. The action was constant and each of us briefly hooked up and lost ten to fifteen additional trout. The trout were gorging themselves on caddis pupaes, SJ worms and streamers.
When I saw the first 100 people pass I thought about how many people complain about the Gunpowder floaters. I have caught fish on many rivers with heavy floating on weekends and notice how little they affect the fishing. Trout are more likely to spook when a dark figure inches ever closer at a heron’s pace splashing line onto the water over and over, than when two to three pairs of legs bob down the river every ten mintues. By day’s end it became apparent these people do this every weekend all summer and the trout are no longer bothered. Once the floating pressure lightened the bite slowed significantly. I think the water was no longer being stirred up by dangling feet, which put the fish on the feed. The end of day brought solitude, quiet and the occasional fish before the takeout. It was a day I will not soon forget.