100 Best: Au Sable

Location: Northern lower peninsula

Type of stream: Freestone

Angling methods Fly, Spin

Species: Browns, Rainbows, Brookies

Access Easy

Season: Year-round Supporting

Services: Grayling, Mio

Short take: TU’s home waters, need we say more?

Handicapped access: Yes

Closest TU Chapters: Mason-Griffith Founders

The idea for Trout Unlimited was hatched at a chance meeting in 1950 of George Griffith, a hosiery salesman and George Mason, president of American Motors, as both men were waiting to launch their Au Sable river boats at Burton’s Landing. Nine years later Griffith, then a member of Michigan’s Conservation Commission, hosted a meeting at his Au Sable cabin—named the Barbless Hook by legendary angler Joe Brooks—and that fall TU was born.

The Au Sable is an incredibly fragile stream. Flowing from the center of Michigan east southeast to Lake Huron, the Au Sable drains a 90-mile east-west running corridor that ranges between 10 and 30 miles in width. Termed “river of sand” by early explorers, the Au Sable flows over with no ledges of bed rock. Downstream from Grayling and east of Interstate 75, the Au Sable assumes the persona that sustains it through the Holy Water—eight miles of fly-fishing only, no-kill angling.

Hexigenia limbata, also called the Michigan Caddis, one of the river’s signature hatches. They begin coming off at dusk in mid-June. On a 3x tippet—nothing lighter—tie on a #6 or #8 hex pattern. Before long you’ll hear the sound of browns gulping these big Michigan mayflies. If you’re lucky one will gulp yours. And if you’re doubly lucky, it won’t make it to the pine sweeper downstream before you turn him. In late August and early September, white flies hatch. They hang thick as fog over riffles at the head of pools. Fish feed with a frenzy.

No trip to Michigan is complete without a couple of days on the Au Sable. Access is ample and very well marked. While in that neck of the woods, spend some time on the North Branch and get to know its brookies. As well, you owe it to yourself to fish the 1500 acre tract on the South Branch that George Mason gave to the state. Like the 8-mile stretch of the main stem, this too is holy water.


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