Our anticipation for this year's Trout Opener neared delirium by Friday morning, and we struck out for Grayling at noon after putting in a few hours' toil for The Man. The weather was warm, the sun was bright, and the weekend's forecast for the Ausable and Manistee River areas was for high temperatures in the upper sixties with a less than likely chance of rain. It promised to be a very good Opening Day with good conditions for hatching mayflies and rising fish.
We landed on the banks of the North Branch of the Ausable at 4pm, met our First Platoon of comrades, and commenced dry hackle offerings thrown among the rocks and riffles of fifty-six degree water. The platoon's reconnaissance told of a few fish taken earlier in the day but with action now at a lull. In the next two hours our efforts came to nought, but no matter, for two more solid days of fishing lay ahead. Surely, we thought, things would improve. We sounded recall and headed for Penrod's, our base of operations. We joined the Second Platoon and sought refreshment at Grayling's version of The Russian Tearoom - Spike's "Keg O'Nails" Pub: anybody who is anybody in Crawford County is in Spike's for Opening Eve. We had a wonderfully creamy pint of Guinness, and watched various mating rituals between semi-sober fisherman and the domestic and imported brood mares. Further liquid inspiration followed back at camp, summoning rousing declamations on the glories that awaited us. We also learned that the words for "prairie" and "fire" sound very similar in the Ojibwa langauge, and our Resident Fish Scholar postulated various theories on the future of Michigan salmonids and the Return of the Grayling. He was remarkably coherent even after a substantial helping of a brand-new bottle of Scapa. Hemingway would have been proud to have his company.
With the dawn of Opening Day the stragglers of our Band of Brothers arrived at camp, just in time for a superb breakfast. The group was surprisingly ambulatory given the fervor of the previous night's bacchanal. We girded our loins, packed up our gear, and as we headed toward the cars...
A great KABOOM! heralded the arrival of a fierce and nasty squall line into Grayling. We hunkered down for driving wind and rain for the better part of a hour. The temperature plunged twenty-five degrees. This is not good, we thought. Had one of us sinned against God? Should we stone that transgressor and bring the rest of us back to righteousness and reasonable fishing? No one offered themselves up in sacrifice and we concluded that the sinner was amongst the outsiders from our group. If he had any conscience he would tear out his eyes with No. 2 sized streamer hooks and beg our forgiveness, as well as that of God's. The rain abated, and we set out for the CCC Bridge on the Manistee, where we commenced fishing.
"Slow Fishing" does not do justice to our experience for the next four hours. The sudden and severe change in conditions had put our little friends into a coma. Between bouts of cold, soaking rains and biting winds, our group of five (a sixth was an early casualty to storm-induced demoralization and skeedaddled back to Alpena) landed two fish. One of the fish was identified as a brook trout only after undergoing magnification by reading spectacles. The Master Angler of our group, one with whom we had presumed God was obligated to provide at least one fish per outing, was skunked. This had, in effect, defined the day as a disaster, the flyfishing equivalent of The Apocalypse. We slunk back to Grayling to lick our wounds and to hope for a better Sunday.
No such luck. The Fish Scholar peeled off for home Sunday morning, so demoralized that the prospect of finishing his chorelist at home seemed more appealing. After the remnants of our party reconnoitered the Main Branch of the Ausable and found conditions inimical to even fair fishing for our last day, we headed to Dam Four on the North Branch. Alas, another four hours produced no landed fish and precious few strikes in forty-eight degree water. We surrendered in the midafternoon, struck camp, and headed home.
What is there to be learned from such a Last Saturday in April?
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley - Robert Burns