This year, dedicated to the proposition that one should actually catch some fish on Opening Weekend, we set out Friday morning for a preemptive strike on North Branch of the Au Sable River (the always-open Flies Only section). We calculated that landing a brace of trout on Friday would demonstrate to the River Gods that we were no Gee-Gaws and were worthy of their plaudits and favors for Saturday.
Friday afternoon on the North Branch was spectacular. We waded to one of our favorite spots at the tag end of a Hendrickson hatch, and fish from parr to ten-inchers, both brookies and browns, were enthusiastically feeding. After catching a half-dozen or so from both species on a Borchers Special (a size 14 is the go-to fly on northern Michigan streams), the hatch and the feeding suddenly stopped. The early-season "Gentlemen's Hatch" has the quality of a fire hose being opened and closed at half-hour intervals for a few hours in the afternoon. Finally, the hose was closed off for the day, and we switched to offerings of bead-head nymphs. The action was slow. Our colleague retreated to the comfort of cabin or "Spike's Keg O'Nails" (he had taken the hatch full force earlier in the afternoon and was suffering from flyfishing shell-shock) while we committed to further fishing downstream until dusk.
In an hour we were rewarded for our persistence. Squadrons of spinners descended from overhead, Emphemerella Subvaria bombers delivering their payloads of peach-colored egg sacks to the water's surface. We had never experienced a Hendrickson spinner fall this intense, and we will never forget it. Nor will we forget the robust brookie fooled by our Rusty Spinner. With the landing of this beauty we declared Opening Weekend a success. Off to Spike's to tell Homeric tales of the Great Spinner Fall!
Saturday, the "Opener-Proper", was the quintessence of such days with cooler, cloudier, and windier weather. And it fished as such; it was very slow. Where were all of the fish that had made the water boil less than a full day past? An Au Sable Lesson: where there are few bugs, there will be few fish. The was no great hatch this afternoon, and correspondingly few spinners in the evening. The fish appeared content with light underwater snacking. A full-day's fishing yielded a handful of fryers taken on soft hackles and bead-head nymphs. We did catch a moment, looking down the river, where we experienced a spiritual convocation of great fish and great flyfishers past. Another memory, and we thanked God for our lives and this blessed storied place.
No Opening Weekend seems complete without a Damn Cold Rain, and it arrived on Sunday morning. As if the melancholy of facing the last leg of Opening Weekend is tough enough, Sweet Lord, this too? "Perfect for streamers!", was heard in the camp to rally morale for fishing in the cold and wet. We breakfasted on omelets, bacon, toast, and coffee, collected our gear, and then went to visit an Au Sable Shaman for guidance as to how to spend our afternoon streamer fishing the Main Branch. From memory he traced a map of an historic location, where a massive rock with a TU plaque honors the vision of founder Art Neumann. A nearby path led us down to a place with swift runs and deep pools, where, the Shaman said, lay some damn big fish. The river banks towered over us like the cathedral canyons of western rivers. Across the river was the landing of the Ginger Quill Camp where Ernie Schwiebert studied nymphs over Scotch.
After two hours of hard fishing, with only a handful of hits to show for our efforts, this correspondent called it a day, and closed out the Opening Weekend.