People We Meet: A Story of a Blue Ribbon Trout Stream
By: Kyler Gartner
There is perhaps no other activity in my life that has brought me closer to people and to the natural world than fly fishing. In that pursuit I have bonded with people I might have never crossed paths with. People whose uniqueness and greatness I might have never seen or been affected by, and moments framed with sounds, smells, and sensations that often heighten one’s self awareness and consciousness.
I first met Bruce in the summer of 2014 when I was an eager shop rat in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. His Michigan licensed Wrangler with all-terrain tires and a light gray paint job came to a stop in our parking lot one afternoon. A white oval sticker with a monster brown trout illustration and the letters: “Au Sable Angler” adorned the door. As the panel swung open, Bruce jumped out of the vehicle with several big bright yellow Cliff boxes under each arm and a couple more clutched in his hands. Almost like a firebrand evangelical preacher with fly boxes instead of gold trimmed leather bound bibles he entered the shop asking if I’d heard the” good word” about the Au Sable River.
Located on the northern Lower Peninsula, the Au Sable River runs approximately 138 miles and stretches through the towns of Grayling and Mio, Michigan. It is considered one of the best trout fisheries east of the Rockies and has been designated a blue ribbon trout stream by many. Bruce told stories of numerous Browns being fought on 8wt rods with streamers measuring anywhere from 6 to 8 inches with double and even triple articulated sections. Once an angler lands a Brown in the 20+ inch range they cross an invisible threshold into a pantheon of prolific anglers who call the Au Sable River their stomping grounds and receive a “The 20+ inch Brown Club” sticker. As novelty as it seems at the beginning of the day it becomes a goal to hoist that sticker up proudly later.
As if the holy spirit of the Au Sable River filled my soul and fueled my trout obsession I had no choice but to make the 15 hour drive from Charleston, South Carolina to Mio, Michigan in the summer of 2016. Only sleeping in the parking lot of Bruce’s shop for an hour I was awoken by a tapping on my car window as Bruce ushered me into his motel and fly shop for some coffee and donuts before our 8 hour float trip. After loading up on a boat box full of streamers, my lasting thoughts about Bruce’s shop was that it wasn’t a giant big box store with uneducated staff filling uniforms that could care less if you catch a trophy Brown or not. Nor was it solely an online only store ran by a bunch of techies that think a Bimini twist is a new trending dance. It’s a fly shop- real brick & mortar nestled near the bank of one of the best blue ribbon trout streams in America, staffed by folks that live the trout bum lifestyle that care deeply about the natural resources they enjoy daily.
Despite the long distance travel no trophy Browns were caught that trip but I did manage some memorable trout and a rather large northern Pike on the fly, my first. For some the single aspect of not catching trophy fish in general can easily wreck a trip but I left with a fond respect and obsession of the Au Sable that has since continued to fuel an uncanny “trout itch.” Special places, fly rods take us to so many of them and one doesn’t realize how much a place influences them until they leave. Unfortunately, two months after returning from fishing, the river experienced an estimated overflow spillage of 80,000 gallons of raw sewage into the stretch of the river in the town of Grayling due to faulty equipment. Upon hearing this news I felt uneasy as if I were punched in the gut and worried for my northern friend, Bruce. Advisories cautioned against swimming or other water activities in the area because it would increase the risk of becoming sick from contamination of E.coli. However, I wasn’t hearing any solutions to help protect the fish that call the Au Sable home and it has turned into a waiting game to see what the extent of the damage is.
I regularly contact Bruce to inquire the condition of the river, to get a general fishing report or simply check in to say, “Hi.” Thankfully the stretch of the Au Sable in Mio he and other avid anglers call home haven’t seen any direct side effects of the spill but what a natural wonder that would be lost if it reached the town of Mio. Sadly, open any newspaper or turn your television to any local or major news source and you see these conflicts between the natural world and ours as if they can’t coexist but realistically they are codependent. Other resources such as the Florida Everglades are in danger or the threat of public lands being transformed into private or government possessed lands headline the confrontation. Take note. Take action.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kyler adopted the lifestyle of a fly fisherman and tier at a relatively young age. Hailing from North Platte, Nebraska, he learned the fundamentals of fly fishing from his grandfather along the Platte River and various lakes and ponds in his home state.
Now a manager of a fly shop in Charleston, SC his experiences and knowledge have allowed him to target and catch numerous inshore, nearshore, and offshore species in the Lowcountry. An avid coldwater angler Kyler has traveled to fish for shouldered Browns along the Pere Marquette River in Baldwin, Michigan, thrown 8 inch streamers along the AuSable River in Mio, Michigan, stubborn Rainbow and Brown trout in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee along the South Holston and Watauga Rivers. Whether it’s salt marshes or mountain streams Kyler feels at home on the water.
When he doesn’t have a fishing rod in hand Kyler can be found sitting at the tying bench cooking up pragmatic patterns to throw at shallow water redfish. When the weather doesn’t permit for fishing fly tying is a hobby within a hobby that keeps him constantly connected to the marshes.