Fly Fishing on North Branch of Au Sable

A Guide to Fly Fishing on the North Branch of the Au Sable River

How do you experience a river? How can I explain the moods and emotions of a river like the North Branch?  Let’s take a little trip down this magnificent river, I get to share my firsthand experiences and insider tips.

From the peaceful wading spots to the thrill of dry fly fishing in skinny water, I’ll provide you with all the information you need to make the most of your fly fishing adventure. So grab your gear and get ready to create unforgettable memories in this angler’s paradise.

An evening brown trout on the North Branch of Au Sable
An evening brown trout on the North Branch of Au Sable

A Little Bit About the North Branch of Au Sable River

When thinking about the North Branch, the first words that come to mind are comfort and ease. It offers comfortable wading, picturesque scenery, and convenient access. The river originates just north of Lovells, MI, and becomes fishable at the Ostego/Crawford County line. A great access point is located just south of the county line at this spot: [Google Maps link]. 

The North Branch Au Sable River is primarily known for its brook trout water, characterized by cold and crystal-clear flows over a mixture of gravel and sand. If you venture below the Dam 4 access, you’ll find a higher abundance of brown trout.

With a fascinating history, the North Branch Au Sable River was once heavily logged, and dams were constructed for log transportation. Unfortunately, these activities adversely affected fish habitat and resulted in the decline and eventual extinction of Arctic Grayling, which were once dominant in the fish population.

Overfishing and environmental factors further contributed to their disappearance in the early 1900s. Today, the North Branch Au Sable River is renowned as a brook trout stream, maintaining a strong reputation for high-quality fishing experiences.

Nice brown trout caught with a pheasant tail nymph
Nice brown trout caught with a pheasant tail nymph

1.      Sheep’s Ranch – Fun and Easy to “Read”

Just north of the bridge on Twin Bridges Rd, on the east side, lies a fantastic little spot that offers an enjoyable hour of fishing. Personally, I enjoy starting by entering the water on the southern part of the state land and wading up to the northern limit of this section.

This particular stretch is characterized by skinny water, abundant woody structure, and easily identifiable holding spots. It’s ideal for fishing with smaller midge and BWO patterns, which can be drifted along the bubble lines and around the numerous scattered logs in the area. It serves as a perfect warm-up before venturing downstream to fish the evening hatches.

How to Find Sheep’s Ranch

2.      Dam 4 – Great for Wading or a Float

South of Lovells (if a gas station and restaurant could be called a village) along Lovells Rd is Dam 4 Road Access.  No, you won’t see a dam here, but the area was used to dam the river during the logging days.

This spot holds some amazing memories for me.  Imagine a beautiful June evening, the sun is setting with that glow over the cedars bordering the river.  Hendrickson mayflies are popping off in scattered numbers, just enough to get the brown trout moving.  A cast, a mend and BAM…..

A plus 10 inch brook trout from the North Branch Au Sable River
A plus 10 inch brook trout from the North Branch Au Sable River

The river is big enough in this section for a couple of anglers to fish together working each side of the river.  Easy wading and lots of structure due to management efforts from the state and local clubs. 

I will fish upriver for a quarter mile and then back downstream for a quarter mile if I’m wading.  The river is bordered by private land so keep your boots wet and be respectful. 

The firm gravel bottom and easy wading make this area perfect for wading after dark.

Let’s talk about floating….

Where to Find Dam 4 Access

3.      Dam 4 to Sheep’s Pasture – A Full Evening

When it comes to fishing the North Branch, my absolute favorite way is from a canoe. Sure, the water can be pretty skinny at times, and you might find yourself dragging the canoe over shallow spots. But hey, don’t let that discourage you! Trust me, the gradient changes along the stretch from Dam 4 to Sheep’s Pasture multiple times, making it an exciting adventure.

If you decide to float this section without even casting a line, it usually takes a couple of hours. However, let me tell you about my most productive floats – they happen in the evenings. I plan my trips to wrap up around 10:30 or 11:00 pm. A typical fishing float for me lasts around 4 to 5 hours, including a nice long break to enjoy dinner.

Where to Find Sheep’s Pasture Access

Now, here’s a little secret: I have a sweet spot where I like to spot fish for the first half of this section. Afterward, I settle down at this amazing spot (check out the Google Maps link). It’s the perfect place to soak in the sunset. What’s even better is that from there, I can paddle for about 45 minutes and easily reach the takeout if I need to.

Guide Pro Tip: Get a complete Download Google Map detailing the Access and all the “Fishy Water” 👉 North Branch Au Sable Fishing Locations

4.      Sheep’s Pasture to Kelloggs Bridge – Solitude

Let me tell you about a hidden gem – the section of the river from Sheep’s Pasture to Kelloggs’ Bridge. This part offers something truly special: privacy. With limited access points and more private property around, it’s not as crowded as other areas.

What does that mean for you? It means pure solitude and an opportunity to unwind and relax. You’ll come across some charming cabins and benches along the way, but it’s not as busy with other fellow anglers.

Now, let me be honest with you. Fishing in this section can be a bit tricky. The challenge lies in getting snagged on nearly every promising spot. But fear not, because I have a tactic that works like a charm.

Here’s what I do: If daytime fishing I’ll start by tight line nymphing through the deep bend pools, and as I move along the straighter runs, I switch to dry flies, usually smaller midges or mayflies.  I’ll setup separate fly rods for each method. This method allows me to present those dry flies perfectly in front of log jams and other manmade structures, providing that “fix” that dry fly fishing fooling those crafty fish into biting.

Map to Fishing Spots on the North Branch of Au Sable River
Map to Fishing Spots on the North Branch of Au Sable River

Video Guide to Fly Fishing on North Branch of Au Sable

Why Fish the North Branch of the Au Sable?

With the main branch of the Au Sable getting all the fame, the skinny water of the North Branch can go unnoticed.  With great access, easy wading (particularly for night fishing), and a chance to hook into true trophies

Eager brook trout will take a well-presented dry fly, in spots you’d expect.  Trophy brown trout start looking up during the reliable evening hatches the question should be why aren’t more folks fishing the North Branch?

Brown Trout Caught on a Windy Day
Brown Trout Caught on a Windy Day

What Kind of Fish Will You Catch on the N. Branch Au Sable

Brookies and Browns – Brookies and Browns

I’ve caught +12” brook trout and brown trout well over 20 inches.  The brown trout are nighttime hunters, which is a blessing and curse.  The good is the trout are less wary, but wading at night can be challenging.

A good day chasing brook trout can provide 20 or more trout taking a dry fly.  Perfect for the visual satisfaction that a topwater strike provides.  Mid-day when things slow down I’ll tie on a stimulator cast to the seams while moving quickly along the river.

Brook Trout caught with Zebra Midge
Brook Trout caught with Zebra Midge

Seasons of the North Branch Au Sable

The fishing season is open all year from Sheep Ranch to the confluence with the main branch.  Sizes and possession is limited so check the regulations for the year.

Spring is Okay, from March to early May nymphing is the plan with slow tiny midge patterns hanging below an indicator.  The deeper pools will have the fish, try to cover water quickly with only a couple of casts per pool.

Summer is the time, From early May to mid July the sunrises and sunsets mark the times to dry fly fish.  Water temperatures are rising and the hatches are predictable.  If I were to schedule a time – it would be the last two weeks of June.

Fall can be good, catching a little nice weather window in October can yield memories.  The brown trout start moving to spawning grounds and are eager to put on weight for the winter.  Streamer fishing with size 8 and 10 sculpin patterns is a good plan.

Winter is slow, the fish are lying right on the bottom only taking food that hit them in the nose.  Those occasional days that get into the 40’s can kick off a small midge hatch.

Favorite Flies

Hatch Chart for the North Branch

HatchFly PatternStart of HatchEnd of Hatch
Midge DriesGriffiths Gnat 16 to 22MayOctober
Midge NymphZebra midge size 16 to  20MayOctober
Mayfly Blue Wing Olive (BWO)BWO Size 18JuneOctober
SulfursYellow Sally size 16 to 18MayAugust
Mayfly HendricksonParachute Adams 14 to 18MayJune
CaddisElk Hair size 12 to 18Mid-AprilMid-September
Mayfly Brown DrakeClassic Drake size 16MayJune
Mayfly TricosTrico size 20 June September
Mayfly HEXSpinner and Dun size 6 to 8JuneJuly
GrasshoppersDave’s Hopper size 8JulySeptember
StonefliesBoth black nymphs and dries size 12 to 18JuneJuly
Flying Ants (after a rain)Hi-Vis Ant size 18JulySeptember

Fly Rod Setup

My favorite fly rod is a 8 ½ foot medium fast action 4-weight, some might say that it’s a little heavy for brook trout, but hook into a decent brown (which is absolutely possible on the North Branch) and that little bit of backbone will give you a hitting chance to land a dream.

A matching weight forward fly line with a 5X – 9 foot tapered leader. I often put a one foot section of 5X tippet to add a little bit of length. The North Branch is primarily a dry fly fishing river, so tie on a size 18 Griffiths’ gnat and cast into likely water.

Foundation Fly Rod Combo
Foundation Fly Rod Combo 👈 Link to Amazon

Sage Foundation Fly Rod and Reel Combo

Are you ready to up your casting game? Looking for a rod that casts a little farther with more accuracy? The Foundation Setup will to step up and deliver. Plus when your buddies see the Sage name you’ll get those jealousy looks.

Read my review Here and watch my on-water review of the Foundation HERE ON YOUTUBE

Check out the link below for more reviews and current pricing.

Resources, Guides, and Fly Shops

  • Gates AuSable Lodge 👈 an iconic shop and motel.  A modern historic centerpiece for the Au Sable River system.
  • North Branch Outing Club 👈 great for lodging and guides.  Ask for “Bear” Andrews a true legend on the North Branch.
  • Ron’s Fly Shop 👈 a family-owned fly shop that has a pulse of the Au Sable River watershed.

Regulations on the North Branch of Au Sable

The North Branch is Flies Only, open all year with size and possession limits.  Two trout only with only 1 over 18 inches.  Brown must be over 18 inches and  brook and rainbow trout over 10 inches.  Read more at the MI DNR 👉

How to fly fish for brook trout
How to fly fish for brook trout

Last Cast

Every year, I find myself creating cherished memories on the North Branch of the Au Sable River. Its reliable hatches, comfortable wading, and numerous access points make casting a fly in these waters an absolute must. From peaceful wading spots surrounded by scenic beauty to thrilling skinny water sections teeming with woody structures, this river truly has it all.

Whether you’re a fan of canoe fishing or seeking solitude in private stretches, there’s an experience tailored just for you. Don’t forget to plan your floats strategically, embracing the evening hatches and breathtaking sunrises.

With its rich fishing history and diverse fishery, the North Branch Au Sable River never fails to captivate me.  An irresistible destination that keeps drawing me back, ready to forge new memories year after year.

Looking to Learn the Tips and Techniques for the Fish You Love to Chase? I’ve Got You Hooked Up Below

Hi David Humphries Owner of Guide Recommended. I love everything to do with fly fishing. Casting, Tying, YouTube, writing about it and even teaching. I’ve got a FREE video workshop teaching how to dry fly fish at this link How to Fly Fish

More Information on the North Branch Au Sable

  • Michigan Streamside – a website dedicated to fishing on the Au Sable River. The site includes fishing reports, maps, and a forum where you can ask questions and get advice from other anglers.
  • Gates Au Sable Lodge – a great resource for booking a guided fishing trip on the Au Sable River. The a small fly shop and lodge, plus a blog with fishing reports and tips.
  • Michigan DNR – with so much Michigan history around the Au Sable watershed, it is actively managed by the State.  Lots to read including access and fishing reports. Michigan Department of Natural Resources
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