Top 14(ish) Flies for the Ausable River
Even though we are in the throes of one of the strangest winters I can recall, as the days begin to lengthen and the temps rise I can’t help but get excited for the coming fishing season on the Ausable river. To be honest I have been pacing back and forth anxiously since October 15th (the last official day of trout season here in the Adirondacks) and trying to alleviate said tension by pretending to work as a ski patroller at my home mountain. All the while dreaming of sipping trout, bullish streamer eats and the slight ticks in my leader that indicate a tactical jig has found a nice, soft lip to call home. So while the weather tries to make its mind up, choosing either thawing rain or deep dips well below the recommended norms, what better to do than make sure we have all the necessary patterns to get the most out our season?
As a full time fly fishing guide for The Hungry Trout Resort, I spend the bulk of my season taking clients on the famed waters of the West Branch of the Ausable River and spring into summer is without question one of the best times on the West Branch. The following are 14 patterns (having proofread this, 14 is more suggestive than accurate) every angler should have and try from June onwards…
Bread and Butter Flies…
If you show up to the banks of the West Branch of the Ausable without some form of stonefly you should politely be asked to leave. All joking aside stone flies are the bread and butter of this river and are a must have for any angler. The Pat’s Black and Tan and Nemec Stone are two must haves, especially during and after high water events.
I’m always amazed at how many anglers throw in the towel when the flows rise and/or the water turns off color. Baring a complete blow out, these can be some of the best times to fish. The increased availability of food, namely stoneflies that have been washed off from their slimy perches, make the river a veritable Golden Corral for trout. The other big advantages to heavy, off color flows are the decreased need for stealth and easier targeting, the combination of turgidity and increased current force trout to softer waters and the discoloration make it far harder to spook them. Both the Nemec and Pat’s are great options for these conditions. As the waters start to clear I prefer the Pat’s in heavier currents and the Nemec for slower runs that allow for closer inspection of the fly. Both are must haves for any angler hoping to garner success on the Ausable.
I know I said “14” earlier, but to be fair, every Fulling Mill tactical jig/nymph that I have fished quickly becomes a new favorite. I can’t tell you how many times we have recommended a few of these patterns to a customer, only to have them return hours later with a larger than life smile streaked across their face. And while I really don’t think you can go wrong with any selection from this line, my two favorites are the Fast Water Prince Jig and the French Jig.
I could ooze on ad nauseam about these patterns, but I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. The West Branch has some of if not the best pocket water in the North East (remember I’m totally biased, I’m sure you have great pocket water too, almost as good as ours). As a result, Euro Nymphing is an absolutely deadly method for catching fish. We’ve had several customers come to the shop after grabbing a handful Fulling Mill Tactical patterns asking if the were somehow “cheating?”
The Prince nymph is an all time pattern, adding a hotspot, a jig hook and ditching the biots for sexy floss only improves upon near perfection. And for the French Jig it’s all about that CDC, I’m convinced it has magical powers. The best part of these flies for me is that in addition to being a deadly addition to any Euro setup, they also make killer droppers when suspended from a big bushy dry, which coincidently leads us to our next category.
To be clear the first fish I ever caught on the fly was on an Orange Stimulator, needless to say I’m a touch partial. That said the stimulator is a classic for a reason. Whether you’re dead drifting, skating, twitching or stripping this pattern it is deadly and much of that effectiveness is due to its versatility. Thanks to ample hackle and lots of buoyant hair, these things float like a cork. Paired with a Tactical Jig as a dropper and you have in my opinion one of the best prospecting combos on the Ausable. Even on the slowest days these flies fish and are a great addition to any anglers fly box.
Can you hear that? No? Well that was the deafening thwap of both my mind being blown and the raucous hand-to-face smack that precedes “why didn’t I think of that?” All in regard to the new Chubby Duo. Take an awesome fly, known for its suspension properties (this thing won the sixth grade contest for who can make their clay ship float with the most weight…twice) and add a tippet ring to make attaching a dropper, or five, an absolute breeze. Sayonara to the days of droppers slipping off, the days off struggling with knots, the days of anxious wondering, they are all gone. Don’t even get me started on how much fun it is to watch a slob of a trout hoark one of these hogs down– seriously don’t.
While there are certainly times and places where indicators are integral to success, 9 times out of 10 I’ll opt for using a big bushy fly as an indicator and these are my two favorites. Small side note: opt for Stimis end of may-early June and save the duos for mid to later June.
Ive always considered Trout to be the English Nobility of the fishing world– they are well mannered, delicate and exude regality. Even the graceful way they glide beneath the current exhibits proper grandeur. And for that, I learned, and encourage everyone to learn, how to swing a wet. Perhaps the oldest and most classic way to catch a trout on the fly. Something about soggy days with a well swung brace of flies and a warm fire to return to… sorry I get carried away sometimes. Right– back to the flies. As many know the feeling, or “tug”, of a fish taking a swung fly is as the saying goes “the drug”. But it is also one of the most effective and exciting ways to catch trout.
Appearing as far back as 1842 in Joseph Wells The Contemplative Angler the Partridge and Orange needs little justification, especially from a guy that just personified trout as the Dukes and Duchesses’ of the piscatorial world. Trust me they work, and seem in particular to attract larger trout of the Ausable, more often than not.
The March Brown Jig has proved especially effective on the waters of the Ausable. Whether used as point/lead fly on a brace or towed behind a skittering caddis or stimulator, this fly fishes very well. I also love to use this fly in smaller runs and pocket water, twitching it near the surface to make it look like an emerger struggling with the current.
Shake and Bake
Let’s all be honest, when we visualize our own special “River Runs Through It Moments”, the trout that pulls us through the rapids– well that fish, that fish ate a dry fly. One of the many reasons I love the West Branch is that it has excellent dry fly action.
As I continue to write this I am starting to realize that keeping it to only 14 patterns is like picking a favorite fly rod (near impossible). So you’ll have to just bare with me on this one.
I was wavering on including the obvious option, the Ausable Wulff that is. How could I not include it?! I mean it’s named after the river. Not to mention the countless fish that I’ve had smash these things on trout waters across the country, let alone the Adirondacks. Created by the legendary Fran Betters, the Ausable Wulff was designed to float in the heavy pocket water that defines much of the river (just remember it is the best pocket water– ever). Fran went with over sized hackle and a stout tail to keep his prolific pattern riding high. Still today it is one of the best producing patterns on the river. Cast it to the edges, where the whitewater softens and clears and you will not be disappointed.
The Indicator Para Adams is another obvious choice for the Ausable. The added dual color, high viz post make keeping track of this fly in even the worst visibility a breeze. I also prefer the profile of this fly to the Wulff when fishing the slower slicks and pools.
And how could you not include a caddis? Especially one as buggy as the The Fly Project’s Hot Mess. This patterns screams chow time for trout. Often underrated and overlooked, caddis for me at least, have proved to work when nothing else will. Besides being a staple of the trout diet they are also super fun to fish. Next time your out try twitching, skating and skittering the Hot Mess and I think you’ll have some fun.
Spin Me Right Round…
Simply put there is nothing better in the spring than waiting till the witching hour and targeting trout sipping on spinners. Something about watching as the water erupts with the carefree boils of ravenous trout all the while knowing that time and daylight are avariciously against you is near heaven. And with the right patterns you’ll find that catching a trout in these conditions is the closest thing to a temporary “miracle cure” for vexatious clouds of black flies and no-see-um’s that have likened your face to a steak dinner.
I love the Angel Wing spinner because I am a firm believer that flash rarely hurts a fly. So to build upon another classic makes for a fly that is just that much better. Also a huge fan of mahogany dubbing.
And while many flies do well with a little added ingenuity there are also the ones where even mere mention of change would be blasphemous. The Usual is one of those patterns. Created again by the legendary Fran Betters right here on the waters of the West Branch, this pattern is equally effective as it is timeless. Though this fly can serve many purposes I love to use it for the evening spinner fall, the combination of its silhouette and the buoyancy of the snowshoe hair make it an absolute must have for buggy spring nights.
Moral Corrupters/Life Ruining Patterns…
As a self diagnosed streamer addict (admission only makes it worse, I promise)– naturally I had to save the best for last. Feeling the take of a large trout smashing a striped streamer is shear ecstasy, let alone watching a trout hammer your fly– for that there is no word to adequately describe the induced feeling (trust me, I’ve checked).
The Rubber Bugger follows the trend of the previously listed flies in that it excels in large part thanks to its versatility. You can strip, swing or even dead drift this fly and have amazing success. Marabou, flash and rubber…sounds like a polygamous power couple to me. Olive and Black are excellent color choices for the West Branch.
If we can, for the moment, consider the Rubber Bugger just a small step on your way to the whole sale degradation of both your personal and fishing reputation then the Cheech Leech is surely rock bottom. But who knew it could feel oh so good. This fly is not for the faint of heart, it requires a contract up front that can only be signed with patience, blood and determination. If you have never gone to the river with only your rod and a few of these, you are seriously missing out. I should warn you in full that when a massive (as in you would never have thought a fish that size lived in this river– and I mean NEVER) follows this fly out from the murky depths from which you retrieved it, you may need to change your waders. Fish eat other fish, plain and simple, therefore big fish are able to eat big flies. So if you’re willing to lose your job, your wife, your friends, the affection of your kids etc. then by all means fish a couple of these. Oh– almost forgot– I really like white, olive and black for the Ausable. Hope you enjoy.
Unfortunately, I’ve lost count on how many flies I just recommended, in all honesty, I can barely count past 10 anyhow. Regardless, be sure to have a couple of these in your box the next time to head to Ausable. Thanks for reading and just a heads up Streamers Anonymous will resume our meetings from opening day. See you on the Ausable river.