Friday, July 25, 2014

A float trip on the South Branch of the Au Sable River

An afternoon float. 
    The most popular paddling route on the the South Branch of the Au Sable River is from Roscommon to Chase Bridge Road, where most canoe livery traffic ends.  That part of the river is lined with cabins, and there's heavy canoe traffic, especially on weekends. But if you have your own boat, and make the effort, you can paddle through the Mason Tract. a pocket wilderness area, from Chase Bridge to Smith Bridge. There are only a handful of cottages, and most the streamsides are open to the public. There is one large public canoe campground, and it would make a nice family over night trip. One tip: The portage from the river to the campground is long, so it's better to simply carry your camping gear from the boat, and leave the boat at the shoreline. Taking a boat out is much easier at Smith Bridge.
     I make the float often, fly fishing as I go and taking my time. That trip takes about six hours and could be as long as eight. But for those not fishing, you may as well take your time and enjoy the scenery and wildlife.  On a recent trip I was joined by a bald eagle and several herons.  Perhaps they were waiting to feast on any trout I caught. My oldest son once had a tussle on the river with a heron over the ownership of a fish on his line. The heron won.
     The 1,500 acre tract with 14 miles of shoreline, and about six miles in length from Chase to Smith Bridge with donated to the state by George W. Mason, a Detroit industrialist who died 1954. There are hiking trails through it, and a system of rough roads. While you can drive to the shoreline of the Au Sable's mainstream, you must hike to paddle to get to the river.  A float trip in a canoe or kayak is the best way to access the river. There are people willing to spot your car, so it's waiting for you at the end of the trip. Check with the people at the Old Au Sable Fly Shop ( in Graying to find the name of the car spotter. The cost is $25.
      For more information on the South Branch and other paddling opportunities in Michigan, please check out my paddling guide

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