Floating, Fishing and Camping the Loud Dam Stretch of the Au Sable River

This will be the fourth year in a row that my fiancée Shannon and I float the Au Sable River from the Alcona Dam all the way into Oscoda, which is almost to Lake Huron. We load our kayaks down with a week’s worth of supplies, camping equipment and fishing gear, then travel 56 miles downriver in six days. It’s more of an expedition than a vacation, although we always have a great time.

This trek can easily be broken down into smaller, manageable trips. A good section runs from the Alcona Dam to Loud Dam. It’s a spectacular section of river, and Shannon and I usually spend three days on it. Alcona Dam is located due east of the town of Glennie, on Bamfield Road. There are approximately 12 miles of river here and three miles of “pond” between Alcona and Loud dams, 15 miles in all.

The Au Sable has a lot to offer on a very large scale. And when it comes to kayaking, fishing, camping, tubing or sightseeing, it’s second to none. If you’re more into peace and quiet, try to do your trip during the week. On the weekends after the summer warm-up the first couple miles will host some tubers and some groups of canoers can also be seen down to the Rollways Day Use Area.

Along the way, under normal conditions this a crystal-clear river with 15 feet of visibility or more. You can easily see all the beauty she offers below as you watch as your canoe or kayak float past submerged trees, patches of river grass and rocks. The shoreline is fairly wooded with steep banks most of the way. Lots of hardwoods, birch and cedar trees line the shore as well as the river bottom, providing habitat. And it’s not uncommon to share the fishing with hawks, ospreys and occasional bald eagle. As a compulsive turtle catch-and-releaser, I’ve had the pleasure of getting my hands on some large snapping turtles along with some rare wood turtles. And if you’re quiet enough you just might see a beaver or otter.

Au Sable is considered a trout stream, and the upper portion provides world-class fishing for the species. You can find trout on the lower portion too, but you’ll also find other species to target. Panfish, walleyes, smallmouths and northern pike can all be found in the river as it turns into Loud Dam Pond. Probing downed trees and the edges of grass beds with plastics often entices a bite from the bigger “girls.” If the fishing slows down, drag a Ned Rig along those deeper gravel beds. I’ve pulled some walleyes out of some deeper pockets but most stay out in Loud Dam. Always be on the lookout for that 34-inch-plus pike lurking in the slack water. Bowfin and carp also hang in the backwaters along with those pike and largemouths. As for panfish, target them with bait and little bitty lures in “the pond.”

You’ll find some nice campsites along the river and surrounding the pond in this stretch. One is a drive-up site and two are walk-up sites—there are 17 sites that can be accessed only from a watercraft. Most of these locations are right on the river’s edge. They are primitive, which means they only have a fire pit. Some of these sites on the pond have some spectacular sunsets and sunrises, but they do fill up quick in the summer. Go to recreation.gov under the “Au Sable River primitive campground.” Sites “008w” through “027c” are along this portion.

When looking to access the river, you have plenty of choices. There is a boat launch at Loud Dam at the end of Loud Dam Road. Boats can be put in here and have access to most of the river, as well as the pond. Starting at Alcona Dam, you’ll find the canoe and kayak launch run by Consumers Power with ample parking. Another launch is a couple miles downstream; find it by going south on Au Sable River Road from Bamfield Road. Thompson’s Landing River Access is a canoe/kayak launch on Pinky’s Drive on Curtisville Road. Finally, another canoe/kayak launch is at Rollways Day Use Area. Alcona Canoe Rental and Rollways Campground both here offer canoe, kayak and tube rentals along with shuttle services.

If you’re looking for a place to get away for a day, a weekend or a month, try this stretch of the fabulous Au Sable. Starting at Alcona Dam in the morning, Shannon and I slowly fish our way to our first camp roughly eight miles down the river, just over halfway to Loud Dam Pond. This usually takes us around seven to eight hours as we tend to pick apart the river, trying to catch every fish. It could be done in half the time if fishing was not our main focus. We also stop for lunch along the way, and later set up our camp and enjoy the surrounding area. In the morning we break camp and head out for roughly another seven miles before making it to one of the sites on the pond, again, spending around seven to eight hours on the water. There, we enjoy another great camp meal and, weather permitting, a world-class sunset. The next day we’ll enjoy the pond as we make our way to Loud Dam where we’ll portage to the next section of river, but I’ll leave those tales for another day.