By Nick Simonson
The late spring was no more evident than when the water passed my waistline while wading out in the delta of the inflowing feeder creek, looking for walleyes. The chill was dampened through the stocking feet of my waders and the jeans I wore underneath, but as I reached into the floating yellow-and-white minnow bucket looped through the right shoulder strap of my waders, I got a good feel of the lingering cold this season has held on to. My fishing buddy, Einar from Norway had come over to join me for what I had hoped would be prime time fishing, but we found ourselves on the early edge of the season which had been delayed by cool, rainy conditions over the past three weeks.
I sent my offering of a medium spottail shiner into the clear shallows of Big Detroit Lake along the inflow, where the last eddies disappeared into the calm of the main lake. As the orange light of sunset disappeared behind the purple clouds of evening, I caught up with my friend, trading stories of angling, family and the events that had shaped the last decade of both our lives. He had won his battle with cancer, my dad had lost his. He recalled the adventures with his children, now 10 and eight, many of the same that I found myself in the middle of with my own five- and three-year old. As the serious stuff waned, we turned to stories of the biggest fish we had caught, the strangest ones we had hooked, and the days that stood out in memory since the last time we had fished together when he attended my wedding as a groomsman. With the last of the evening’s light fading from the sky, I caught the slightest neon-green shading on the bottom of the shallow, sandy stretch in front of the inflowing creek, and followed it up the arcing back of a large muskie.
“Einar, take a couple steps right and look out just below my rod tip,” I whispered as I extended it over the large fish lurking in the edge of the outflowing water, “it’s a muskie, and I have a pretty good idea why we’re not catching any walleyes,” I concluded with a laugh.
As he approached the fish and admired it, I told him to shoo it away to our left, in hopes that if any walleyes were in the area, having the big fish move along would up our odds. He took a step toward it, and in a flip of disgust the fish as long as my leg idled up the shoreline. In the fading light, we cast our jigs rigged with stinger hooks and the large silver baitfish for fifteen minutes with no action. Having casted one off on a super aggressive reach for deeper water, I began wading back to the shore, and as my calves cleared the surface, I began to realize how cold I was, when suddenly a shout came from behind me.
“I think she came back,” Einar said as he lifted his rod which arched with the stress of something heavy on the other end.
I silently hoped for a huge walleye, but as the fish made its first powerful run, we both came to the conclusion it was most likely the muskie that had been before us just a few minutes earlier. Fully anticipating that it had inhaled the hapless baitfish and my buddy’s offering in its entirety, we waited for the line to go limp and the connection to be severed by the teeth of the fish. However, it didn’t happen, and as Einar rolled the fish into the shallows, I saw the parrot-hued walleye jig speared firmly in the rubbery corner of the four-foot fish’s mouth and determined a quick dash back to the nearby boathouse for a net would be feasible, and make for an easier landing.
Bounding in my waders through the high water which touched the grass that usually made the upper edge of the shoreline, I was back before Einar finished the second round of the battle. As the muskie – spent from spawn and the short fight – came into the cool waters of the inflowing creek, I caught her pointed beak in the metal circle and a flick of her tail did the rest as I pulled up on the net. She came to rest in the green mesh, and a hard tweak of my pliers popped the colorful jig from the gray-and-white corner of her jaw.
Measuring 48 inches even, we turned her loose after a quick picture as the last good photo light of the evening faded into the western sky. The moment marked an exciting start to our angling adventures and a fun return stateside for my angling buddy from half a world away. We celebrated with a quick fist bump, knowing that even if we didn’t catch a walleye that evening – which we wouldn’t – it was another life-long memory forged between friends once again connected…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: Incidentally Awesome. Einar Bratteng of Fredrikstad, Norway with a 48-inch muskie caught while casting jigs for walleyes in Big Detroit Lake, Minn. Photo by Nick Simonson.