By Nick Simonson

I stood at the edge of the dock and sighed as Sunday's gusty south wind whipped through the pages in my mental calendar. Next weekend is Labor Day with family up north; the next, dove hunting; the one after that, grouse opener, and then bow hunting. Every weekend was filled with events, and none of them would bring me back to the murmur of Sucker Creek gently rippling its way into the waters of Big Detroit Lake. My fishing season on the South Shore - and for the most part, the open water portion of the year - was over. As I replayed the weekend in my mind, I sighed just a little bit harder, saddened that summer was nearly over, but more so because of the way it ended.

But I guess that should have been expected, considering it closed much they way it opened. If you remember my April column where I relayed losing the biggest steelhead I had ever laid eyes on, then you know where this one is going as well. Due to a twist of fate and the turn of a battle-worn lake-run rainbow trout, the openwater season got off to a memorable and curse-filled start when the fish rolled over in submission, changing the angle just enough to send the hook in its mouth flying through the air. It subsequently bolted for the center of the stream and my steelhead dreams were dashed on the rocks of the Baptism River.

Friday night brought a similar situation to boatside on the waters of Big Detroit, as a crew of four of us jammed in my buddy's boat to cover some water and troll magnum flashabou spinners for muskies. Tracing the weedlines around the bluff, we focused on transitions where my brother had marked the resident big fish that had followed his offerings in the area.
"Get 'em up," my buddy Holmes instructed, recognizing that he had brought the boat too far up the line; "lots of tall weeds here" he continued as he watched the sonar and cranked on the steering wheel to turn the boat back off the edge.
Our lines slackened as we raised our rods and the strong rhythmic pulse of the size twelve blades faded to a faint tap on the other end. I figured I was destined for salad city, but I hoped against hope for the outside chance that the shift in direction and speed might trigger a bite.

All summer at the lake I had a hearty helping of that same hope with my morning coffee, eggs and sausage and had yet to connect with a muskie. Unlike the year before when I had two in the boat before mid-June. But for the first time this season chasing muskies, my hope paid off. The lure missed the weeds and found the mouth of something big. My rod bounced twice in my hands and I hauled back on it and let out a howl.
"FISH ON," I bellered, as the two rods beside me instantaneously went up and my brother and my other friend, Marty, cranked their weed-covered spinners in.

The next five minutes were a blur between the shine of headlamps and the blackness of night, adding to the sensory overload of something big thrashing fifty feet behind the boat. My drag would screech and stop and the rod would quake violently with the headshakes of the fish on the other end. I worked the leviathan toward the boat and instructed my brother to get ready to net the fish after what I expected to be its final major run. Laying eyes on it for the first time, my brother issued a report.

"Mid-forties for sure, probably bigger," he advised.
My heart raced and my knees began to rattle as I caught a glimpse of the fish's silver silhouette in the flickering of lamplight. It' mouth was open and its gill plates were menacingly flared just outside of net range. I kept tension on the line and let her hold for just a moment. It was the biggest fish I had ever had on but I tried not to think about that as I prepared for the final surge.

"One last run, then we'll get her," I said in anticipation of a final rod-wrenching charge.

But the fish didn't run. Instead, I felt the wild thrash of the muskie. With each shake coming in slow motion: lefffft…riiiight…lefffft…riiiight…lefffft. And then, there was nothing. No bent rod, no thunderous shake, no splashing, no silver lamplight - just the blackness of the water behind the boat.

I put my hand up to my face as the jingling metal of the spinner shot through the air and clanked against the side of the boat. I instinctively turned away. The flash of my buddy's camera went off, temporarily blinding me and capturing the last "action shot" of the memorable battle. Blinking hard, I wanted to let loose a chain of vulgarities so strong it would bring every fish to the surface, but all I could muster was "aw shoot."

I tried to remain strong for my buddies, quickly relaying that it was just the first night. I started talking about other chances and getting redemption over the weekend. But redemption did come, at least not for me. My brother boated his fifth muskie of the summer the next day; a fat 45-incher. Even Holmes caught a five-pounder at high noon on Saturday. But all my subsequent casts and trolling efforts came up empty and left with the weekend's only goose egg; a late season bookend to match my earlier blunder.

For good measure, I sighed one last time, acknowledged the unofficial end of summer and bid farewell to one of my favorite places. I grabbed my rods and my tackle box leaning next to the old oak tree by the boat house and packed them in my truck for the drive home. As I pulled out of the cabin driveway, I stuck a wad of gum on the weekend's pages so they couldn't be turned back to by even the strongest wind and I flipped my mental calendar forward to the first weekend in September, welcoming fall and what is sure to be a successful start to a new season…in our outdoors.