My friends and I haven’t always been the luckiest fishermen.

That’s putting it lightly, actually — getting skunked is too often the unfortunate outcome of our weekend ventures. I know it. My friends know it. The fish know it, too.

Such was the reason for our collective mindset last weekend on Lake Mille Lacs. The four of us had been hearing decent reports — taking each with a grain of salt, of course — entering the weekend, so we arrived at our our rental house Friday morning with high hopes.

Well, one hope, really; one desire for the whole weekend: “Just give us one.”

Just one monster. Just one eye-popping fish — walleye, northern pike, whatever — to get our hearts pumping. One fish to make the entire weekend worth it; to reward an otherwise slow bite with the gift of a trophy-caliber beast.

That’s all we wanted.

I’m fortunate to say we found one Friday night.

The buildup was slow, mind you. I hooked into a few 16-inch walleye earlier in the day — roughly around 2 p.m. — but that was essentially it for the afternoon bite. Aside from that, our bobbers went undisturbed and our flashers were crystal clear.

That said, we weren’t paying the slightest bit of attention when the bobber went down; let’s blame the six hours of preceding stillness. We did.

My friend, Joey, was the first to notice its disappearance just before 8:30 p.m.

Thankfully he did.

The rig itself was his — a white jig head tipped with a large shiner minnow — but even though he noticed his bobber’s disappearance, he wasn’t in position to grab his rod off the floor. That’s when another friend of mine, Alex, stepped up in a crucial spot. Alex set the hook with more than 30 feet of line still to retrieve, while I immediately dropped to the floor, waiting on hands and knees for the first sight of what seemed to be a pretty heavy fish.

It took roughly 90 seconds for me to get that initial look. Once I did, I thought — for a split second — it was a pike.

It didn’t take me long to realize I was wrong.

When I saw its cloudy eyes, I yelled in excitement. When my friends around me saw its beautiful green scales and its 26-inch, 6½-pound girth, they joined my joyful exclamations.

In short, we all freaked out.

And that didn’t stop after the careful measurement and countless pictures. We, of course, took our time with the fish, but even in the minutes and hours following the walleye’s release, it was all we could talk about. Even the next day, I found myself staring at the picture — the same photo you saw on the front page of this section — in silent awe.

It was the moment for which we had all been hoping; the kind of moment that, on some level, eased the disappointment of catching just one fish all of the following day. The four of us only caught five combined fish all weekend, which doesn’t sound like a lot.

But the monster we caught counts for 50 in my eyes. I’m thankful for that.

Even the unlucky fishermen strike gold every once in a while.

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