I don't remember her name. She must have been 5 or 6 years old, fishing from a dock on the Cut Foot Sioux River north of Deer River. Opening day of Minnesota's fishing season, several years ago.
Maybe you know the place - where Minnesota Highway 46 crosses the river, beneath the big pines of Chippewa National Forest. It's a popular spot on opening day, where anglers wade into the river and fish for walleyes that are dropping back down the river after spawning.
I remember the girl because she had fallen asleep in the sun on the dock. No doubt she and her family had risen early that morning. But now her little fishing rod - a Barbie or Snoopy combo as I recall - was twitching, and a bunch of adults in her clan began urgently calling her name, telling her she had a bite.
I was out in the river in waders, too, covering the opening-day action for the News Tribune. The girl woke up, scooted over to her rod and, with her entourage cheering her on, cranked in a beautiful 3-pound walleye.
The place went wild.
In nearly 40 years of covering fishing openers for the newspaper, that moment is probably my favorite. The low morning sunlight, the chill in the air, the soft chatter of anglers, the river sliding by - so good. And now the pandemonium and general delight at this young girl's good fortune.
I captured the moment in a photo that appeared in the paper, but for unknown reasons was never archived.That still saddens me. I'd love to see it again. I hope her parents have a print tucked away somewhere.
That morning seemed to encapsulate all that a Minnesota fishing opener should be. Cool but not too cold. The coming-on of the 9 o'clock sleepies. The ever-present potential that the next fish could be a lifetime memory.
Deer hunters may disagree, but I believe the fishing opener is the highlight of Minnesota's outdoor calendar. Nearly a million of us buy fishing licenses in the state, and a good share of them are sold before the opener.
The opener is not only a chance to drop some well-breaded fillets into a cast-iron skillet. It is the official confirmation that winter is finally behind us - mostly. I do remember the morning we launched on Big Winnibigoshish when the temperature was 23 degrees. And, yes, I know it hurts to reach into the frigid water of a minnow bucket for another fathead on some openers.
How's the fishing on the opener? More often than not, challenging, in my nearly 40-year survey - often fishing with excellent anglers. But I do remember some banner days, such as fishing in a sideways snowstorm with Grand Rapids fishing guide Tom Neustrom one year, catching walleye after walleye after walleye. Had a limit in a couple of hours.
I remember a cool, gray opener at the Lavaque Road bridge on Fish Lake north of Duluth, where a couple anglers fishing from shore had a heavy stringer of walleyes by mid-morning.
And I recall another long-ago morning, sitting in the sun at Williams Narrows Resort on Big Cutfoot Sioux north of Deer River (in pre-slot-limit days), watching boat after boat come in with limits of walleyes.
It can happen. That's the dream we cling to as the opener approaches.
I hope that grown-up little girl from the dock on the Cut Foot Sioux River is out there somewhere on Saturday. I hope she kept that lucky little rod. She may have someone to pass it onto someday.