One of the many attractions of spending time outdoors is the sense of the unknown, the anticipation of what the day might bring.

You might not catch the biggest fish of your life or enjoy the best day of hunting you've ever experienced, but then again, you might.

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You just never know.

I thought about that the other day while recalling some of the more memorable outdoor encounters I've experienced over the years, both things that have happened to me and as an observer sharing in someone else's success.

The latter can be every bit as exciting, if not moreso.

I didn't set out to catch the biggest walleye of my life that October afternoon in 2007 when a friend and I decided to test the waters of the river for a couple of hours before dark.

We launched in East Grand Forks and headed upriver, dropping anchor at the edge of a dropoff where a ditch ran into the river. There was no flow coming out of the ditch, so current wasn't an attraction. We'd caught fish in the spot before, though, so we knew it had potential.

Time has dimmed many of the details from that gray afternoon, but I'll never forget setting the hook on a fish that gave my 5½-foot jigging rod everything it could handle.

I had no idea what was at the end of my line other than it was something heavy. It could have been a carp, a catfish, a walleye or any number of other species.

The turbid river offered no clues.

The uncertainty only added to the anticipation; I had to find out what was at the other end of my line.

"Don't lose this fish," I thought to myself.

The fish made a few runs, and I assumed I'd hooked into a big catfish.

Then I saw the dorsal fin. And two eyes the size of quarters.

It was a walleye. A huge walleye.

My fishing partner knows his way around a landing net so there were no mishaps or near-misses at boatside. Like clockwork, the walleye was in the landing net and in my shaking hands within seconds.

The behemoth measured 31½ inches and tipped the scales at just over 12 pounds. It might have weighed even more, had it not spit out the back half of a redhorse sucker that would have been more than a foot long intact.

The big walleye certainly had no need to bite the jig and minnow I bounced off the bottom of the river, but fortunately for me, it did.

The thought of keeping that walleye never entered my mind, but fortunately, my fishing partner knows his way around a camera, as well, and was able to snap a perfect shot of me with the trophy before I released it.

A framed enlargement was good enough for me.

I never would have imagined catching my PB - "personal best" - walleye that afternoon. In the years since, I have yet to catch a walleye approaching such gargantuan proportions.

There's always the chance, though, and that's what keeps me coming back; that's what keeps everyone coming back.

You just never know.

A good friend had spent untold hours hunting without killing a deer in the years leading up to that recent December afternoon. There wasn't much reason to believe that would change as we climbed into an enclosed stand on the second-to-last day of muzzleloader season.

The deer seemingly all had gone nocturnal, but we were hunting in a good area on a beautiful afternoon.

Might as well spend it in a deer stand, we figured.

We'd been in the stand maybe 10 minutes when a doe walked out of the woods in clear view of my friend's side of the stand.

Hours of frustration and persistence culminated in that moment, and he made the opportunity count. One shot, and his season ended in success.

You just never know.