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Minnesota boy reels in wallet filled with $2,000 cash while fishing and returns it to Iowa farmer

Minnesota teen Connor Halsa recovered a stranger's wallet filled with $2,000 while fishing with his family — and was determined to return it to its owner who lost it while fishing.

A Minnesota teen reeled in a catch worth thousands while on a fishing trip this summer — but he couldn't fry this one up for dinner. 

Instead, he hooked a treasure that had been on the bottom of the lake for a whole year. He made a lifelong friend, too.

"I was shocked," Connor Halsa of Moorehead, Minnesota, told Fox News Digital about the surprise he found on the end of his line while fishing with his extended family on Lake of the Woods over the July 4th weekend.

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"We were doing some walleye fishing and then going out to an island on Lake of the Woods," Halsa said. 

"It was pretty windy."

Halsa said he had been fishing for about an hour without catching anything.

"I felt something on my line and I reeled it up," he said. "I thought it was going to be a really big walleye — bigger than what we usually catch up there, by the way it felt."

As he reeled it in, he said his cousin Brandon got a net ready to help him bring in the fish.

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"But when my cousin pulled it out of the water with the net, I was really confused," Halsa said. 

"At first I thought it could have been a fish, I guess, because it was brown and slimy."

But on the hook instead was an old brown billfold, covered in moss and muck. 

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The family gathered around to inspect the catch and everyone on the boat was abuzz.

"Everyone started going through it to try to find the dude it belonged to," Halsa said. 

"When we kind of got a general idea of what was inside, we put it in the console of the boat so it didn't get blown out."

Inside the billfold was a driver’s license, a few credit cards — and $2,000 cash. 

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Halsa said he and his family immediately knew they wanted to find the owner.

"It wasn’t my money," Halsa said.

There was also an ID, but there was no phone number for him to use to reach the wallet’s owner. 

There was, however, a lone business card from a cattle rancher in Wisconsin named Sherry — who would eventually connect Conner Halsa with someone who lived more than 500 miles away from Moorhead.

In July 2022, Jim Denney, 75, and his wife Karen of Mount Ayr, Iowa, and some friends took a fishing trip to Lake of the Woods. 

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On the last night of the trip, Denney said he went to pay his bill, but his pocket was empty.

"I reached back there and there's no billfold," Denny told Fox News Digital. 

"I was devastated. I just didn't know what the heck to do. There I was, broke. So, the other guys floated me the money to pay up."

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The group had been out on the water all day and that’s when Denney said he had "a sunken feeling."

"The water was just rougher than the dickens that day and flopping the boat around," Denney said. 

"I wear bib overalls and it was in the back pocket pretty deep anyway. I had never lost anything out of my pocket, but I was leaning against the edge of that boat. I reckon it just worked up out of there and when I was fishing it went and fell in the water."

The fishermen went back down to the boat dock to look for Denney’s billfold, but they found nothing. 

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"That's a million-acre lake," Denney said. "And you can't see from shore to shore, it's so wide. They said it's 70-something miles long and 70-something mile wide."

Denney said he accepted that his billfold — and his money — were somewhere at the bottom of the lake, which has an average depth of 27 feet but in some areas is more than 200 feet deep.

But on July 2, 2023, Denney was sitting in a Walmart parking lot when he got a call from a rancher he had hauled cattle for — and she wanted to know if he had been on any fishing trips recently.

"I told her I went fishing in Minnesota last year," Denney said. 

"And I lost my billfold," he said he told her.

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She replied, "Well, that's kind of what this is pertaining to."

After that, Denney got a call from Connor Halsa's aunt, Christie Klipping, who said that her nephew "caught" Denny's wallet from the bottom of the Lake of the Woods. 

He couldn’t believe it.

"I said, ‘That’s impossible,'" Denney recalled, reflecting that it was nearly a year that his wallet must've been underwater. 

"And she said she was wanting to know how they could send it back to me."

Denney said Klipping told her his billfold was "a terrible mess" and that it had "a lot of money in it."

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"I said, ‘Yeah, I know,'" Denney replied. 

"I told the lady, ‘You guys keep the money. That money’s already been gone.' And she said, ‘No, we're not going to do that. We're going to send it back to you.' And they did. They had cleaned it up. That money looked like they had rinsed it off or something. Most of the slime was off anyway."

Denney said he was very grateful to "the whole bunch of them." 

But he couldn’t leave it at that — and insisted on driving eight hours to Moorhead to take the family to dinner.

"I told them, ‘I am coming to Minnesota to meet you folks because I'm going to take you out for the biggest supper you ever ate,’" Denney said. 

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"She wouldn't say a lot, but she told me not to bring them anything or any money or nothing like that. ‘Because we won't take it,’ she said."

The group decided on dinner at a Texas Roadhouse in nearby Fargo, North Dakota, and there, Denney presented Halsa with a special gift to show his appreciation to the young angler.

"A Yeti cooler," he said. "I took it up to a local printer and they wrapped it with his name and a fish on it. So I took that up to him. And that way he had to take it." 

Halsa said he never thought of keeping the money for himself — and said he would tell others to always look for the rightful owner first, if faced with the same situation.

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Denney said the act reminded him that there are still good people in the world.

"He is the top of the line," Denney said. "He said he knew I'd worked hard for my money. He and his dad both made that remark. They wanted to get it back to me."

After dinner, the families went back to the campground where Denney and his wife were staying and sat around a campfire for a while longer.

"I told Connor, ‘I’d like to have seen the expression on your face when you brought it up out of the water and saw all the money,'" said Denney, laughing.

"They’re quite the family. I think we’ll stay in touch, no doubt," he added. 

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