The Thrill Is Not Gone
By Greg Olson
I let out a loud groan and with outstretched arms, threw my head back and looked to the heavens. I don’t know why, perhaps I was asking for some divine intervention. None forthcoming, I just as quickly dropped my head and with slumped shoulders reeled up and slogged back downstream to my car. On this warm, early September morning, I had suffered a beat down of epic proportions. After two months of eating tricos almost every morning, the trout were experts on trico appearance and were not having any of my imitations in the low, clear, slow water. I rose two fish the whole morning. For the first one, I had finally got my fly to float into an eddy under an overhanging bush using a lot of slack in my cast. When the very large head of a brown trout came up to sip my fly, that extra slack and an excited hook set conspired to break the fly off so quick, I wouldn’t think the fish even noticed. It must have, however, as it never came up again.
After another hour of putting dozens of fish down while trying upstream, downstream, across stream presentations on 7X tippet, I emitted the groan, eluded to at the start of this story. Another large fish, sipping trico spinners under a tunnel of streamside grass, slid downstream with my fly just under its nose, then let it go by. My heart sank. Suddenly it turned, chased my fly down and sucked it in. I tried so hard to wait. I didn’t quite get to the end of the sentence,”God save the Queen”, but I got close. My forearm started to come up. Wait! The fish had dropped to the stream bottom, but had not turned back upstream! In my head I screamed at my right arm to stop! I did slow it down, I think, but you know – physics; an object set in motion, tends to stay in motion. With the fish facing me, I pulled the fly right out of its mouth, eliciting the groan. It amazes me that I could have so many thoughts in an event that took a few seconds.
I was beating myself up pretty good on the way home. All these years fly fishing and hundreds of trout later and I was still breaking off flies and striking too soon. I had switched primarily to slower/softer bamboo and fiberglass rods to off-set my over exuberance, which helped some, but shouldn’t I be one cool customer by now, instead of a 5 year old on Christmas morn? Before I got home, I recalled a story my high school best friend’s father, Jack, told me.
With my friend, Erich, graduated, Jack and his wife, both Green Bay natives, had moved back home. After a high pressure career of getting 3M out of multi-million dollar lawsuits, he took a job with a small law practice. One of his clients was none other than Ray Nitschke, a 15 year veteran of the Green Bay Packers, a fearsome linebacker on Lombardi’s championship teams, and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This was quite the thrill for Jack, a long time Packer season ticket holder, who grew up watching Ray and the Packers. In fact, he was unable to play his trumpet as his high school marching band paraded around Lambeau Field for its dedication. He couldn’t stop staring at the magnificent structure, the greatest he had seen, save for a field trip to Madison to see the capital.
In retirement, Ray had many business deals that needed tending to and Ray always insisted on meeting at a small café for breakfast for their meetings. Even in the late 80s, Ray drew a crowd and the meeting was always interrupted for autograph requests. Ray would even get up, run to his Cadillac, and retrieve 8 x 12” photos of himself to sign. One day, Jack asked, “Ray, you know I have to charge you $100 an hour for these meetings, including all these interruptions. Wouldn’t you rather meet at my office?” Ray waved him off, saying he would rather meet at the cafe. Jack then asked, “Ray, don’t you ever get tired of always being pestered for autographs, photos, and the chitchat that goes with it.” Ray responded that he still got excited when people asked for an autograph and it would it would be a sad day when that thrill was gone or folks forgot who he was. I consoled myself with Ray’s words. Yeah, I get too excited with dry fly fishing for trout. I wish I could be more calm, cool, and collected at times, but it would be a sad day if it became so old hat that the excitement and thrill was gone. If that meant losing some fish and flies, so be it.
Jack gave Erich and me his Packer tickets for below freezing December games (even die-heard Packer fans have their temperature limits). In fact, we were there when the Lambeau Leap was invented by safety LeRoy Butler on what was then the coldest game other than the famous Ice Bowl. Before that game, Jack presented me with a photo. Ray had spent a minute at $100 an hour signing a photo for me. He wrote, “To Hudson High’s finest defense back [an exaggeration, I assure you]. Keep hit ‘em hard! Your friend, ol’ 66, Ray Nitschke.”