CLEVELAND -- The first play Joe Thomas made in the NFL left no one dazzled. Some were mystified, some were angered, and many were puzzled, but nobody was wowed.
Thomas, who had finished his senior season at Wisconsin by winning the Outland Trophy -- college football's Heisman for offensive linemen -- had then started his pro career by defying the commissioner of the NFL.
The 6-foot-6, 315 pound left tackle turned down the limo rides, fine dining, VIP treatment, and the major spotlight that accompanies an invitation to attend the NFL Draft in New York City as one of the projected top picks. He said "no thanks" to a special invite from Roger Goodell, the NFL's big kahuna, and that's not a guy rookies normally snub.
Thomas skipped the big stage at Radio City Music Hall, and instead opted for a seat in a boat out on Lake Michigan, fishing for Coho salmon with his dad. NFL fans were bewildered by the move.
Fishermen understood completely.
"That wasn't a knock on the NFL, the draft show or anything -- it was just a case of there was someplace I'd rather be at that time," Thomas said about the logic behind the move. "Fishing with my family and friends is something I've always enjoyed a lot. It seemed like the best way to spend the day."
Thomas, who was about 750 miles away at the time, was chosen third overall in that 2007 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. Missing the party in the Big Apple did not seem to negatively affect their absentee choice -- Thomas has been named to the NFL's Pro Bowl team in all five of his seasons in the pros.
Today, Thomas maintains a passion for the game of football, and the outdoors, and finds some kind of balance in his life to excel in both arenas.
"I've been fishing alongside by dad and my grandpa, probably since I learned how to walk. I fell in love with it at a very young age," Thomas said. "It's in my DNA."
Thomas, who was first team All-Big Ten twice at Wisconsin, and a unanimous choice for All-American honors in 2006, said his father's patience allowed Thomas to develop some angling skills earlier than most.
"I've got a lot of great memories from when I was a kid. My dad always took me along," Thomas said. "I'd get the line all tangled up and make some huge messes, but he was so patient with me, and then he'd let me reel in the big ones."
Thomas reeled in a seven-year contract extension with the Browns last summer, one that will pay him about $84 million, with $44 million of that guaranteed money. He will make more than $10 million in the 2012 season, which opens next Sunday at home against Philadelphia.
Thomas loves the fact that his office -- Browns Stadium -- sits just a decent kickoff's distance away from Lake Erie, with all of those fish.
"Fishing is my year-round hobby, so there's an absolutely phenomenal opportunity here," he said. "Lake Erie has the best freshwater fishing in the world. There is a tremendous plus to playing in a place like Cleveland, with the lake next door."
Although the games, practices, and travel eat up a lot of his time for more than half of the year, Thomas still works in a little fishing when the opportunity is there.
"I don't do much else other than football during the season, but since this is such a high stress and demanding profession, I like to fish a bit if I can. It helps clear my mind," Thomas said.
For three years, Thomas co-hosted an outdoors show in Cleveland with veteran writer D'Arcy Egan, and has considered the outdoors/broadcasting as a potential career path once his playing days are over.
"Doing the show was a lot of fun, and I learned an awful lot from D'Arcy," Thomas said. "It was a great experience, and it allowed me to meet a lot of great people."
His bragging reel contains an 11-pound, 4-ounce walleye he caught this spring, a couple of 17-inch crappies, some big perch, and some even bigger smallmouth bass.
On the hunting side, Thomas is still working on "scoring the big one" during deer season, and admits to a blossoming romance with using the bow.
"Bow hunting is now my number one passion," he said.
Like most every hunter or fisherman, Thomas has dreams about those places he has not been able to experience, game he has not yet encountered, and the trophies that are out there, someplace.
"There's lots of things on my outdoors bucket list," said Thomas, who is just 27.
He hopes to go salmon fishing in Alaska soon, and lists a hunt in the mountains of Central Asia for Marco Polo sheep as an "adventure of a lifetime." The Marco Polo is a subspecies of argali sheep, and distinguished by their large body and long, spiral horns, the longest of all sheep.
"There are so many other places I'd like to get to, sometime, for hunting or fishing, but it's nice now being right here on Lake Erie where there are a lot of options so close to home," Thomas said. "I got this love of the outdoors from my dad, so I guess it's just a part of me now too."
Hornets' nest sought to produce vaccine
Local pest control expert Russell Lamp is still in need of those large gray, paper lantern-like nests that are usually hanging from tree branches. The nests, built by bald-faced hornets, allow Lamp to collect these wasps and send them to labs where their venom is extracted and used to make vaccine to protect people with severe allergic reactions to what can be life-threatening stings. Lamp said there are an unusual amount of large nests this year. Contact Lamp at 419-836-3710.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.