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No Arms, No Legs? No Problem for Tournament Fisherman
07/27/02
By John Phillips

Clay Dyer's motto for life is, "If I can, you can."

Dyer, 24, of Hamilton, Ala. stands less than 40 inches tall and weighs 86 pounds. But put him on a boat on a lake, and he proves that physical deficiencies are no obstacles when it comes to catching fish.

When he was only 5 years old, Dyer realized the difference between himself and other children. Dyer was born with no full-sized arms - only a partial arm on his right shoulder - and no legs. Most people will consider Dyer handicapped, but he doesn't see himself that way.

"I knew I had a heart, a soul and a mind, which is what really makes a human being," Dyer says. "Anything else you have is a bonus."

That kind of attitude and a determined work ethic has helped Dyer develop amazing skill with a bass rod and the lures in his tackle box.

Fishing for 19 years, Dyer has tournament fished since age 15 and fished full-time since 1995. The highly competitive Dyer has fished in more than 200 bass tournaments and won 25.

"I knew when I started bass fishing tournaments that I probably wouldn't win in the beginning," Dyer said. "I realized that I had a lot to learn, and I was willing to invest the time required to master my profession."

Dyer had to learn how to fish competitively, a difficult task at best. Also to compete, he had to create a completely new style of bass fishing that would enable him to fish independently and efficiently and maximize the energy of his small frame.

Dyer holds his rod between his shoulder and his chin and supports the rod with his arm. People who have seen Dyer cast with pinpoint accuracy say that his cast looks much like a golf swing. But he can cast overhanded and side-armed as well as flip and pitch. Dyer can cast a 1/4-ounce jig into a Styrofoam coffee cup from 30 to 50 feet. But there's more to being a competitive angler than just casting accuracy.

As Dyer said, "When I first started fishing, the competition blew me away, particularly on the B.A.S.S. Federation Circuit. But, instead of getting down mentally, I tried to learn something new at every tournament I attended.

"At first, the other fishermen were a little standoffish. They couldn't understand how someone who looked like me could fish, much less compete in a professional tournament. They couldn't figure out how a 40-inch-tall guy with only one 16-inch-long arm could flip and pitch under docks and piers and overhanging bushes or how he could drive a bass boat at 70 mph safely. Most of the fishermen in my early days of competing were uncertain about my abilities - until they went on the water with me, saw me drive my boat and fish."

Like all the other competitors in a tournament, Dyer wears a life jacket while driving his boat. But when he gets ready to fish, he sheds his life jacket.

When asked what happens if he falls into the water while fishing, Dyer laughed. "I can swim like a fish, and I love to go swimming. Often after a hard day of tournament fishing, swimming helps me stretch and relax my muscles that have been tensed up all day."

Larry Hopson, also of Hamilton, and one of the many anglers who has fished tournaments with Dyer for six years, said he was skeptical of Dyer's abilities at first.

"I was a little apprehensive to fish with him at first and was nervous about his ability to drive a boat at 70 mph," Hopson said. "However, within five minutes of being on the water with him, I was relaxed and comfortable and knew he could handle that boat.

"Fishing with Clay is an inspiration to me. The only thing you have to do for Clay is help him into the boat and put his life jacket on him. He handles anything else. You may have to open up a soft drink or a bottle of water every once in awhile for him, but that's all."

When people ask Hopson how Dyer fishes, he tells them, "The best way to learn how Clay fishes is to go with him and watch. I've seen him take lures off, put lures on, tie knots, thread worms on hooks, tie on spinner baits and crankbaits and jerk 3- and 4-pound bass into the boat or even crawl into a brushpile headfirst to get a hooked bass out of thick cover.

"I've watched Clay run his trolling motor and cast with pinpoint accuracy. And even though I've fished with him hundreds of times, I'm still not sure how he does what he does. He's an amazing man with an amazing talent."

Dyer's true strength is his attitude and spirit.

"My competing as a tournament angler isn't really a big deal," Dyer said. "I just take what I have and try to do the very best I can with it. By adopting this attitude, I've discovered that I can do things that I've never thought possible.

"I love a challenge and competition. And I've always enjoyed proving that I can do what anyone else can do. When someone tells me I can't, I'll do whatever I have to do to prove that I can.

"I played baseball all through junior-high school. I was either the catcher or the first baseman, so I didn't have to move a lot. When my turn came to bat, I had a designated runner. I knew I would never be a professional baseball player.

"However, I believed that I could be a professional fisherman if I worked at it. I realized that becoming a professional fisherman would be a challenge. But I also felt that God wanted me to be successful at fishing and to demonstrate that if Clay Dyer could do it, anybody who had a goal in life could achieve that goal."

When asked about his future, Dyer said, "I feel like I'm doing what God wants me to do. However, as much as I love competitive fishing, if God tells me to put fishing aside and do something else, I will. As long as my health stays good and I can cast a rod, I plan to keep on fishing.

"My dad says I'll be fishing until I'm six feet under."

 

 

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