If I Can You Can
Editor's Note: A giant among bass fishermen, Clay Dyer of Hamilton, Alabama, is probably the greatest bass fisherman. Fishing since he was five years old, Clay has tournament fished since age 15 and has been a full-time professional bass fisherman since 1995. Clay, at 24 years old, is almost 40 inches tall and weighs 86 pounds. He has no legs, but he does have a partial 16-inch-long arm on his right shoulder. If you see Clay in a fishing tournament, you won't think he has a disability either. Clay is highly competitive and fishes two to four bass tournaments a month. A member of the Strike King Fishing Team, Clay tells his story in his own words.
Question: When did you first realize that you were different?
Answer: When I was about five years old, I knew I wasn't like a lot of other people. But I knew I had a heart, a soul and a mind, and after all, that's what really makes a human being. Anything else you have is a bonus. My condition was caused by a birth defect. I don't have any health problems or any diseases. I live a normal, healthy life. The only real problem that I have is that my body does not cool down as quickly as everyone else's does. Without arms and legs, I heat up quickly. My body retains heat more because there is less surface area to dispense the heat. Therefore, when I get hot, I have a harder time cooling down and retaining fluids. On a hot day, I have to drink a lot of water to stay as cool as I can.
Question: How did you learn to bass fish?
Answer: I sort of learned it on my own. I watched other people cast and developed my own technique to fit my body. I put my rod between my shoulder and my chin and support my rod with my arm. People who have seen me cast say that my cast looks more like a golf swing than a cast. But I can cast overhand, side-armed and flip-and-pitch.
Question: In how many bass tournaments have you fished?
Answer: I have fished in 200 tournaments and have won 25.
Question: How do you drive a boat?
Answer: I stand in the seat, put my arm on the gas throttle and drive the boat just like anyone else does. The Skeeter boat is so well set up that I can run the boat at 70 miles an hour without any problems. The Skeeter boat is so easy to steer that I have no problem handling it. I can back it off the trailer, put it on the trailer, run full throttle from the take off and handle it in rough water. If I can handle a Skeeter boat then anybody can.
Question: Clay, I know that in tournaments you wear a life jacket, but what happens if you fall out of the boat when you are fishing? Can you swim?
Answer: I can swim like a fish. Well, maybe I'm not as good as a fish, but I can swim well enough to stay alive. I love to swim. Swimming is one of my favorite pastimes. When I fish a lot in the summer or the winter, my neck and back muscles tighten-up. Most anglers use their hands and arms when they are fishing, but I have to use my neck, shoulder and my back. So I get really sore and tired when I fish a tournament. After a tournament, I like to go swimming, which loosens my muscles and helps me to be more active and more mobile.
Question: How do you have your boat set up to fish?
Answer: My boat is not set up especially for me. I'm fishing from a Skeeter ZH190 with a 175 Yamaha fuel-injected engine. I don't have any special harnesses, knobs or handles. My boat is just like any Skeeter boat you buy off a dealer's show floor. Skeeter did build me a little ramp that goes from my front deck back to the step-up on the back deck. And I can use this ramp to go to the front deck and to the back deck without having to jump up and down as much. If I'm fishing in someone else's boat, I can jump up and down and fish like anyone else can. But the ramp does make moving in and out of the boat much quicker and easier. But you can take the ramp out of the boat, and it looks just like any other bass-fishing boat.
Question: Clay, one of the biggest problems that most fishermen have is learning to run a trolling motor. How do you run your trolling motor?
Answer: I use a Minn Kota Genesis Series that has electronic steering. It has a constant "on" switch and a foot control with a toe switch on the pedal. I press the front or the back of the pedal to steer the boat. The motor has auto store, which means all I have to do is press a button on the pedal and the trolling motor comes out of the water and lays down in the boat. When I get to a spot where I want to fish, I push a button on the pedal of the Minn Kota, and the motor puts itself back in the water. Then I'm ready to fish again. From the foot control, I can also adjust the height of the motor. If I need to raise the motor to go over a shallow log, I can do it. If I need to go a little deeper, I can push a button and it will. I have a toe - well it's not really a toe. It doesn't have a toenail. It is more like a ball of cartilage on the end of my leg. I can run my trolling motor with that toe.
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