|Angler overcomes barriers to reel in fans, admirers
By Eddie Timanus, USA TODAY
Clay Dyer considers himself blessed. That might come as a surprise to anyone looking at him for the first time, but it takes only a brief conversation with him to understand why.
Dyer, 27, of Hamilton, Ala., was born with no legs and no left arm. His right arm stops at the elbow. Despite such severe limitations, he has competed in fishing tournaments since he was 15.
"I'm just very blessed and fortunate to be able to do what I do," he said last week following a day on Lake Beaver in Arkansas. "It's a dream come true to be able to go out there and catch some fish."
It wasn't his best day. He'd only brought back one bass weighing a little over 2 pounds. Added to the five he hooked on the first day of the tournament, he finished in 159th place, ahead of several tour regulars. But a bad day? Not at all.
"He just popped a wheelie in his wheelchair," said Jay Yelas with a laugh as he watched his friend roll up the pier with his catch.
Though he has yet to finish in the money at an FLW Tour event, Dyer has won admiration and respect from his fellow anglers. Yelas, a former Bassmaster Classic champion, counts Dyer among his heroes.
"He's an amazing individual," Yelas says. "The neatest thing about Clay is he's an overcomer. He's a champion in life."
During competition, pro anglers must bait their own lines, drive their own boats and make their own casts. Dyer can do it using the tools he does have — shoulder, jaw, chin, even teeth and tongue to tie his lure, set his throttle and cast from nearly any angle to avoid overhead docks or overhanging trees.
"It's been a lot of fun figuring out what we can do," Dyer says. "Some things took me several days. Some things took as long as a month to figure out."
There are limitations, Yelas explains. Without fingers to make fine adjustments to his hook sets, Dyer will sometimes lose fish.
"In bass fishing there are about 10 different lures and hook-set techniques that can be good," Yelas says. "Clay is an expert in the techniques that don't require a strong hook set, and some days he gets on a roll and doesn't lose any fish."
In addition to competing in tournaments, Dyer works with his sponsors as a motivational speaker. Thanks to several recent TV appearances, including a segment on ESPN, he is recognized often in public and doesn't hesitate to sign autographs, especially for young fans.
"I love it," he says. "It's a tremendous honor. That's one of the best things about working with my sponsors is getting to work with kids."