A Real Fisherman
By Margaret Gayle
Most professional athletes don’t live as down to earth as Clay Dyer. When I met Clay, I saw he was disabled, but when he began to talk with me, I felt the power that infuses his life. This 29-year old Alabama native has splashed into the world of professional bass fishing and is without a doubt the most admired sportsman in the national fishing arena. He’s also the most photographed.
If You Can, I Can
At 3’4” and 85 pounds, Clay competes in a physically rigorous sport. Born with no legs beyond the hips, no left arm, and a right arm that stops above the elbow, Clay does everything a bass pro must do to compete. He ties his lures using his lips and teeth, casts his line by holding the rod under his chin and with his short arm, drive s his 21-foo t-long boat, and pulls in his catches. He admits he sometimes loses fish others with arms and fingers are able to reel in, but he doesn’t let it get him down. “I just put my nose to the grinds tone and try to figure out how to do better.” He needs help putting on his life jacket and holding live bass at weigh-ins. He also has friends and family members to drive him and his boat to tournaments, though he’s working on getting his driver’s license and a truck with special controls.
“When I was five years old, I realized I was different,” he says, “but there was nothing I ever wanted to do that I couldn’t do.” He credits his family and community for instilling this confidence in him. Clay’s father recounts how even as a child Clay could do pretty much what he set out to do. “I knew I couldn’t teach him how to do things that would work best for him since I had two hands and ten fingers— he’d just have to learn by trial and error.” Clay admits he’s very competitive. “I don’t like getting beat—I call it being behind when the time runs out,” he adds wittily.
Living a Dream
As a youngster, Clay grew to love fishing. His granddad spent a lot of time helping him find ways to do the things other boys did. He took him hunting and taught him how to fish in the little pond beside the Dyer family home on the Buttahatchee River just outside Hamilton, Alabama. By age six , Clay was casting a reel , and at age fifteen, he entered tournament fishing. Clay says he always wanted to compete at something on the national level. He recounts a dream in which he saw himself in a shirt with sponsor patches all over it. “The only types of people I had ever seen wearing those kinds of shirts were professional fisher men and NASCAR drivers, and I had a feeling it wasn’t NASCAR,” he quips with a grin.
“Pro bass fishing took two things, one of which I did not have. It took a whole lot of commitment, and it took a whole lot of money,” he explains. After competing in the Alabama state championship bass tournament, sponsors began contacting Clay asking him to represent them. He chose some of the more reputable companies, and today he is earning a living with a rod, reel and decked-paint job paid for by a sponsor. He has been a full-time professional bass fisherman since 1995. In his career so far, he has had 25 first-place finishes and another 25 to 30 top-10 finishes—pretty amazing accomplishments for a guy with no legs and only a short right arm.
An Incredible Ride
Many people who know Clay say his outlook on life is nothing short of amazing. He attributes his motivation in life to his faith in Jesus Christ. The summer following his high school graduation, at a youth camp, he gave his heart and life to the Lord, and he says it’s been an “incredible ride” ever since. He carries a Bible in his boat and in his suitcase, and he considers spending time each day in God’s word an essential part of his life. One question he often gets asked is if he has ever been angry at God for the body he was given. He is honest when he says he never has been. “The answer my parents gave me when I was little—that I was made the way God wanted me—satisfied me then, and it satisfies me now.” He says he realizes the way he is made draws attention to himself, but he adds, “If I were made differently, I probably wouldn’t have the opportunities I’ve had.” And as if to place a final period on the discussion, he adds, “I have a mind, a heart, and a soul—what more could you ask for?”
If I Can, You Can
In addition to competing in tournaments, Clay works with his sponsors as a motivational speaker. He says he knows his career is fishing, but his calling is communicating with people. “As a professional angler, I have a platform and the opportunity to encourage and inspire others to see how incredible God is and how wonderful it is to live for Him,” he explains. Clay’s favorite events are wild game banquets where churches invite people in the community, and they cook various kinds of game. “Sportsmen of all stripes come to these things—people who don’t ever go to church. After they see me and hear my story, they’re more inclined to think about God’s place in their lives.”
He acknowledges that one of the best things about working with his sponsors is getting to work with kids. He gets to travel the country talking to them about himself and his belief in God, telling them they can overcome their doubts, their fears, and their shortcomings. He quotes them his motto: If I can, you can. “It’s a tremendous honor when parents come up and tell me they want their kids to be like me.” Last year Clay became the National Spokesperson for C.A.S.T. for Kids, an organization formed in 1991 to join volunteers who love to fish with disabled and disadvantaged children for a day of fishing in the outdoors. In the corporate world, Clay speaks to groups about overcoming adversity and about the qualities of leadership. Using an acronym made from the word DREAM, he shares the five attributes he believes lead to success: drive, resources, effort, attitude, and motivation. He encourages the attendees to look at the resources they have, not at what is missing—an attitude he models in his own life.
Created to Bless
Clay’s pastor, Eddie Davidson, says that Clay has made a discovery that most of us are yet to make about ourselves: Each of us was created to be a blessing. A fellow bass pro, Mary DiVincenti, recounts how in late January, many tournament anglers came in bewildered after a tough day of fishing on Lake Okeechobee. Then they saw Clay riding his motorized wheelchair to the weigh-in line. “It was like the sun coming out from behind a cloud,” she said. “You look over and see Clay and say: How dare I complain about anything!”
This year promises to be an exciting year for Clay, his family, and those who support his career and message. It will also be quite challenging. He will be traveling 225 days of the year, fishing both the FLW Tour (national circuit) and the FLW Series East. Clay is also anticipating the release of a book detailing his life story. His goal is to live a life worthy of the opportunities he has been given—and a bonus would be to win on the big stage of high-level competitive bass fishing. No special equipment, no ramps, no prosthetics—just a real fisherman, his boat, and the fish. But, up close, when he reels those fish in, you can hear him say, “thank you, Lord.”