By: Terri Saylor – Correspondent
Clay Dyer’s greatest fishing challenge has nothing to do with his physical disabilities. Even though he was born without legs and a left arm, Dyer uses his partial right arm to perfect a fishing technique that has landed him in the ranks of the top bass fishermen in the country.
He just hasn’t figured out how to read a fish’s mind.
“Figuring out how to overcome that challenge is really the hard part,” he said. “I have a lot of equipment and tools. It boils down to making the right choices. It’s all mental. You read the conditions. You have the knowledge of what the fish are supposed to do, but they have a mind of their own and a brain the size of a peanut, and they can either make you look like a champion or look like an idiot.”
Dyer, 33, has been looking like a champion most of his life.
He believes he is living proof that with faith and perseverance, anyone can be successful and overcome adversity.
That is the message he plans to convey to an audience Saturday night, when he delivers the keynote address at the Ridgecrest Outdoorsmen Banquet at Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Durham.
Dyer lives in the town in which he grew up, Hamilton, Ala., where he dreamed of becoming a professional athlete. While helping his grandfather with chores around the family catfish farm, he discovered a talent for angling, and through that he has realized his dream career in professional sports.
Along the way, his friends and family helped him uncover a flair for public speaking, and he has become successful at that too.
“I had about a thousand people, it seemed, trying to talk me into pursuing a career in motivational speaking when I was in high school,” he said. “I had never seen myself doing that, but I did it and started liking it, and I had an opportunity to make a living doing it.”
At his peak a couple of years ago, Dyer was on the road 250 days of the year, speaking to church groups and outdoorsmen and at corporate events and fishing. He has since scaled back to fewer than 10 speaking engagements per month. And even though he last fished with the FLW Outdoors Tour in 2009, FLW executives tout his attitude and his abilities.
“Clay is simply one of the most amazing people to ever fish an FLW Outdoors tournament and a true inspiration to everyone he meets,” said Kathy Fennel, president of FLW Outdoors’ operations division. “His incredible talent with a rod and reel is matched only by his enthusiastic attitude and unwavering determination to succeed. He is a winner every time he takes to the water and a wonderful example for anyone trying to overcome obstacles in their life.”
Dyer looks forward to getting back on the tournament circuit in the 2012 season.
“I need to focus my efforts on activities I want to be the best at,” he said. “I want to be the best I can be and improve my skills. Most people will tell you that when I’m pitching at my best, I can beat anyone, and then there are days I can’t fight my way out of a wet paper bag.”
Still, he perseveres, and that is the message he takes to his audiences.
“In this day and time, there is so much negativity, people dealing with obstacles in their lives and adversity,” he said. “I’m living proof that if you have faith in God and perseverance, you can be successful and overcome adversity. I deliver a message of hope for people.”
Dyer was about 7 and had already been fishing for two years when he started noticing his body was different from other kids’ bodies.
“But rather than concentrate on things I can’t do, I have always focused on things I can do,” he said. “My friends like to say, ‘Don’t tell Clay he can’t do something, or he’ll prove to you that he can,’ and I will. I will literally come to blood and tears to prove I can do something.”
Dustin Wilks of Rocky Mount, a professional angler with the Bassmaster Elite Series, knows Dyer from fishing shows in which they participate throughout the U.S..
“Clay is a great guy. He’s always happy, and the way he has overcome his situation, having no arms and legs, is unbelievable,” Wilks said. “The rest of us struggle with day-to-day things, and it makes you feel petty to complain about little things when he has overcome so much.”
Watching videos of Dyer fishing would make a believer out of most anyone.
With a fishing rod and reel tucked between his chin and collarbone, Dyer swings his entire body to cast his line, and he uses his upper right arm to reel in his catch. Using his chin and teeth, he can thread a lure balanced on that right arm.
“Without having hands and fingers, I had to learn to do it the way that I could do it and be efficient,” he said.
In fishing, if efficiency had a physical image, it might just look like Clay Dyer.