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Voices from the past

Listen to ‘Alabama Voices’ in new wing at State Archives

By John Brightman Brock

The new gallery will cover 10,500 square feet on the second floor of the archives.
The new gallery will cover 10,500 square feet on the second floor of the archives.

Double doors at the end of a second floor hallway soon will open wide into a past life you might have forgotten about.

Going inside the Museum of Alabama’s second floor gallery, “Alabama Voices,” you’ll enter a realm where history’s passages are freed from the confines of old history books, where cherished memories are unleashed from artifacts long discarded.

Catch your breath, and imagine a huge room divided into 10 captivating sections.

A gallery of huge proportions

When this new gallery – all 10,500 square feet of it – opens next year, it will be 2014, but you’ll swear the magic of “Alabama Voices” is carrying you back through 300 years of state history.

Alabama Voices is designed to be the centerpiece of the Museum of Alabama expansion taking shape inside the second floor of the new wing of the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery, says director Steve Murray. “There’s nothing else quite like it in terms of the story it’s going to tell. It’s a fantastic story.”

Opening day ceremonies, planned for sometime next year, will pay tribute to an aggressive capital campaign funding the expansion through the efforts of leaders across the state – including the Alabama Department of Archives and History Foundation, the Alabama Legislature, archivists, archeologists, leaders in education and philanthropy “who helped us articulate the vision we had,” Murray says.

He’s expecting about 1,000 people from across Alabama to attend, which would be much like the number who attended the opening of the first phase of the Museum, on Aug. 27, 2011, where the galleries “First Alabamians” and “The Land” were showcased.

Those galleries are just a step away from the big double doors of “Alabama Voices.”

Get prepared

As you enter in to the newest gallery, be prepared for a “wall of faces.”

“It will have an intro area beautifully lit where you are facing this giant wall of faces of people who lived in Alabama back to the early 1700s, and up to the present,” Murray says. “They will represent Alabamians in every walk of life.”

Among those static images are three large videos featuring revolving faces. “These are the faces that bring those ‘Alabama Voices’ that you will hear,” Murray says. There will be 22 audio video exhibits, along with ambient audio throughout.

“You are about to be introduced to an incredible cast of history – white, black, Hispanic – from the greatest wealth you have ever known to people who worked hard to survive as enslaved people on plantations. This runs the gamut from the Creek Indians who dominated the Alabama landscape in the early 1700s to the German engineers who came to Huntsville that sent Americans into space,” Murray says.

Making it a reality are some very talented contractors, according to Murray. “Then there’s the team members of the staff, and the third group are the donors who have allowed us raise $7 million to make this possible.” The first phase cost $1.7 million, Murray says.

A time to measure

From now through summer, that large space at the end of the second floor hallway will be the busy scene of drywall construction, electrical configurations and space prep.

“About July or August, our exhibit fabricators will show up with materials… cases, cabinetry, rail systems, beautiful free standing glass panels… all showing up on tractor trailers through late summer through the fall,” Murray says. Eventually, the area will be home to 800 artifacts.

“Everything is to be measured and photographed,” Murray says. “Everything to the tiniest bottom off of clothing, a political button up to a textile loom weighing 2,200 pounds.”

“This final process is born of a concept and vision of Ed Bridges, the former director of the Archives for 30 years,” he says. “It is very heavily shaped by his vision. All of us are committed to doing this for the people of the state … And it’s important for us to do it for Ed. He spent 30 years working here in the Archives, gathering research, writing, developing the best possibilities of an incredibly rich history.

For Bridges, it has been, and still is, all about Alabama.

“I believe this new exhibit will be a remarkable addition to the cultural life of Alabama.  It is the first museum effort ever to tell the history of the state as a coherent overall story – from the geological forces that shaped the land to the start of the 21st century,” Bridges said in an e-mail.

“It will be a place where Alabamians and our guests can see and interact with this story, a place of education and personal enrichment. A team of distinguished Alabama historians, the staff of the Archives, and some of the leading museum designers and builders in the U.S. have worked for several years to make this new exhibit possible,” says Bridges.

Murray says he appreciates the encouragement ADAH has received.

“We are very grateful to Gov. Robert Bentley and the legislative leadership for providing resources to support the operation of the department and our new museum exhibits. The state’s support for operations is especially important and appreciated in light of the $7 million that we raised in private sources to cover the cost of construction.”

Meanwhile, the project is on schedule, Murray says, “and we are working very hard to keep it that way. …”

 

 

 

Alabama Outdoors

High schoolers win scholarship money for fishing

By John N. Felsher

For possibly the first time in history, some middle and high school students earned scholarship money toward their college educations just by catching bass during the inaugural Tim Horton High School Bass Fishing Challenge.

“It’s the only scholarship bass tournament for high school anglers,” says Susann Hamlin, executive director for the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau in Tuscumbia, Ala., which hosted the event. “It was a wonderful opportunity for kids and it made us feel good too.”

During the event, 175 youths representing 30 schools from across Alabama competed for a share of $20,000 in scholarships. The young anglers competed in two divisions. The Senior Division consisted of students in 10th through 12th grade while seventh to ninth graders competed in the Junior Division.

The young anglers fished two to a boat with an adult boat captain operating the craft. The boat captain could not fish. The anglers competed against each other in their respective divisions, but their school teams also competed for a share of $3,000 in scholarship money, based upon total weights caught by all team members. Hartselle High won $1,000 in scholarship money as the team winner, followed by the Muscle Shoals, Florence, Belgreen and Russellville schools.

“For the most part, the kids in the same boats were from the same schools, so they competed against each other, but they also helped each other at the same time,” says Tim Horton, a professional bass angler from Muscle Shoals, Ala.

The Tim Horton High School Bass Fishing Challenge ran out of Rose Trail Park near Cherokee on May 18 to fish the 47,500-acre Pickwick Lake. Named the 20th best bass lake in the United States by Bassmaster magazine, Pickwick Lake runs 53 miles along the Tennessee River. The system can produce largemouth bass topping 10 pounds and smallmouth approaching seven pounds.

Pickwick Lake a big attraction

“We had a phenomenal tournament,” Horton says. “Students from all over Alabama came here to fish. Some traveled more than 200 miles. That says a lot about their passion for fishing in this state. Pickwick has really become one of the best bass lakes, not only in Alabama, but in the entire South.”

After a day spent fishing, Adam Neill, an 18-year-old senior at Florence High School took top honors in the Senior Division with a five-bass tournament limit weighing 16.86 pounds. He collected $3,000 in scholarship money for the victory and plans to attend the University of Alabama on a fishing scholarship in the fall. He hopes to become a professional angler someday.

“I fish this lake all the time,” Neill explained. “I fished from the Natchez Trace Bridge to Waterloo. I caught most of my fish on a crankbait in about five feet of water. We also fished bridge pilings and current breaks with a swimbait. The bass were stacked up right behind the pilings getting out of the current.”

Taking second for the seniors, Zeke Gossett, a 15-year-old sophomore at Pell City High School, brought in five bass for 15.72 pounds. He won a $2,500 scholarship.

“I caught my biggest fish on a topwater lure in less than three feet of water,” Gossett says. “The big one hit at about 8 a.m. I caught about 25 fish.”

Ethan Rickard, an 18-year-old senior at Florence High, finished third with five bass going 15.35 pounds. He landed a 6.66-pound largemouth that took tournament big bass honors. He earned a $1,500 scholarship for third place and a $500 scholarship for catching the biggest bass.

In the Junior Division, Austin Brown won with five bass and 14.57 pounds. The 14-year-old seventh grader from Plainview High School in Rainsville, Ala., earned $3,000 in scholarship money.

“I caught most of my fish on an unweighted white fluke in shallow water near grass,” Brown says. “I also caught some of my bigger fish on swimbaits. We probably caught about 40 fish.”

Garrett Jones, a 16-year-old freshman at Hartselle High, finished second in the Junior Division with five bass going 13.67 pounds. He received a $2,500 scholarship.

In third for the junior anglers, Jacob Jefferys, a 15-year-old freshman from Muscle Shoals High, brought in five keepers for 10.48 pounds. He won a $1,500 scholarship.

In the spring of 2011, the Alabama Legislature passed House and Senate Joint Resolution HJR27 – Act – 2011-156. This act proclaimed the Alabama Student Angler Bass Fishing Association as the official state organization governing student fishing events within the state. It also recognized competitive bass fishing tournaments as official school activities on par with such other school sports such as football, baseball, basketball and golf.

For more information, see FishPickwickLake.com or call the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau at 256-383-0783.

Gardening

Savor summer longer

By Katie Jackson

Ah July, the month when we can practically wallow in summer fruits and vegetables. Yet even as the supply becomes almost overwhelming, are you already lamenting the time when there will no longer be a summer tomato to slice or zucchini squash to roast?

There’s a perfect way to alleviate that premature sorrow: Plant a late summer/early fall garden.

One of the perks of living and gardening in Alabama is that we have a long growing season, which allows us to continue growing many summer crops well into the fall. Admittedly it may be hard to set aside time from harvesting, weeding, watering and maintaining your current garden. However, if you love the taste of summer, it’s worth taking time to install transplants of tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, eggplant, beans and cucumbers. Just make sure to choose varieties that mature before your area’s first typical fall frost date.

Another way to extend the taste of summer is to keep a fresh supply of annual summer herbs going by sowing basil and cilantro seeds every few weeks directly into the garden or into pots so a new crop is coming on regularly. I keep indoor pots of basil going year-round, reseeding the pots each month so I never have to do without a sprig of basil even in January and February.

Once you’ve got that late summer garden in, don’t forget that July is the month to start seeds for more traditional fall crops such as rutabagas, pumpkins, winter squash and the many “c” crops of fall—collards, cauliflower, cabbage and carrots. Come August you can keep planting seeds for many of these fall crops and begin seeds for kale, lettuces, turnips and other leafy greens as well as for the “b” crops—beets, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

Don’t know what to plant when? Check out the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s “Planting Guide for Home Gardening in Alabama” (www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-0063/ANR-0063.pdf) publication, which has a great year-round planting chart to guide you.

If you want to escape the heat this month, chill out with a cool drink and some seed and plant catalogues. It’s never too early to start planning next year’s garden and you can literally spend hours exploring the options.

Advice on variety selection or myriad other gardening issues is available through your local Extension office, Master Gardener groups and area garden shops, but don’t forget one of the best sources of help in the world—fellow gardeners, especially those who have gardened for years, who have hands-on knowledge of what works, or doesn’t work, in your area. They have likely already made all the mistakes, mistakes you can avoid simply by relying on their experience.

July Gardening Tips

  • Water lawns, landscapes, container plants and vegetable gardens deeply and avoid watering during the hottest parts of the day.
  • Mulch shrubs and trees and add mulch and compost to garden beds to help retain moisture in the soil, keep roots cooler and suppress weeds.
  • Plant heat-tolerant annual and perennial flowers.
  • Remove (deadhead) fading flowers from annuals, perennials and summer-blooming lilies.
  • Keep an eye out for insect and disease problems in the lawn, landscape, garden beds and on potted plants.
  • Keep birdbaths and hummingbird feeders filled with clean, fresh water or sugar solution, respectively.
  • Turn your compost.
  • Harvest fruits and vegetables early in the day for best flavor and quality.

 

 

Worth the Drive

Dine at the Docks

By Jennifer Kornegay

The Thai BBQ Pork Medallions at The Docks are 'worth the drive.'
The Thai BBQ Pork Medallions at The Docks are ‘worth the drive.’

Scottsboro is probably best known for two things: some dark deeds in our state’s past and a big store full of other people’s stuff for sale. With a deck facing shimmering Lake Guntersville, perfectly cooked pork loin and bread pudding that’s easily in the running for best I’ve ever had, The Docks at Goose Pond Colony is a third thing the city should be famous for.

When nine young African-American men were tried for rape and found guilty by an all-white jury, it put Scottsboro in the national spotlight. The story of the Scottsboro Boys is a tragic one, a stark symbol of turbulent times. On the flipside, shopping at Unclaimed Baggage can be triumphant, with some serious deals on designer duds, electronics, cameras and computers, but that’s only if you happen to be there on the right day.

Dinner at The Docks is just plain good, with no timing required, although snagging a seat outside at sunset is not a bad idea (and reservations are recommended on the weekends). You might even want to arrive early in the day to check out everything else the surrounding Goose Pond Colony resort has to offer before you sit down to eat.

Set amid the scenic beauty of the Cumberland Mountains and nestled beside the Tennessee River’s Lake Guntersville, Goose Pond Colony has two 18-hole championship golf courses, access to the lake for swimming and fishing, a large, full-service marina and a pool, plus waterside cottages and a lodge if you decide to spend the night.

With a “come-as-you-are” philosophy, The Docks is certainly casual, but the menu reads like one in a white-table-cloth establishment, with dishes like Greek style chicken with rice pilaf and seasonal veggies, pan-seared crab cakes, smoked gouda quesadillas with caramelized onions and nightly specials like slow-roasted prime rib created by chef and owner Mark Hall. The level of service matches the menu, with a wait staff that can provide details on every item and confident recommendations.

Every meal begins with crusty bread accompanied by soft honey butter. The restaurant’s warm artichoke and green chile dip is a spicy new twist on the classic spinach-artichoke version and makes a great starter. While you wait for your appetizer to arrive, you can take a stroll down the long, lighted pier leading out over the lake. You’ll probably meet a few folks who’ve just tied up their boats to come have dinner too.

The diverse options for entrees range from steak to seafood, but the Thai BBQ Pork Medallions grabbed my attention. Juicy and tender, each piece of pork was topped with a dollop of a vibrant red sauce that has definite Asian influences. The combo of sweet and heat complemented the meat and was equally tasty mixed in with the white cheese grits and sautéed spinach also on the plate. The portions at The Docks are ample, but if you pace yourself, you can still indulge in at least a few bites of dessert. The offerings change nightly, but almost always include the homemade bread pudding. It’s fluffy and moist, and the drizzle of rum sauce adds a little kick to cut the sugar.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, the view and the food at The Docks are enhanced with live entertainment. It’s a fun, but actually unnecessary, addition. The sight of cotton-candy clouds reflected in the lake’s surface and the satisfaction of finishing a nice meal need no such improvement.

Dine at The Docks

The kitchen is open for dinner only, on weeknights from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and until 10 p.m. on weekends. Visit www.goosepond.org to check out the menu and get directions, and call 256-574-3071 for reservations.

Alabama zoos teach ‘respect for wildlife’

Protecting Animals for Future Generations

By Marilyn Jones

By definition, a zoo is a garden or park where wild animals are kept for exhibition; a collection of living animals usually for public display. And a zookeeper: one who maintains or cares for the animals in a zoo. Without a zoo there would be no zookeeper and without a zookeeper there would be no zoo.

Alabama zoos will celebrate National Zookeepers Week July 14-20.
Alabama zoos will celebrate National Zookeepers Week July 14-20.

Every year, the third week of July is designated National Zookeeper Week; the perfect time to ask the question: What does a zookeeper do?

“We have nine zookeepers and one dietician,” says Cyndi Johnson, head zookeeper at Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shores. “Their primary concern is the health of the animals.”

Each zookeeper is species-specific. Johnson says her keepers are usually trained to care for two types of animals — avian, cats, primates, hoof, rodents or reptiles — so they can take over when the fulltime keeper is off for the day.

Although some of her keepers have degrees in biology, zoology and wildlife science, a degree isn’t necessary. “It has to be in your heart,” she says. “There’s nothing really glamorous about gathering supplies, cleaning, measuring feces to make sure the animal is healthy and watching the animal to make sure it’s OK. Rain, snow, sleet, we have to be here to care for the animals. You have to love the animals to be this dedicated.

“Once the animals have been monitored, cleaned, fed and reports filed, we have to get our supplies ready for the next day to do it all over again,” she explains. “A big part is keeping records — electronically and hard copy. At any given time I have to be able to view an animal’s file.”

Into the Future

Head Zookeeper at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo Cyndi Johnson shows zoo visitors a white turkey at the petting zoo.
Head Zookeeper at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo Cyndi Johnson shows zoo visitors a white turkey at the petting zoo.

Johnson says she spends a lot of time traveling to schools and teaching children about the plight of animals.

“I also explain to them that before getting a pet they should do a lot of research,” she says. “In our zoo, 98 percent of the birds, 98 percent of the reptiles and 50 percent of the small rodents have been donated by people who bought them as pets. We live in such a throwaway world. I get five to 10 calls a week and right now we can’t always take them.

“I don’t recommend exotics for anyone,” she says. “Primates live to be 50 years old and some birds live to be 80 years old. Right now we have 13 squirrel monkeys and five capuchin monkeys that were donated to us.”

As for the future of animals in the wild, Johnson says zoos are the real future. “In 10 years all the tigers will be gone from the wild; elephants too. In the wild 90 percent of the world’s [species] will be extinct. They are being harvested every day.”

A zookeeper wears many hats — caregiver, educator and conservationist. “Simply put, we need to have respect for wildlife,” Johnson says. “My job is to try and make that happen.”

Other Alabama Zoos

Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, situated on 11.5 acres, with 7.5 acres in use, is tucked away just blocks from the beach and features more than 500 animals, birds and reptiles. Lions, tigers, bears and monkeys as well as a petting zoo, reptile house and aviary all await visitors.

Alabama has two other major zoos in Birmingham and Montgomery.

Drawing more than 500,000 visitors annually, the Birmingham Zoo is one of Alabama’s most popular attractions. More than 800 animals, representing six continents, make their home at the 122-acre zoo, including birds, reptiles and mammals. As with its zoological counterparts, the animals here are cared for by a staff of curators, managers and keepers. These professionals provide well-maintained environments that reflect the animal’s natural habitats.

The zoo is known for its elephant conservation program. In 2011, “Trails of Africa” opened, designating the Birmingham Zoo as a national leader in the care and conservation of threatened elephants. The trail is designed to be a mixed-species exhibit featuring a bachelor elephant herd, red river hogs, rhinos, hippos and giraffes.

The final member of this zoo trio is the Montgomery Zoo and Mann Wildlife Learning Museum where more than 500 animals from five different continents reside — all housed in natural, barrier-free habitats.

Spanning 40 landscaped acres, guests can view exotic wildlife and endangered species by meandering through the zoo at a leisurely pace, riding on the miniature train or by taking advantage of the recently installed Zoofari Skylift ride.

Animal encounter stations are very popular at the zoo and help visitors get as close as possible to the zoo’s residents by feeding river otters, horseback riding and visiting an aviary.

 

As the need to protect and preserve our wildlife and vanishing habitats has increased, our role as educators and wildlife ambassadors has become essential. During the third week of July each year, celebrate National Zookeeper Week; both you and your animals deserve the recognition. American Association of Zookeepers

 

For more information:

Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo – 1204 Gulf Shores Parkway, Gulf Shores; 251-968-5731; www.alabamagulfcoastzoo.com.

Birmingham Zoo – 2630 Cahaba Road, Birmingham; 205-879-0409; http://www.birminghamzoo.com.

Montgomery Zoo – 2301 Coliseum Pkwy, Montgomery; 334-240-4900; http://www.montgomeryzoo.com.

At Greensboro restaurant, there’s power in the pie

John Wilkerson slices a piece of pie.
John Wilkerson slices a piece of pie.

Restaurant is incubator for positive social change, and the pies are delicious, too!

By Jennifer Kornegay

Some of the best conversations are shared around tables, usually tables topped with food and drink. Proof of this can be found at PieLab in Greensboro, Ala., where bright ideas come out of mouths as readily as bites of pie and sips of coffee go in.

Opened in 2009, the restaurant/coffee shop sports sleek, contemporary furnishings in an old, wood-floored building on the main street of downtown and is not what you would expect to find in the “small-town” South. It is as much an incubator for positive social change as it is a place to eat. The “lab” portion of its name hints at this broader purpose, and the pie? Well, there’s some real power in the pie, as Pam Dorr, director of HERO Housing and a founder of PieLab, explains.

A Re-Energizing Recipe

“I work with a group in Greensboro called HERO (Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization), a non-profit that works as a catalyst for community development,” she says. “As a housing resource center, HERO provides community resources, housing education and youth programming.”

PieLab offerings change regularly and range from pecan and blueberry to pina colada icebox pie.
PieLab’s pie offerings change regularly and range from pecan and blueberry to pina colada icebox.

A few years ago, HERO was working with a group of creative folks in Maine called Project M that creates platforms for collaboration and projects that contribute to communities in need. “One day we were sitting around discussing some projects and feeling a bit down. The economy was getting bad, and things just seemed bleak,” Dorr says.

To lift the mood, the group shifted topics and began talking about things that made them happy. “One girl started sharing her love of pie,” Dorr said, “and it just clicked. Everyone loves pie.

Project M decided to head down to Greensboro with Dorr and do a pie “pop-up” shop in a downtown building that HERO had recently renovated. “We had $600 to do it and figured it would just be this temporary thing, a neat way to spread some joy and bring the community together.”

But the pop-up shop proved so popular, it never actually “popped” back down. Today, three years later, PieLab is still baking and serving its pies to folks from both near and far.

Success in every slice

If you get down to its basic ingredients, PieLab is a welcoming spot for anyone and everyone to come eat and chat over what’s been heralded by the likes of Southern Living and other national media as some of the best pie anywhere on earth. It’s a community gathering place designed around the idea that the more folks talk to each other, the more likely they are to find common ground and do some common

That's one big piece of pie!
That’s one big piece of pie!

good. “In just the last two weeks, we’ve had 47 volunteers come through to do projects for others in the community, people like designers and architects, and they all use PieLab as a home base,” Dorr says. “They get to enjoy good pie and good coffee, which we believe fosters conversation and ideas.”

But what’s happening behind the counter at PieLab is as important as any pie-fueled epiphanies sparking in front of it. In keeping with the mission of HERO, PieLab is staffed by a diverse mix of area residents who have one common denominator: They could use some job training, and PieLab is providing it.

“We employ young teen moms, prisoners on work release, seniors through the area aging council and others, and there’s a real emphasis put on job training so they are ready to get and keep a job somewhere else at some point,” Dorr says.

Don’t forget the pie

While it’s obvious that PieLab is about much more than the first half of its name, the sheer deliciousness of the pie should not go without note. Flavor offerings change regularly and range from pecan and blueberry to pina colada icebox and mandarin orange chess. Some of the recipes came from a bake-off and cookbook produced when the restaurant first opened. Others are submitted, often with heartfelt pleas attached. “We get things like, ‘please try my mom’s pecan pie recipe,’” Dorr says. “And we often do. If it’s good, we keep it in the rotation.”

Dorr’s personal favorite pie, at least right now, is, “homemade blueberry topped with homemade vanilla ice cream.”  PieLab also serves some tasty lunch items, but whatever you do, don’t fill up on a burger or barbecue sandwich. Save some stomach space for a piece (or two) of pie.

 

Visit PieLab

Visit www.pielab.org to learn more and get directions and operating hours. You can also order a PieLab T-shirt or even design your own pie and have it shipped right to your door.

 

 

Born without limbs, Alabama man excels in professional fishing

'I fish the same as everyone else. It just looks a little different.'
‘I fish the same as everyone else. It just looks a little different.’

By John N. Felsher

A veteran of more than 200 tournaments, the professional bass angler stopped his boat, shut down the powerful outboard and flipped his trolling motor into the water. Eyeing the wooded shoreline, he selected a preferred lure, tied it to his line and tossed it next to some cover on the bank.

As the angler worked the lure back toward the boat, a bass slammed the temptation. Reacting to the bite, the pro set the hook, fought the fish, landed it and then released it to fight again.

Nothing about that scenario stands out as particularly noteworthy. Millions of bass anglers across the nation do the same thing each week. Friends of bass pro Clay Dyer wouldn’t even notice these actions because he does them so often.

However, to anyone who does not know Clay, just getting into the boat would seem nothing less than remarkable for a man born with no legs, no left arm and only a piece of an arm on his right side.

“I was born with no legs past the hips, half an arm on my right side and no arm past my shoulder joint on my left side,” Clay explains. “I didn’t lose my limbs to an accident or a disease. I never had limbs so I don’t know what I’d do if I had them. God blessed me with the strength to fight through every adversity and obstacle that I face each day. I count it as a blessing to live this way.”

Born in 1978, Clay grew up in Hamilton, Ala. As a child, he frequently visited his grandfather’s farm pond to catch catfish. An avid sportsman and fierce competitor, he played baseball, basketball and even played football as a linebacker and fullback at the junior varsity level and some varsity in high school.

“I was always really active in sports,” Clay recalled. “The coaches knew my family as I was growing up. They knew better than to tell me that I couldn’t do something because whatever I set my mind to do, I accomplished. When I went out for football, some people thought it was a joke. After proving them wrong two or three times, they never told me ‘no’ ever again. I was low to the ground, so when I went to block someone, nobody could get by me without crawling.”

Although a fullback typically blocks for faster running backs, Dyer did carry the ball a few times and even scored some touchdowns. Low to the ground, he could scoot under other players and pick up a couple yards before anyone even knew he held the football.

“When carrying the ball, I pinned it between my jaw, neck and arm,” Clay says. “I have a lot of strength in my arm. My longest run was about five yards. I was not the guy who was going to run it 99 yards down the field. I was the guy who took the ball when it was fourth down and two. For my size, I was really quick and it was hard to tackle me. I just loved being able to play and doing what I could to help my team win.”

Although he enjoyed playing organized sports, he knew he could never make it as a professional athlete in football, baseball or basketball. Instead, he started concentrating on a competitive sport in which he could excel – professional fishing! He started fishing for fun at about age five on his grandfather’s farm and began competing in tournaments when he turned 15.

Clay Dyer uses the bottom of his hip joint to run his trolling motor. He unhooks fish by putting pliers in his mouth and lying on his boat deck.
Dyer uses the bottom of his hip joint to run his trolling motor. He unhooks fish by putting pliers in his mouth and lying on his boat deck.

“When I started to get into my teens, I realized that if I hurt my one good half an arm, that might affect me for the rest of my life,” Clay says. “Obviously, I’m not going to dunk a basketball without a trampoline, so I knew I wasn’t going to play in the NBA or NFL. I had always loved the outdoors, even as a small child. I watched professional fishing tournaments on television. Fishing gave me an avenue where I knew that I could get to the top level as a professional in a sport without risking hurting myself. I always dreamed of becoming a professional angler and believed that I could take it to the top level.”

As a teen, Clay started fishing local bass club tournaments. As a freshman in high school, he wanted to enter the Alabama Bass Angler Sportsman Society Federation, one of 51 state and international federations that make up the amateur arm of the Bass Federation, Inc. His parents signed the waiver so he could compete as a minor.

He started competing in state and regional tournaments to increase his skill, winning more than 20 events in his career. His two biggest bass to date weighed nearly 10 pounds. Gaining success at the local and regional level, the 20-year-old angler in 1998 began competing in the Forrest L. Wood EverStart Series, a tournament trail for emerging professionals.

“My parents, grandparents and brother have always been very supportive of what I do,” Clay says. “I was able to qualify for a couple state championships. It escalated from there. When FLW came out with the EverStart series, I started fishing on the regional level and kept fishing higher and higher levels each year.”

In 2006, Dyer began fishing the FLW Tour, the highest professional level of the FLW family of events. In 2011, Dyer began fishing the B.A.S.S. Opens. He hopes to soon jump to the B.A.S.S. Elite Series, the highest professional level in B.A.S.S., and eventually compete in a Bassmaster Classic.

“In the first year of the Professional Anglers Association tournament series, I fished the Texas Shootout on Lake Fork,” Clay says. “They invited 60 FLW pros and 60 B.A.S.S. pros to compete. I had the honor to be invited as one of the 60 from FLW. After the second day, only the top five anglers fished the final day. I was in fifth place until the very last guy to weigh in knocked me down by two ounces. I didn’t make the final cut, but I got my first national check. After that, I knew that I could compete at that level.”

On the tournament trail or just fishing for fun, Dyer doesn’t use anything unavailable to other competitors. He drives his own truck, modified for his physical requirements, and drives his own boat. He operates all the equipment on his boat and uses standard fishing tackle just like anyone else.

“I fish the same as everyone else,” Clay explains. “It just looks a little different. I’ve always prided myself on doing whatever anyone else does. I don’t want anyone to say I had to modify my equipment to fish. The only thing different about my boat is I have a platform that’s at the same height as the front deck. I can step out of the driver’s seat onto the platform and get to the front deck without climbing up and down or crawl around in the bottom of the boat.”

He ties his own knots with his tongue and unhooks fish by putting pliers in his mouth and lying on his boat deck. When casting, he places the butt of his rod between his jawbone and collarbone, then swings it sideways. He reels fish in by compressing the end of his arm against the reel handle.

“Most anglers work the trolling motor with their feet, but I can’t do that,” Clay says. “The bottom of my hip is round. When I run the trolling motor, I use the bottom of my hip joint. I have essentially one big toe down there. I use that to mash the switch to operate the trolling motor. I added a larger switch so I can find it more easily without looking down.”

Staying on a national tournament trail requires considerable travel for any competitor. After finishing one tournament, anglers may immediately drive hundreds of miles to the next venue. Many top pros spend 250 to 300 days a year traveling to events, practicing for tournaments, competing, meeting sponsor obligations or working with the media to promote their sponsors.

Tyler Cole of Double Springs, Ala. often accompanies Clay on trips to share the driving. He also assists Clay by helping him get into and out of the boat or provide whatever other help he needs. Where allowed, Cole sometimes fishes with Dyer, either as a co-angler or team partner.

“I met Clay in my senior year of high school,” Cole remembers. “I was dating a girl whose mother used to babysit Clay and his brother. She knew I liked to fish and introduced me to Clay. When I’m fishing with Clay as a co-angler, I can’t do much to help him. I can net the fish, but that’s about all. Clay is a very big inspiration for a lot of people. He’s an awesome guy.”

Staying on a tournament trail also requires significant financial resources. Spending a year on a tournament trail may cost between $60,000 to $100,000 for fuel on boats and tow vehicles, lodging, food, entry fees, maintenance and other expenses. Most anglers rely heavily on sponsors. Dyer lists Strike King Lures, Ranger Boats, Mercury Outboards and the Outdoor Recreation Company of America among his major backers.

“I’ve been extremely blessed to have some great companies behind me,” Clay says. “Strike King has been with me from the start. Ranger Boats and Mercury Outboards have been with me a long time. I signed with O.R.C.A in late 2012. Without these companies helping me, I would not be able to do what I do. I really appreciate what they do for me that allows me to live my dream.”

When not fishing, Clay inspires others with frequent public appearances, making about 60 motivational speeches for corporations, churches, charitable organizations and other groups each year.

“Many people come up to me and say, ‘I don’t have this,’ or ‘I can’t do this.’ If I can, you can,” Clay says. “I don’t focus on the resources I’m missing. I focus on what I do have – that’s a heart, mind and soul. I don’t let not having arms and legs define me as a person. Everything I’ve ever wanted to do, I’ve been able to do. Some things are obviously easier for other people to do and take me longer, but I haven’t found anything yet that I couldn’t do.”

To invite Clay to speak, contact him through his website at http://claydyer.net.