At 36 inches tall, weighing 85 pounds, with no hands and feet and only one partial arm, Dyer, of Hamilton, Ala., has every excuse a man needs for failure in life. However, Dyer has taken disadvantages in life and turned them into advantages. Today, he's America's greatest bass fisherman.
Dyer started fishing as a teenager, and has fished professionally for the last 15 years. One of the most-respected pros on the circuit, he's had 25 tournament wins on the local and regional level, and has finished in the top 75 in national tournaments.
He laughs when asked why he hasn't won more tournaments.
"I haven't had enough time on the water yet, or enough experience to get as good as I can be," he said. "I'll keep working hard and knocking on the door until I win one of those national tournaments."
No one doubts that Clay Dyer will have a successful life. He's the only man who can cast a baitcasting rod with no hands and only a partial arm, run a high-performance Ranger bass boat at 70-miles-per-hour across a lake and stay in the race with America's top bass fishermen from the blast-off until he reaches his fishing spot.
• operate a trolling motor and maneuver his boat with no feet or legs;
• take a lure out of his tackle box with no hands;
• put the lure and the line in his mouth and tie a palomar knot;
• set the hook on a bass hard enough to snatch the fish out of the water and land that bass without hands or arms.
Dyer has a list of sponsors that rivals any of the top national pros, even though he's never won a national tournament. Most importantly, he's created a style of bass fishing the world never has seen previously.
"To my knowledge, there's no other bass fisherman who fishes the professional circuit with no arms or legs," Dyer explains with a smile.
How did he do it?
Everyone wants to know how Dyer learned to fish with no arms and no legs.
"I started out with a Zebco 33 closed-faced spinning reel," he said. "I worked with it until I learned how to cast it. I first had to figure out the most-comfortable way for me to hold the rod and then how to throw it with my body.
"Once I learned to fish the Zebco, I moved up to a baitcasting reel, realizing I could be more accurate with a baitcasting reel than I could with a close-faced spinning reel because I could feather my casts with my tongue."
You don't want to get into a casting contest with Dyer, because more than likely, he'll beat you. I've seen him cast a 1/4-ounce jig from 30 yards away between two branches of a tree laying in the water and hit a spot no bigger than the bottom end of a Styrofoam coffee cup.
"I've had to overcome adversity in every sport I've ever played," he said. "I knew I'd never play professional football, and with my strike zone so low, I didn't think I'd ever play professional baseball, although I loved the sport.
"But I felt like if I worked hard enough, I could be a professional fisherman. I've always dreamed of being a pro athlete.
"I knew I'd have to work hard until I could learn how to accomplish my goal, but I've always known that if I work hard, there's nothing I can't do."
Dyer fishes the WalMart FLW Tour and the WalMart FLW Stren Series on the Eastern circuit and the Alabama B.A.S.S. Federation tournaments. He's convinced that eventually he'll fish the pro circuit of both the FLW and Bassmaster.
Currently, he's fishing 30 to 40 tournaments a year as he continues to learn his craft and improve his skills. In 2006, he fished eight national tournaments, and this season, he'll fish 10 national tournaments.
A day on the water
I went fishing with Dyer, having never met or even seen him previously. After his fishing partner set him in the boat, I got in, and we backed off the launch ramp.
As we idled toward the mouth of a creek, I asked Dyer what I could do to help him. He looked up and answered with a big smile.
"Just stay out of my way," he said. "Fish like you always fish, and treat me like you do anybody else. I'll fish and treat you like I would anybody else, and we'll catch bass and have a good time."
Dyer has endured some strange looks during tournaments when he draws a partner he's never met before.
"Well, of course, I always wonder what they're thinking," he said. "But then I laugh because I know they're thinking, 'Oh my goodness. I'll be fishing today with a man with no fingers, no hands, no arms and no legs, and he drives a bass boat at 70 m.p.h. What have I done?'
"Most of my partners are a little skittish at first. They're afraid they'll offend me, so they'll be cautious. But I tell them I want to be treated just like any other fisherman. They really don't know how independent I am. They're afraid if they don't offer to help me, I'll be offended, and if they do offer to help me, I'll be offended.
"But after about 10 minutes, I will have encouraged them to be themselves, relax and treat me like any other fisherman. After they've relaxed, we'll each catch a limit of bass."
Not a one-bait fisherman, Dyer will change lures at least as often as his partner. When the time comes to switch lures, he:
• turns off his trolling motor;
• goes to his rod locker;
• picks out a lure box;
• places the lure box on the deck;
• puts a pair of needle-nosed pliers in his mouth;
• selects the lure he wants to fish;
• puts the lure and the line in his mouth; and
• ties a palomar knot usually, although he can tie any fishing knot he needs with his lips, tongue and teeth.
"I usually look out the corner of my eye and see my partner watching me, trying to figure out how I'm able to tie this knot," Dyer said. "I'd be staring too, wanting to know how this fellow could tie a palomar knot or an improved clinch knot with no hands."
Once the knot's tied, Dyer either cuts the tag end of the line off with scissors or bites the tag end off with his teeth.
"My dentist prefers I use scissors, but I'd rather use my teeth," he said.
Dyer enjoys fishing jigs and topwater lures. He fishes garlic-flavored soft-plastic lures but actually hates to fish them.
"Those lures taste so bad that I'll usually dip the lure and my hook in the water to get some of that taste off before I put one in my mouth to tie the hook onto the line and then put the lure on the hook," he said. "I can tell you for certain that the Strike King Lure Company has the saltiest, strongest-tasting garlic lures on the market. I've tasted quite a few baits, so I know."
A bass ambassador
Most pros travel the nation tournament trail bass fishing, doing in-store promotions and fishing seminars, and so does Dyer. But often, Dyer speaks at places other bass fishermen never have the opportunity to speak. Dyer has spoken to business planners from across the nation at Disney World, and he constantly talks about facing obstacles and adversities in life and how he uses his faith to overcome all the challenges he encounters.
Dyer has an extremely-outgoing personality, and he's humorous.
"I love to laugh, cut up and have a good time just like anyone else does," he said. "All you have to do to be a human being is have a mind, a heart and a soul. Anything else is just extra."
Most wanna-be tournament fisherman want to know how to attract sponsors. Few fishermen seemingly have less ability to attract sponsors than Dyer. However, that hasn't proven to be the case.
"I was very fortunate that early in my career I had a couple of good finishes that got me some media attention," he said. "When manufacturers found out I could win tournaments without having any special equipment, they started asking me to use their equipment."
Sponsors quickly have realized that if Dyer can drive a boat safely at 70 m.p.h., then most anyone could to do it.
"If I can cast a rod and reel without getting a backlash, then anyone can," Dyer said. "If I can catch fish on a company's lures, then these lures can catch fish for anybody.
"Also, because of my physical appearance, I get noticed wherever I go. Sponsors also know I'll work hard for them. They know I've been competitive fishing for 15 years, and I've paid my dues to stay in the sport."
Dyer's sponsors include Strike King, Ranger, Bassfan.com, Lowrance, Evinrude, Minn Kota, Team Dual Pro Batteries and Chargers, Pflueger, All Star Rods and Reels, Shakespeare, Plano, Daiichi, XPoint and KeelShield.
"I feel really blessed to have some of the top names in the fishing industry as my sponsors," he said.
Dyer believes most anglers dreaming of becoming pros think sponsors want fishermen who can win tournaments. Of course, winning tournaments does help get sponsors' attention.
"But you have to do more than win a tournament," he said. "You have to be willing to set an example and be a good ambassador for that company. You have to get media attention on TV and the radio and in newspapers and magazines.
"When companies see that you can get media attention, sell products and be a positive role model for their company, you don't have to worry about finding them. They'll come looking for you."
Dyer has appeared on ESPN, CBS, ABC, the Outdoor Life Network (now Versus), and writers have told his story in many national magazines, both general interest and outdoors, and he appears in newspapers most anywhere he's fishing a tournament.
Although most people want to be like everyone else, Dyer has learned that his difference has been his strength. What little he lacks in fishing skill, he makes up for with an extremely-strong work ethic.
Dyer probably does as many speaking engagements and seminars as any national bass pro. He also has two websites — www.teamdyer.com and www.claydyerfishing.com.
In 2007, Dyer already has lined-up 55 speaking engagements, 15 in-store promotions and six to eight boat shows, classics and trade shows, and he'll fish 30 tournaments. Between January and June of 2006, he put 58,000 miles on his vehicle. His ever-present smile makes friends for him wherever he goes.
Have you ever dreamed of becoming a professional bass fisherman and a TV personality, owning your own business and traveling the nation or the world in pursuit of your dream? Clay Dyer has done it.
His message to all of us — "If I can, you can. There are no excuses" — tells the truth.