For Love Of The SportFor Love Of The Sport
Dave Hudson's lifelong love of Fishing and a tragic accident that left him without the use of his legs prove that necessity is the mother of all invention.
By Dave Washburn
Fifteen years ago Dave Hudson's dreams came crashing down - literally - when he plummeted 160 feet to the bottom of a chasm while gathering firewood for his dying campfire. Hudson, who was camping north of Jacksonville, Ark., at one of his favorite wilderness retreats says he was comfortable with the rocky cliff, which he had rappelled earlier in the day. But one misplaced step in the middle of the night sent him tumbling and cost him the use of his legs.
Hudson, who had served four years as a Heavy Equipment Operator in the U.S. Air Force at the time of his accident, admits that the fall drastically changed the course of his life, but the 37-year-old is quick to point out that he's not complaining.
"My first thought was denial," he recalls. "No matter what the doctors tell you, you think 'I'm going to get up out of this chair.' But then you learn to use the hand that you have been dealt. I could dwell on it, but I don't.
"Before the accident, I was a healthy 6 foot 3 inches and 200 pounds' " he says. "I'm still healthy. I just don't have use of my legs. Things changed dramatically, but I'm not complaining about any of it. I'm thankful. I feel like I've been blessed with a wife, friends and family who have been supportive."
Hudson credits support from friends and family with helping him recover from his injuries in five months even though his doctors said that his recovery would take a minimum of eight months.
Soon after his release from the hospital, Hudson gave in to his desire to go fishing, but he found that being confined to a wheelchair on the bank made the experience less than fulfilling. Having limited mobility and access to fish was frustrating, he says. Feeling disappointed, it was another 18 months before he fished from a boat and renewed his passion for fishing.
"I thought my bass fishing days were over until my cousin took me fishing in his little two-man boat," Hudson says. "We figured out a way that I could get in the boat, and it just snowballed from there. On the water, I became mobile again. After that, I really got the bug."
Hudson fished his first bass tournament as a co-angler in 1990. The event, sponsored by Paralyzed Veterans of America, was held on Florida's Lake Monroe.
"After fishing that tournament and seeing how hard it was to fish from a bass boat, I decided I was going to figure out a way that a man in a wheelchair could fish by himself," Hudson says. "If something doesn't fit, you make alterations. So, I stared plotting and figuring how I could make it work."
While plotting his new course in life, Hudson continued to fish the annual PVA tournament as a co-angler. In 1994, when the PVA introduced a national circuit comprising three tournaments, he bought a boat and fished as a pro for the first time. To maneuver the boat, he lifted himself out of his wheelchair and sat on the front seat, which was lowered to the deck, and used his hand to operate the foot-control trolling motor. Sitting on the front deck instead of an elevated seat, however, was less than ideal, and once again left Hudson unsatisfied with his limited range of motion and the limited number of fishing techniques available to him from his lowered position in the boat.
In an attempt to ease his frustration, Hudson designed a power flipping deck that would lift him, wheelchair and all, into position on the front deck. He then took the idea to Ranger Boats engineer Rick Huddleston, who refined the design and in 1997 installed the custom built lift into Hudson's newly purchased Ranger 487VS.
"They are great people to work with," Hudson says fondly about Ranger's willingness to help. "If someone needs something special in a boat, they can do it."
Hudson's power flipping deck uses hydraulic cylinders to raise a platform that sits flush with the bottom of the boat when in the down position to the same height as the front deck. He simply positions his wheelchair on the platform, pushes a button on the windshield, and then rolls forward to a self-designed locking mechanism that fits into the front seat pedestal base. The lock clamps onto the axle of the wheelchair, thus allowing Hudson to rotate 360 degrees without rolling fore or aft. As for the trolling motor, Hudson has rigged a Hurst shifter that allows him to rock the foot control unit forward or back with his hand. He turns the motor on and off by pressing down on the shifter.
Using his custom boat and lift system, Hudson finished ninth in last season's PVA Angler of the Year standings, and he won the first PVA tournament of 2000 on Cedar Creek Lake near Log Cabin, Texas. After his PVA win, Hudson competed as a pro in the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Forrest Wood Open on Pickwick Lake near his hometown of Rogersville, Ala. While he didn't win the tournament, Hudson certainly accomplished the goal he'd set for himself going into it.
"When I heard that the FLW Tour would be here, I decided I wanted to get my feet wet," he recalls. "I wanted to see how I could get around and compete in this caliber of event. And it was great. Everyone was as friendly and as helpful as any tournament I've ever fished."
If only the bass where as accommodating. While he caught plenty of fish, Hudson struggled to catch bass that met the tournament's 15-inch minimum. On opening day, he landed just one keeper that weighed 2 pounds, 1 ounce. On day two, he again caught several fish that missed the 15-inch mark by a hair. Hudson finished the tournament in 138th place out of 175 pros, but true to his form, he was just happy to be competing.
"I've been bass fishing since I was a kid," Hudson beams.. "I'd wade creeks near my house and cast thin line spinners and little crankbaits. It's something I always loved to do."
Hudson plans to keep fishing PVA events and hopes to fish an EverStart Series tournament or two next season as well as another FLW Tour event. He has sponsorship deals worked out with Nelda Stevenson Chevrolet in Florence, Ala., and Plano Tackle Systems. He also has made arrangements to have his power flipping deck installed on the new Ranger 520VX prostaff boat that he received through a sponsorship deal with Anderson Boats of Decatur, Ala.
Hudson says his wife, Sherrie, whom he met as a 15-year-old boy is his inspiration. "We went to church together for awhile as kids," he says lovingly. "Then, when I came back home after the accident, we started dating.
"I couldn't do half the stuff I do without her. She does a tremendous amount for me. When I come in and haven't caught the kind of fish that I think I'm capable of catching, she's always there to encourage me. She's always supportive. She's my cheering section."
The couple married in 1987 - the same year that Hudson returned to the water and the sport he loves.
Content provided by Bass Fishing Magazine, the official publication of FLW Outdoors
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