GADSDEN, Ala. — It takes a good bit of extra effort for Dean Morris to get himself up from the seat as his boat is towed to a stop in front of the weigh-in stage at the Federation Nation Championship, but he asks for no assistance.
He opens first one livewell, then the other and in a swift motion pulls out one big bass, a four and a half pounder, then a five plus and waves them before the audience.
The weight is 15 pounds, 11 ounces for his five-fish limit and the crowd is standing and cheering for the angler who represents the Paralyzed Veterans of America in this tournament.
The moment is exciting for Morris, who didn't qualify for last years Federation Nation Championship. That was tough for him because he lives in Tavares, Florida, basically on the shores of the Harris Chain where the tournament was held.
But his outstanding 2006 season culminated in his earning the PVA Bass Tour Angler of the Year award and the trip to Lake Neely Henry in Gadsden, Ala.
Dean Morris has been associated with the PVA for a number of years, many of them as a volunteer for tournaments. In the last few years his disability, a degenerative arthritis condition, has progressed to the point that he is qualified to fish the events as a Paralyzed Veteran.
His condition dates to his contracting food poisoning as a U.S. serviceman in Morocco, which led to a disorder known as Reiter's Syndrome, a form of severe arthritis that develops as a reaction to an infection elsewhere in the body. His pain is profound and constant in the joints and spine, and he must take medication daily.
But all of that is in the background as he recounts his Day Two fishing that landed him one of the largest limits of the tournament.
"I caught my first three keepers in the first three hours," he said. "I moved and worked another spot to fill out my limit including the 4 and a half, then one last spot where I got the big one."
Morris relies heavily on a cane and moves very slowly and deliberately, but it's obviously the fishing that keeps him moving. He competes in the PVA circuit and a couple of other tours, or about 25 events a year.
"I'm fishing this year, and dedicating this tournament to a buddy of mine who lost his battle to Lou Gehrig's Disease a few months ago," Morris declared. "He was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and just a great fishing buddy."
Thanks to his stellar performance on Day Two, Dean Morris goes into the third and final day of the tournament in fourth place in the Southern Division and 14th overall.