Kayak: Maine angler defies the odds

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Kara Pasma

Rodney Merritt with the oxygen tank he has used recently in kayak tournaments.

Rodney Merritt, a 36 year veteran police officer, who retired as police chief, was all smiles at the conclusion of the 2021 B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series powered by Tourney X at Mississippi River. You would have never known just a short time ago, Rodney was fighting for his life after contracting Covid-19. “I don’t smoke, rarely drink, never have done drugs,” Rodney said, “and all the sudden I had blood clots in both lungs and both legs.”

The angler, hailing from East Machias Maine, was hospitalized in isolation for over a week. As his condition worsened Rodney said “I insisted I go home. My wife was scared to death. I didn’t want to be intubated. So I left.” Rodney knew he had to be on a constant supply of oxygen at the time and with the help of family and friends, by 10 pm that very evening an oxygen generator was at his home.

“I missed the event at Chesapeake,” he explained “due to Covid. I wanted to make sure that I had a shot at the national Championship. I was literally laying there on death’s door and I said I’m still going to La Crosse.  Maybe that was the oxygen deprivation.” While we talked, Rodney started to tear up. 

“It’s a life changing experience when you get that close, to ya know…” Along with a Covid diagnosis and near death experience, Merritt is also battling Leukemia.  “It’s slow growing,” he said, “so I think being a little healthier will help me”.

Merritt also credits kayak fishing in his Old Town kayak to helping him overcome Covid. “I insist on using a pedal drive. I think that has actually helped to get my lungs back.” Old Town has had a competition pro team for a few years now, which Merritt has been a part of since the beginning. “When I was diagnosed with Leukemia, I offered my resignation to the Old Town team.  Old Town responded with ‘no you’re part of the family'”.

Even with being on the upside of his battle Covid, Rodney still has to take some measures to ensure his oxygen levels are where they need to be. “The first time I went back fishing, I had to take an oxygen tank with me that I shoved in my vest. I knew how long I had with that oxygen so that’s how long I could fish.” He also still carries an oxygen meter, along with extra tanks, so he can monitor his levels with him when he needs to. “It’s not my oxygen though, it’s my nitrous,” Rodney jokes. “It’s what I have to do for now.”

Merritt, who has won angler of the year in Maine, has been very successful in the B.A.S.S. kayak tournaments as well. “I even have that app that parents use to track their teeangers,” he jokes “yes that Life 360. That way people can track me on the leaderboard to see where I am.”

Merritt starts a 28 hour trek home in the morning back to Maine and to his business. He runs Eider Pro Outfitters, a premier sea duck outfitters and lodge. Eider Pro is home to the world’s largest duck boat, a 32-foot Duckwater powered by a 350 Suzuki motor.  “Little different than the pedals,” Rodney says with a grin.

An undeniable presence of positivity radiates from Merritt. His passion for the outdoors, fishing, the kayak events, and zeal for life was felt by everyone. When you look at him, you'd never guess that a few short weeks ago he almost lost a battle for his life. “I’ve got things to do,” he said, “I’m not done yet.”