MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Many teenagers spend their 15th year counting the days until they reach the legal driving age of 16. That magic day for Dylan Smith meant being legally eligible to sign up as a co-angler for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open Series presented by Allstate.
“He spent all that time waiting for the day when he was old enough to enter,” said his mother, Mary Smith.
And enter he did. On his birthday Dylan signed up for Central Open #1 scheduled for last February at Lake Amistad. He wouldn’t have the chance to live that dream or take his driver’s test.
That’s because he couldn’t walk.
On his 15th birthday, Dylan unexpectedly developed a condition called Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis (SCFE). It happens when a growth plate slips, causing a ball joint to separate from the hip.
Dylan endured wheelchair confinement for 18 months, three of those in full body cast. Three hip surgeries made it a tough go. What physical therapy was to his body, bass fishing was to his mind.
“Bass fishing sustained him,” said Mary. “It diverted his attention from a lot of the pain.”
Dylan spent hours online watching YouTube videos and otherwise immersed in a virtual world of bass fishing. It wasn’t anything new.
The fishing bug bit at the age of 3. By the time Dylan reached 13, his enthusiasm for bass fishing consumed the family, including his father, Keith. They acquired a bass boat. The father and son entered team tournaments around their home in central Texas. Until then Keith was only a casual angler and hadn’t seriously pursued the sport since his youth.
“It bonded them even more as a father and son,” said Mary. “We knew then bass fishing was more than a fad for Dylan.”
The boat stayed parked in the family garage but the dream remained alive during Dylan’s recovery. He went fishing during wheelchair confinement, casting from stable docks on lakes near home. And there was the time Mary and Keith took him fishing while in the full body cast.
“It was a three-hour ordeal just to get him on the dock and he caught a fish on his very first cast,” said Mary. “It was a huge moment in his recovery.”
That continued at home. Dylan’s range of movement was limited to his hands and arms. Those limbs were his connection to bass fishing. He lived his dream through the molten lead poured into moulds that formed leadhead jigs. He needed them when the time came to live his dream.
He’s doing it now. The original plan to fish at Lake Amistad got postponed after doctors deemed him not medically fit to compete. Mary accompanied him to Muskogee, where he’s fishing Central Open #3 underway on the Arkansas River.
Thursday, Dylan fished his very first B.A.S.S. event as a co-angler with Bassmaster Elite Series pro Tommy Biffle. It was his dream matchup. Biffle is soft spoken and so is Dylan. He knew that from reading articles about his favorite pro on the Internet.
“He’s as good a flipper and pitcher as anyone,” said Biffle, widely recognized by peers as among the most skilled of both techniques.
Dylan is just getting started with the next step. As a high school junior, there is time to think about an academic track for college. Whatever that becomes it will most certainly involve bass fishing.
After all, he’s waited a long time for this.