Jeff Thompson loves his country — and he loves fishing. In his earlier years, he served as a Marine Corps pilot, flying fixed wing aircraft. Touching down on carriers as they pitched and yawed in rolling seas, although exhilarating, became almost routine. His skills as a pilot put him on a short list, nearly earning him a seat on the space shuttle.
Then a debilitating illness stole his career. Two decades of flying planes for the military left him with degenerative disc disease in his lower back. But he refused to let it take the sport he so loved.
“Even after 34 injections, the pain would get so bad I would have to fish from my knees,” explained the Camby, Ind., resident. “It kept getting more and more painful. It seemed my fishing trips were getting shorter and shorter.”
At 52 years old, Thompson lives in a permanent brace and walks with a cane. Recently his surgeon wanted to place him on a morphine pump.
“No way was I doing that,” Thompson stated defiantly. And up to this point he has rejected any type of invasive surgery.
Through sheer determination, Thompson refused to give up his love of being on the water.
“I figured there had to be something I could do,” he said.
Then last summer, with pencil and paper, he began sketching details of a rail system that could be adapted to boats affording those with disabilities accessibility to the water.
After several weeks of designing, he contacted Ranger boats to see if his ideas were even possible. Two months after that initial call, the engineering staff of Ranger began installing the first prototype of a removable rail system on his Ranger Z521 Comanche bass boat.
This invention allowed Thompson for the first time to pull himself into his boat without experiencing searing pain in his lower back. Once on the water he also found he could move himself from the driver’s seat to the bow in relative comfort. It also gave him enough support he never had to stop fishing because of unbearable pain.
The stainless steel rail system didn’t block his view while motoring across the lake and still offered access to every compartment. The additional bonus was it could be removed at any time for any reason.
“The first time we tested it, one of the engineers I went fishing with was told to count how many times I touched the rail,” Thompson noted about the maiden voyage with the new system. “I found out later he quit counting after 200.”
In February of this year, after a few modifications, Thompson’s Fish-N-Rail was unveiled to the public. Produced by Indiana based Extreme Technologies, the rail system features multiple shapes and designs allowing anglers to customize the system to fit all brands of boats and unique disabilities or impairments.
“Over 250,000 people a year have to give up fishing due to physical illness or injury,” explained Thompson. “This does not even include the number of servicemen who become injured each year.”
Because of his deep-rooted love for our country and those who protect it, he contacted military groups such as Wounded Warriors as well as civilian organizations.
“They all asked that we build these for returning troops and fishermen with prosthetic arms, hands and legs,” he explained. “Plus, the system is perfect for older fishermen who deal with balance problems.”
The Fish-N-Rail can also be specially designed for people in wheelchairs.
The greatest asset of the rail system is it provides anglers who have trouble getting around the chance to go fishing again. They are no longer hand-cuffed by their physical impairments and are not reliant on someone to else take them.
Affordably priced, the rail system is also perfect for able-bodied anglers who may fish with a disabled or older fisherman. Since the system can be set up or taken down with relative ease, it offers no drawbacks.
There is no doubt “necessity is the mother of invention,” and fishermen sit at the top of the list. Because of Thompson’s will to keep the sport he loves, others can reap the benefits.
“Because it worked so well for me, I wanted to share it with other people,” Thompson explained. “That’s the bottom line.”
For more information or to purchase the Fish-N-Rail, contact Extreme Technologies at 12142 N. Paddock Road, Camby, Ind., 46113 or by phone at 317-834-1674.
Ault competes nationally
Avid bass fisherman Aaron Ault made his mark recently while competing against our nation’s top anglers. After a lengthy and competitive qualification process, Ault earned the opportunity to take part in the Bass Federation/FLW national championship held last weekend on Tennessee’s Watts Bar Lake. It’s a huge success for any competitive angler just to qualify for this event.
After weigh-in, Ault learned he finished second in the Northern Division and 12th overall. He was one of only two people from Indiana who earned the chance to take part in the widely televised tournament.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” said Ault. “It was so hard just to get there and has been the highlight of my fishing career so far.”
Ault’s dream is to compete annually on a national level and after his recent showing, he seems well on his way.
Mother of All Morels
With the recent rains, reports of good finds of morels have been streaming in. If you happen across what you think is a fantastic fungi, enter it in this year’s Mother of All Morels contest sponsored by WWKI radio station. All you have to do is take your magnificent mushroom to the radio station office, located at 519 N. Main St. in Kokomo, during normal business hours.
This year’s winner will take home valuable prize packages from morelmania.com, Foxes Den Restaurant, an overnight stay at Morels on the Wabash and fishing equipment from this outdoor scribe and the Kokomo Tribune.
With the camping season well under way, the Howard County Recycling District is offering firewood to all Howard County residents free of charge. You can bring log splitters, chainsaws, ax or whatever you use to cut logs into burnable lengths.
The wood is available at the Yard Waste Recycling Center located at 1130 S. Dixon Rd. The Recycling Center will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. For additional details, contact the Recycling District office at 765-456-2274.
Benefit Bass Tournament
Adams Auto Group will again host a tournament benefiting this summer’s Jim “Moose” Carden Kokomo Kids Fishing Clinic. The tourney will take place on May 22 on our Kokomo Reservoir. The contest, which is open to the public, will begin at 6:30 a.m. and end with a 2:30 p.m. weigh in. A portion of the proceeds will go towards the purchase of fishing equipment and safety related items for the children who will enroll in this summers Kids Fishing Clinic.
Turkey Hunting Results
Here is this week’s list of sportsmen and women who collected birds during the second week of Indiana’s spring wild turkey hunting season which concludes May 9. This information, provided by Bryant’s Outdoors, lists standard turkey measurements which include weight, spur length (measured in millimeters) and beard length (measured in inches).
Ralph Harvey — 21 pounds, 21mm spurs, 10-inch beard; Jack Steele — 22 pounds, 23mm spurs, 11-inch beard; Joe Huey — 24 pounds, 28mm spurs, 11-inch beard; Max Elmore — 18 pounds, 5mm spurs, two-inch beard; Kim Lee — 23 pounds, 18 mm spurs, 10 _-inch beard; Tony Nutter — 19 pounds, 17mm spurs, 10-inch beard; Tom Mygrant — 23 pounds, 23mm spurs, 11-inch beard; Ken Graber — 24 pounds, 19mm spurs, 10-inch beard; Jeff Cox — 25 pounds, 23mm spurs, 11-inch beard; Rex Pavey — 25 pounds, 22mm spurs, 11-inch beard; Konner WcWhirt — 18 pounds, five mm spurs, 4-inch beard; Joe Cobian — 18 pounds, five mm spurs, four-inch beard; John Martino — 20 pounds, 22mm spurs, 11 _ -inch beard.
The team of Dave Brammer and Neal Dugger claimed the top spots at last Wednesday evening’s Kokomo Reservoir open team bass tourney with five largemouth dropping the scales at 10 pounds, 3 ounces. They also earned the weekly event’s “big bass” award with a 3-pound, 7-ounce fish. The father-and-son team of Henry and Jason Cavazos took second place with four fish totaling 7 pounds, 10 ounces.
of the Week
Addison’s Bait and Tackle in Bunker Hill: Eric and Nick Sheilds each boated their limit of crappies averaging 10 inches, during a recent outing on Misissinewa Reservoir. The father and son encountered their success using minnows.
Bryant’s Outdoor Store: Salamonie Reservoir was good to Jeff Combs and Jim Lancaster as each hauled in their limits of crappies with the largest stretching 14 inches. The fish were taken on live bait.
Malone’s Nyona Lake Bait and Tackle: Jeff Spencer caught and released a trophy largemouth bass stretching 21 inches long, tipping the scales at 5 pounds, 8 ounces. Spencer hooked his fish on an artificial lure.
Springhill Camp and Pay Pit: Joe Newlin pulled in 11 perfect eating sized channel catfish with a total weight of 19 pounds, 5 ounces. The fish were taken from the popular pay pit on night crawlers.
• John Martino is the Tribune’s outdoors columnist. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.