When Wes Atkinson was in the hospital following an UTV accident that cost him his right arm, one of his biggest disappointments was the thought of missing float season on his beloved South Fork Boise River.
Thanks to a positive attitude, a supportive wife, helpful friends and an assist from a local outfitter, Atkinson was back on the water in six weeks — plenty of time to log a half-dozen trips in the drift boat.
“It’s been awesome, because I didn’t think I’d even get to go once,” Atkinson said. “I’ve even out-fished my friends most of the time — but can’t give them too much crap because they are rowing and tying my flies on for me.”
Atkinson’s accident happened June 15. He returned to the water July 29, using a specially-designed fly rod and reel that allows for one-handed use. John Wolter, who runs Angler’s fly shop in Boise, has ordered several different setups to help Atkinson find something he’s comfortable with.
“John has been unbelievable,” Atkinson said. “He’s got me set up with a rod I can use one-handed, and if I hook a fish, I have a belt with a holster on it where I can set the rod and use the reel one-handed.”
In just a few months, Atkinson has picked up several new tricks. He has learned to tie most fishing knots with one hand. He figured out he gets a better dry fly drift while fishing out the back of the boat. He’s even able to keep the rod in his hand and reel using just his fingers on some catches.
“I’ve caught a lot of fish, including several over 20 inches,” Atkinson said. “But I’ve also lost a lot of fish. It’s figuring out a new way of doing things, but your body gets into the habit pretty quick.”
In addition to fishing, Atkinson is planning to hunt turkey and deer this season. He’s joined the Idaho chapter of the Challenged Athletes Foundation and he and his wife, Regan, recently brought home a new miniature Australian shepherd puppy, Finley. Wes has also returned to work and says that despite the difficulties of adjusting to life with one arm, his ability to continue enjoying his passion for the outdoors helps him stay positive.
“There are hard days, but for the most part we are doing well and rolling with the circumstances,” Atkinson said. “My wife has been so great and supportive of me. And I’m really grateful for all the amazing people who have come into my life since the accident. When you have friends willing to take you out on the river and row so that you can fish, that’s pretty awesome.”
Join me for a Fish Fillet & Fry
I am offering two sections of my next fishing class, Fillet & Fry, on Nov. 6 and Nov. 13. Both classes will be offered from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the JUMP Share Studio in downtown Boise. Participants will get a hands-on lesson on how to clean, prepare and enjoy freshly caught fish. All supplies are provided, and students get their own fillet knife to keep! To sign up, visit www.tightlines208.com.
Answering fall fishing questions
My inbox has been filled with fall fishing inquiries of late. There are too many to print, but our recent Facebook Live chat covered a lot of the key topics. Check it out on the Statesman Facebook page!
Looking for fishy photos?
If cool fishing content is your jam, follow my Instagram account, @tight_lines208. Photos of recent catches, reader submissions, tips on local fishing spots, prize giveaways and info on upcoming classes are just a few of the goodies you’ll find.
Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks with him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.tightlines208.com.