South Mississippi can offer hunters and fishermen many challenges. Most require friends helping friends out in terms of landing a trophy fish or deer. But what Al Eldridge of Ocean Springs did last week in landing a 24.4-pound tripletail defies the odds.
When it comes to tripletail fishing, the general rule requires a minimum of two anglers on board - if not three. One drives the boat around the structure and one will cast the lure or bait. A third person will dip the fish in a net to complete a successful landing.
Eldridge was able to locate, fight and land the fish by himself. And did so with a left arm that damaged in an automobile accident in February 2012.
''I lost the arm three inches below the elbow in the accident,'' Eldridge said. ''The surgeon said my right arm was dislocated off at the wrist. They were able to put the right arm back together but they were not confident it would be the same again.
''Eight days after they accident, when I came to, I could not feel my right hand. So I got a taste of what it's like to be without either. There's a big difference in missing one arm than both. Now, my right arm is better than the surgeon ever thought it would be.''
First up for Eldridge after the accident was getting back to work as a salesman in the home health field. The second goal was to hit the water again and continue his love for fishing so he purchased a prosthetic arm.
The 53-year-old father of two, would later remove the prosthetic arm while learning how to launch a 17-foot boat. He kept it off as he learned how to cast a fishing pole and eventually battle some of the strongest fish in the Sound. He even overcame the disability and learned how to use a dip net and hold the pole at the same time.
''I could not fish last summer because my right arm was still messed up and I wasn't able to move around the boat,'' he said. ''Now that the pain is better, I am able to fish again. I have to admit that tying knots is tough and that was the first hurdle I had to overcome. That's when I figured out I was better off without the prosthetic arm and I took it off.
''I use spinning gear [reel] instead of level wind because I can stick the butt of the rod under my arm pit and lay the reel over the notch of my elbow. If I'm fighting a big fish, I can rotate around and let the rod go over my body. I've learned to be more patient.''
This summer saw Eldridge land a 17-pound tripletail before he came face-to-face with the 24.4-pound fish. Before that, the biggest tripletail landed weighed 12-pounds.
"I try to make sure the fish is tired before I grab the dip net,'' he said. ''That 24.4-pounder was at the boat three times and took off all three times. I had to back the boat away from the piling three times while fighting the fish. It's kind of like juggling.
''When something like this [car accident] happens, you have to collect yourself and go forward. Whether personal or professional, life brings us tough times. I was not going to fold up and quit. Once I got back to work, I wanted to fish again. It was a challenge and there were some things that I had to work around. But I was not going to quit fishing.''
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