May 24, 2013
Retired Marine Pilot Designs Boat Rails for Anglers With Disabilities
By Nate Matthews
Jeff Thompson started fishing with his father on Indiana's Kentucky Lake when he was six years old. In 1969 he joined the Marine Corps and bought his first bass boat in 1975. Thompson served a full tour with the Marines as a pilot, flight instructor, squadron leader, and eventually as a test pilot for the Harrier jet program. By the time he retired as a major in 1993, he had a master's degree in wing design and jet engines, and a degenerative disc disease in his spine exacerbated by years of high-G maneuvers and hard landings to the point where he could barely walk.
Despite the pain, Thompson never stopped fishing. "For almost three years I had to crawl to get up and down the deck," he said, and had to work the pedals of his trolling motors with his hands. He needed something for his bass boat that would let him pull himself to a standing position, as well as stabilize him as he moved around the boat while casting. "That's when I decided to sit down and draw up something myself," he said.
Fish' n Rails are crafted from aviation grade stainless steel to provide support and stability for anglers with disabilities. Now manufactured by EPCO Products, Inc. (and represented by Thompson), the rails come in many configurations and can be tailored to an individual's needs (as well as to the specific dimensions of his or her boat). The rails meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards and have been tested to withstand 250-pounds of sideways pressure when installed on a fiberglass boat deck.
"We currently have 20-25 of the systems out on the water," said Dwight Creger, Sales Manager for EPCO. "Our primary focus is the injured, amputees, the elderly, heart attack and stroke victims, people with balance issues, as well as those who've had hip and knee replacements. We have football players with blown out knees that use double rails to get up and down the deck."
The Fish 'n Rail system is also included on a specially designed (and patriotically wrapped) Ranger 521VX that was built to take disabled veterans (as well as active service members) from the Wounded Warriors program fishing during nationally recognized fishing tournaments. Operation Troop Salute Wounded Warrior Program, developed by EPCO (which manufacturs stainless steel bow and stern eyes for boats), and sponsored by EPCO, Evinrude, Ranger Boats, and Power Pole, is a non-profit organization created to help Thompson take injured vets out during these events. His schedule for the rest of the year follows.
June 7-9 PVA: Potomac River – Waldorf, MD
June 27-30 FLW: Lake Chickamauga – Dayton, TN
August 15-18 FLW/FWC: Red River – Shreveport-Bossier City, LA
If you're interested in fishing with Jeff, or in learning more about the Fish 'n Rail system, contact Dwight Creger at 800-879-3726, or visit the Fish 'n Rail web site.
Find more details about Thompson and the Troop Salute program in the video below: