We had the opportunity to sit-down with former X-Games competitor, Paul Thacker. Paul quit his job in 2007 to pursue a competitive snowmobile career. Before a 2010 injury left him a T5 paraplegic, he competed in Speed & Style and Freestyle at X Games Aspen. On top of that, he is the world snowmobile distance jumping record holder and continues to go against the odds to pursue his passion for fly fishing.
Flylords: Who is Paul Thacker?
Paul: Oh man that’s a tough one. Basically, I am a small town guy that grew up with amazing parents that taught me how to achieve my goals through hard work. My folks owned an air taxi service growing, so my love for fishing was honed at a very young age.
Flylords: How did you go from doing backflips in the X Games to casting a fly rod?
Paul: Well the fishing definitely came first. I’ve always had an affinity for fishing since I was very young. I would constantly disappear from my daily chores and be found at the lake casting a rod. The backflips and such came later. It’s crazy how the fishing has come back full circle nowadays.
Flylords: Is catching a trophy fish as thrilling as ripping around on a snow machine?
Paul: There are definitely some similarities. Both have a science and preparation aspect to being successful.There is definitely a satisfaction to picking the right fly/bead and crushing a giant trout. Not so different than scoping out a big hit in the backcountry.
Flylords: What are some of the biggest challenges in fly fishing with such an injury and how did you overcome them?
Paul: At first, I tried to do exactly the same things as I did before I got hurt… Then quickly found out that would not be possible. It was pretty discouraging actually and I went away from it for a few years. But luckily a young lady came into my life that loved to fish.
She helped me get back into it and most importantly learned that it was ok to ask and accept help from people around you. There are always folks that want to help get you out. Swallowing my pride was a huge step to getting back out and chasing monsters.
Flylords: Who introduced you to fly fishing?
Paul: My dad fly fished when he was a kid. So, he helped early on for sure. It was rad this past year taking him to Jurassic Lake and helping him hone his skills and watching him hammer on some giant rainbows.
Flylords: What’s your favorite picture of you and why?
Paul: Man, I have a ton of great pics. I do have one that captures an Alaskan bow coming out of the water while I am in the Action Track Chair. Best part is I was fishing with my mom and she shot it.
Flylords: Favorite species?
Paul: Rainbow Trout
Flylords: Tell us about your most epic fishing memory.
Paul: So many great memories from fishing… So many great friends and family experiences. If I had to pick one, I’d have to say back when I was about 14-15 years old, I did a float trip with my dad and my uncles. We floated the Deshka River in Alaska. It was the first time I got to see my dad outside of a work environment. Such a fun trip just hanging with the guys.
Flylords: Do you remember the first fish you caught?
Paul: My first fish was an Alaskan king salmon when I was 8ish. About 20lbs. Fishing with my dad and sister and I remember how hard it was to reel in even with my pops holding the rod haha. The thing about pulled me in a few times! I remember being so excited and literally all I wanted to do from that point forward was fish.
Flylords: Tell us about your recent trip to Argentina.
Paul: Literally the best trip I’ve been on to date. We went to Estancia Laguna Verde and fished Strobel. Being from Alaska, I’ve seen and caught amazing trout, but literally nothing compared to what we experienced there. I went with my dad, my gf and her dad, Pat Kissel from Outdoors International and a couple of other friends. I kinda knew the fishing would be good, but not this crazy!
On top of that, our group was amazing and it was truly the first time my dad and I had taken a trip as adults. The lodge was unreal, the guides second to none, and the fishing was lights out. I was able to travel with an Action Track Chair so it made getting around super easy. It was a once in a lifetime experience for sure.
Flylords: Where is the next big fishing adventure?
Paul: Well I am knee deep in my winter season at the moment. Just finished up Winter X Games and now I focus on the rides we do for our veterans for the next few months. Have a trip planned late April on the Missouri River for rainbows and browns and then maybe some PNW steel on the way to Alaska for spring riding.
Flylords: What advice do you have for fly fishermen with injuries like yours?
Paul: The best piece of advice would be to not be afraid to ask for help. There is a whole community out there that caters to helping get folks out fishing. Utilize it and the more you get out, the more you will find ways to be able to do it independently. 3 years ago I would have turned down the offer to go. Now I will load up the chair, head to my favorite spot, rent hotel rooms, and fish until my heart’s content completely solo.
You can follow along with Paul on his Instagram @paulthacker11.
Interview conducted by Flylords Team Member, Collin Terchanik. Cover photo by Photo by Erik Fleischhacker (@erik_fleischhacker)