As reported previously on BassFan, FLW Tour regular Bill Chapman had to cancel his 2005 season due to a back injury he suffered in late December 2004. Thanks to his chiropractor, and his own
rehabilitation efforts, he's almost pain-free again – which makes him think he may have jumped the gun a bit.
In 2004, Chapman missed the FLW Tour Championship for the first time in 5 years on the Tour. So this season, when he hoped to regain the form that earned him four consecutive Championship berths and more than $170,000 in winnings, has turned into one of recuperation, restlessness and some regret.
He's now faced with having to requalify through the Northeastern EverStarts, and he can hardly wait to start the process.
No Christmas Present
Chapman injured the L5 disc in his lower spine on Dec. 26. "It's really strange what happened," he said. "I was taking a shower, and when I bent over (to pick up a bar of soap), my back went out and I just hit the floor.
"I've had kidney stones. I once had my leg snapped in two when it got run over by a trailer. I've fallen off several power poles. But I've never felt pain like what was in my back."
He tried to nurse the injury at home for a few days. Crutches helped, but the pain persisted and intensified, and gave no signs that his back would just ease back into place. He called his doctor for an appointment, but instead received a referral to a chiropractor.
"The doctor said I'd either need surgery or a chiropractor," he said. "Surgery scared me to death, so I went to see the chiropractor."
The injury was later diagnosed as a protruding disc. "Some people call it a slipped disc," he said. "Mine (the L5) is the last one down toward the hip, and it serves as a cushion between the vertebrae."
What makes the injury so confounding to Chapman is the fact that he's never had a history of back trouble, even after years of construction work, hardcore tournament fishing and the associated time behind the wheel of a boat and tow vehicle.
"I've been fishing (Lake) Erie for years now, and you've got some horrendous boat rides on that big pond," he said. "And living where I live (West Virginia), I'm driving at least 15 hours to get to practically any tournament. Everybody out here has their aches and pains, but I really don't know what could've caused (the injury). I must have picked up too big a bar of soap."
Flipping Out At Home
On a scale of 1 to 10, Chapman rated his initial pain at 10, but it quickly got down to the 5-6 range after the first few manipulations made by his chiropractor. After repeated office visits and some customized exercises at home, the pain is now down to a 1.
"(The back) is doing well," he said. "The pain that I have now is just a dull, aggravating thing, kind of like a mild headache – nothing a 7-pounder couldn't cure. I do my stretching exercises and lift some weights to strengthen those muscles.
"I haven't been back to the chiropractor for a while. I'm not back to normal, but I think I'm tournament-ready. I just worked a show where I was on my feet for 4 straight days. Concrete is a lot harder than the front of my boat."
Virtually pain-free and having missed four FLW Tour events, he's trying not to think how the season could have been salvaged. "In a way, I really regret pulling the plug," he said. "But there's no way I could've competed in the first and probably the second tournament. I was on crutches when I made the decision.
"It feels terrible sitting here. It's hard to describe. After doing it for 5 years, and doing it pretty well, you have to sit home and look at the Internet to see how everybody's doing."
Chapman hasn't been on the water at all this year, even now that he's close to 100 percent. Instead, he's been keeping busy with sponsor work and gearing up for the EverStarts and some smaller tournaments. He doesn't believe the injury will be a factor in how he fishes once he returns to action.
Chapman lost his Tour status and will have to 'EverStart over' – but he'll try the Bassmaster Opens, too.
"Well, I can only hope it won't," he said. "I have a brace I can wear if I need to, but I honestly don't think it'll be a problem. I stand here in my living room pitching and flipping a jig all day, and it doesn't hurt at all."
Since 2000, Chapman's first on the FLW Tour, the EverStarts have served mostly as opportunities to supplement his FLW winnings. Now they're his ticket back to the Tour.
He has to finish in the Top 10 of the Northeast Division to qualify for next year's FLW Tour – or finish in the Top 40 to qualify for, and then win, the EverStart Championship. His quest begins June 1.
"Of course I think I can (requalify), but you know how fishing goes," he said. "I've actually done really well fishing the EverStarts. I won the first one I ever entered back in 1999 (on Georgia's West Point Lake), and last year I finished 6th in (the Northern) points."
All four stops on the schedule are waters where he believes he'll do well. "We start on my all-time favorite lake (Kerr Lake)," he said. "Then we fish Erie, which is my second favorite, even though it's in Cleveland, and I'm more familiar with the east end.
"I've never been to the Potomac River, but I grew up fishing the Ohio, and river fish are river fish. It's tidal water, but I like that too. And the last one is at Champlain. You can't go wrong with Champlain, and I've done well there historically."
Whether a Top 10 points finish or some sort of FLW exemption for next year materializes, he said he plans to give the BASS Northern Opens a shot too. "This will be the first year I've ever tried BASS," he said. "(Competing there) is the same old game, just some different faces. You've still got to beat the fish, not other fishermen.
"I can make one (of the two tours), if not both. But I'd prefer FLW, just because I've been with them so long. I fished the Buckeye Division of the Red Mans, then the BFLs, the EverStarts and, finally, the FLW Tour. I've worked my way up from the bottom. It's hard to switch (to BASS) midstream."
Missing out on last year's Championship and this year's season only has him more motivated to prove himself all over again.
"I will win an FLW Tournament one of these days," he said. "In five seasons, I've had a 2nd, a 3rd, a 6th, plus two other Top 15s, and I made it to four Championships. Last year I didn't (qualify) for the first time. That hurts your pride. That's why I've been standing in my living room pitching and flipping at my target all day every day – I'm chomping at the bit to get back.
"I've got to step it up a notch to make (the Top 10), and I'm going to bear down hard on 'em."
> After enduring his injury, Chapman said: "I have sympathy for anyone with back pain. I suddenly gained a whole new level of appreciation for it."