Andrew Claymon Memorial Tournament
Over the course of one’s life they become known by those closest to them for specific character traits they display. It may be vice or virtue, but it is always something – for Andrew Claymon it was his passion for fishing.
This single trait is certainly not the only thing his loved ones remember him for, but the white hot intensity for which this passion burned has ignited a flame in his memory that will not soon burn out.
Each year since his death Mike and Joni Claymon, Andrew’s parents, along with a team of supporters put together a fishing tournament in his memory.
Andrew Claymon was born on August 31st, 1993, and grew up in Edwards, Colorado. Andrew’s mother Joni was raised in Arnold, Nebraska, and her father Jim Davenport taught her to fish. Each summer Jim took his family to Merritt Reservoir to fish.
Joni continued this tradition and before Andrew was 2 years of age he caught his first crappie at Merritt alongside his mom, dad, Grandpa Jim, and fishing guide Joe Dodd. Joe holds the Nebraska state record for a 3.5 ounce alewife caught on a Heddon Sonar at Merritt in 2001, but one could argue the most important fish caught from his boat was the average sized crappie that ignited the passion for fishing in young Andrew Claymon. By age 4 or 5 he could spend 8-10 hours a day on the water and beg to stay out longer when the adults deemed the fishing day was over.
In June of 2004, Andrew fished his first tournament at the age of 10 with Steve Olofson of Ogallala. It was the Optimist Club youth tournament at Lake McConaughy and Andrew’s team placed 1st. Steve was a family friend of the Claymon’s and a big time believer in Andrew’s ability to fish. “He could do a hook set on a slip bobber better than most adults. His timing was perfect,” Steve said in a 2011 LJS interview.
Andrew and Steve continued to fish the Optimist tournament each year through 2009 when Andrew became too old to participate. However, things were different for them during the 2009 tournament. Not only would it be the last year Andrew was eligible to participate but Andrew had also been battling metastatic chordoma, a rare form of cancer, for nearly six months, so his body was beaten down by aggressive chemotherapy treatments. This didn’t hinder Andrew’s desire to fish however.
It was New Year’s Day in 2009 when Andrew received his cancer diagnosis. Shortly after the diagnosis he started chemotherapy and radiation treatments to his brain and spinal column.
Nine days prior to the 2009 Optimist Club tournament Andrew found himself in the Children’s Hospital in Denver due to fever, neutropenia, malnutrition, and blood transfusions. These struggles did not break Andrew’s spirits and each morning as the doctors made their rounds he would remind them he needed to be out of the hospital no later than June 17th, so he could fish his sixth consecutive Optimist tournament with Steve. The doctors completed the task Andrew assigned to them, and he was released the night of the 16th.
Although Andrew was released from the hospital, he was still in very poor health as he had not eaten since March. He was given IV nutrition through his surgically implanted IV line and was taking about 10 pills a day to try and manage his nausea. These circumstances did not cause Andrew to seek the comforts of his home but rather he sought refuge in his passion for fishing – chasing his next bite. Open water and tight lines were medicine for the soul of the boy whose body was failing him. On June 20th Andrew fished his final tournament with his partner Steve.
After the Optimist tournament Andrew went on to fish seven days straight at Merritt with his family. He also spent a day casting spinnerbaits for walleye with his friend, John Bauer, owner of Merritt Trading Post.
The chemotherapy treatments continued until December 2009. At that time a CT scan revealed a large mass in his right lung. The doctors stopped all curative treatment at that point due to the lack of treatment options. Andrew’s prognosis was bleak – the doctors gave him 6 to 12 weeks to live. As you might imagine Andrew didn’t live just 6 or 12 weeks longer, instead he lived to the fullest for seven more months.
During these seven months Andrew was able to live out a couple dreams he had. He had always wanted to own his own boat. So that winter Mike and Joni bought him one. Andrew sat on it for the first time on February 24, 2010, and named it the “Walleye Whacker.” He was able to fish from his boat on many occasions including trips to Falcon Lake in Texas and Table Rock in Missouri. As soon as the ice thawed in Nebraska, he was able to fish his beloved Merritt Reservoir several times.
Another dream he had was to work at his favorite bait shop, Merritt Trading Post. During the spring of 2010 he spent several weeks working alongside his friend John Bauer. During this time he and Joni were staying in a camper at Merritt and when Andrew became too weak to fish from the boat he fished from shore.
Andrew caught his last fish from the shores of Merritt on June 28, 2010 – eight days before he died. Andrew was 16 years old.
After Andrew's cancer was deemed terminal Hospice had given him a "My Wishes" packet. Initially he looked it over and worked on it some. There was a question in the packet about how he would want his memory kept alive after he died. He didn't pay much attention to the question – he still had plenty life to live.
Seven months later during one of the last days of Andrew's life he and his mother Joni were in the camper talking when he was too sick to fish. Joni mentioned the "My Wishes" packet and the question about how he would want his memory kept alive. Joni says Andrew just shrugged when she first brought it up. He hadn't given it much thought. Joni then suggested having a fishing tournament in his memory; an adult/youth tournament like the one he and Steve used to fish. After hearing the idea his eyes lit up and he had a small grin on face. "That would be cool," Andrew said. Cool indeed.
In its first four years the tournament has had over 100 participating teams. Starting with 17 teams in 2011 they grew to 38 teams in 2014. This is a testament to how well the tournament is run and the significance of the young man the tournament is named for.
The 2015 Andrew Claymon Memorial tournament will be held at Merritt Reservoir on Saturday June 13th from 7am – 3pm. There will be three divisions: 1 Child: 10 and under / 1 adult, 1 Child: 11 – 17 / 1 adult, and 2 Children / 1 adult. Each division competes against itself for the top 3 places. There will be over $5,000 in prizes and all participants receive a t-shirt and hat, and the children all receive fishing medals.
There is no deadline to sign up. Everyone who wants to fish will be given the opportunity – Andrew would have wanted it that way.