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A blessing in disguise: Zach Knuckey finds peace with custom fishing rods

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Video/photography by KBJR 6 photographer Alex Laitala

DULUTH, Minn. -- Zach Knuckey is anything but an average 31-year-old fisherman.

At age 24, his life changed forever.

"I was walking out to go ice fishing with three of my buddies, and my bootlace came undone. So I bent down to tie by bootlace, and when I stood up, I got pain in my back, it shot down my legs, and five seconds later I was down on the ice, paralyzed from the waist down," he said.

That was December 15, 2012. After weeks of confusion, Knuckey was finally diagnosed with a spinal stroke and a pulminary embolism, seemingly from out of nowhere. A doctor at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN told him that he'd regain minimal function, and probably never walk again.

Devastating news, but not a diagnosis that would define him.

Since his injury, Knuckey has regained some strength in his legs, and has walked a mile on his own. He was forced to leave his previous job doing painting and drywall, but was able to find his own niche in fishing.

Knuckey learned how to build custom fishing rods from his great uncle. He uses St. Croix blanks to create unique rods for any type of fisherman, and began selling them.

He's made custom UMD Bulldog fishing rods for the coaching staff of the men's hockey team, along with other local sports teams.

"Proctor, Hermantown, Duluth East, Cloquet, we've built a little bit of them all."

Building out of his workshop, Zach says he's currently shipping out over 50 rods a year.

"I was doing painting and drywall before all this happened. And so if I would have never had this stroke, I wouldn't be building fishing rods, I wouldn't be taking people out on the lake, I'd still be doing painting and drywall. So now I'm living by dream. I'm doing everything I ever wanted to do."

He loves to fish and runs a guide service as well. Knuckey can drive, launch/land a boat, and best of all, find the fish. He calls his new life a blessing in disguise,.

"This injury has made my dreams come true. I don't walk anymore, but I drive the pickup truck, I stand at the boat. You should see some of the looks that I get at the lake, I enjoy it."

For information on Zach's Waters Edge Guide Service, click here.

Matt Halverson

Sports Anchor and Reporter

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