Tragic start to the FLW Costa Series Tournament on Okeechobee.

FLW Costa Series Co- Angler Nik Kayler

FLW Costa Series Co- Angler Nik Kayler

The First Fishing League Worldwide’s (FLW) Costa Series Tournament of the season got off to a tragic start Jan. 4 on Lake Okeechobee. Hundreds of anglers launched out of Scott Driver Park on Day 1 of the competition and it wasn’t until check-in and weigh-in late in the afternoon that it was discovered one boat with two anglers didn’t return. Lake Okeechobee is a 750-square mile lake and on that day the water temperatures were in the mid 50’s with winds of 15 to 20 mph. The lake in weather like this is almost like being in the ocean — not a good match for the average bass boat.

Once realized the boaters didn’t return at their required time, fellow competitors ventured back out in search of the two. Early that morning hazardous conditions caused co-angler Nicolas “Nik” Kayler, 38, from Apopka, Florida to get tossed out of the boat. Preliminary Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation say Kayler was thrown from the boat after it struck a wave.

Unfortunately, Kayler’s body was found Wednesday morning, recovered from the lake.

Boat owner Bill Kisiah, 51, of New Orleans, tried to rescue Kayler, but suspected engine damage and water conditions hampered his efforts. Around 11:30 that night Kisiah was safely located with his boat that had drifted into some rocks. Kisiah was suffering from hypothermia and was taken to a local hospital and released the next evening.

The FWC and a band of volunteers searched through the night and all of the next day for the missing angler. There were all kinds of members of the fishing community coming together volunteering their time, boats, resources to help search hoping and praying he was stranded in the grass line that borders the massive lake. But as each hour and day and cold night passed there was no sign of Kayler. The family offered a reward for the return of their loved one.

The remaining two days of the tournament were cancelled as the search efforts took on importance. Help for search teams and boats were being called for on social media and the news channels. It was heart breaking and amazing to see the fishing community put competing aside to look for one of their own.

Nik Kayler’s half brother, Anthony Llanos, is a former water survival instructor for the U.S. Marines and was hopeful that Kayler was practicing the skills he learned as he had some survival training himself.

A former specialist on a Black Hawk helicopter, Army Veteran Kayler, whose missions included a tour of Iraq in 2003, was no stranger to the sport of competitive fishing or the FLW Circuit. He had fished over 60 events, had 13 top-10 finishes an one career tournament win.

“Please keep his family and friends in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time and as they seek closure to this unfortunate accident,” said an Anglers Channel Facebook page set up to help in the search before the body was found.

A GoFundMe campaign, which had already raised over $65,000 by noontime Thursday, has been established benefiting Nik’s wife, Kelly, and daughter, Caralee. To make a contribution, visit GoFundMe.com/Nik-Kayler.

Have a safe weekend if on the water — now more important than just a saying — and tight lines friends.