Nik Kayler fell in love with fishing when he was just 8 years old.
He had a fishing rod with a bass half his weight and fighting back. Using all the muscle he could muster, Nik put the rod on his shoulder and ran to help haul it in.
“He held that fish up and was grinning from ear to ear,” said his brother Anthony Llanos.
Kayler, who turned 38 on New Year’s Day, died doing what he loved. He was competing in the Costa Fishing League Worldwide, a well-known tournament, on Lake Okeechobee on Jan. 4.
He and his fishing partner were on a 21-foot boat when it hit a wave, throwing both into the water, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials said.
The other man — William Kisiah, 51, of Louisiana — was found on shore later that day. Authorities launched a search that included wildlife officials, volunteers and a cadaver dog.
Commercial fishermen found Kayler’s body Wednesday — nearly a week after he went overboard.
Now his family, including his wife of 16 years, Kelly, and their 8-year-old daughter, Caralee, are planning his funeral.
“His daughter is going to have to grow up without a father,” Llanos said, tearing up.
Llanos said he was so wrapped up in the search that he isn’t sure if he could feel closure.
“I don’t know what that is yet,” he said. “It’s still too fresh.”
Kayler grew up mostly in Volusia County and graduated from Pine Ridge High School in Deltona, his brother said.
Llanos said Kayler helped raise him and their other brother.
“He taught me how to brush my teeth,” Llanos said.
After high school, Kayler joined the Army as a Black Hawk helicopter mechanic and served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, his brother said.
He was discharged from the Army after about eight years.
As a civilian, Kayler worked at a car dealership and as a mechanic. But his passion was always fishing.
According to Fishing League Worldwide, he earned more than $16,000 in two years in the league. He won one tournament and was a top 10 finisher 13 times.
Ron Lappin, tournament director for FLW, said he’ll remember Kayler for his positive attitude.
“He went into it with an open mind,” Lappin said. “He was pretty accomplished at what he did.”
Kayler brought that competitive edge even when fishing with family, his brother said with a laugh.
“Every time I came home on leave [from the Marines], we’d go fishing in a little pond and have a friendly little competition,” Llanos said. “He loved it. We had such a great time.”
Another brother, Phil Kayler, wrote a post on Facebook thanking all the volunteers who helped with the search.
“It’s going to be a long road ahead but with everyone helping, we will make it,” he wrote. “Nik was an amazing guy that was loved by so many and will always be in our hearts.”
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