“Your heart goes out to his family and friends,” says Johnson, who along with fellow Lebanon residents Drew Boggs and Joey Mallicoat often fish the same type of regional FLW (Fishing League Worldwide) tournaments in which the accident occurred. “It hits close to home for every tournament fisherman.”
Mallicoat and Boggs agreed:
“The fishing community is a very tight-knit group of people, and to hear about one of our own getting into an accident always cuts deep,” Mallicoat says. “My thoughts and prayers go out to Nik Kayler and his family.”
Kayler, 38, of Apoka, Fla., was thrown overboard when his boat struck a wave on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee during a Jan. 4 tournament. His partner in the boat said he was unable to rescue Kayler because of motor problems and rough lake conditions. The partner was eventually rescued, suffering from hypothermia. Kayler’s body was recovered a few days later.
“I don’t know anything about what happened other than what I’ve read,” Johnson says. “But I know that Lake Okeechobee is a massive lake, and if someone is floating somewhere out there it could be hard to find them.”
FLW tournament rules require competitors to wear a life jacket at all times, and competitors fish in two-man teams for enhanced safety.
Most fishermen who advance to the professional level are veteran, experienced boat operators who are familiar with standard safety procedures. That’s why the incident serves as a stark reminder for pro and amateur anglers alike: if it can happen to an expert, it can happen to anyone.
“It can happen to the most experienced boater,” Mallicoat says. “Always wear your life jacket and kill-switch while operating a boat.”
Following the Florida incident, a fisherman drowned in Center Hill Lake. The accident occurred Jan. 10 when the 66-year-old Cookeville man fell out of his boat while fishing alone. The victim was reportedly an experienced fisherman and an advisor to the Tennessee Tech Fishing Team. Rescue authorities said he was not wearing a life jacket.
In Tennessee, adult boaters are not required to wear a life jacket – simply to have one aboard the boat -- although it is advised, especially when fishing alone or during inclement conditions. Children are required to wear a life jacket whenever the boat is underway, including trolling or drifting.
Johnson, Boggs and Mallicoat, all of whom have enjoyed success on the FLW circuit and in other mid-level pro tournaments, say the recent tragedy won’t deter their 2018 plans and schedules.
But they agree that the incident will be on their minds, and on the minds of other professional anglers around the country.
“A boating accident can happen in a split-second, and it can happen to anyone,” Johnson says. “We all need to remember that.”