By Tom Holmes
Dustin Murguia has come in first in four kayak bass fishing tournaments in just the last two years. How can it be that a guy living in the center of the country's third largest metropolitan area of nearly 10 million people has excelled in a sport that takes place primarily in natural settings?
The answer began when the now 41-year-old was growing up in Forest Park. His family owned what he called a "shack" — no electricity and "you did number two in a hole in the ground"— in southwestern Michigan on one of the small bodies of water that dot the area.
Coming from this village with big city access, he was engulfed in the noise of car horns and tires on pavement, of airplanes overhead and the el.
But when he got out of his grandfather's van at the shack, the sounds came from croaking frogs and chirping crickets and the wind in the branches of trees. The first thing he would do after escaping from the van would be to run down to the pier to see if he could spot a blue gill or a crayfish.
He got "hooked" on fishing. His uncle gave him an old rod with a line, a sinker, and a bobber without a reel. He'd put a worm on the hook, drop the line in the water and spend the day fishing on the dock while the grown-ups were out in a boat on the lake.
His family would also make longer trips to the Hayward area in northern Wisconsin.
"I could spend the entire day," he recalled, "rain or shine, out on the pier staring at my bobber and waiting for it to move. If I ran out of bait, I'd flip over some rocks and grab a few worms. The patience I showed for fishing was odd considering my behavior when I wasn't. I was a very impulsive child. I think more children in urban areas should be exposed to the pulse of nature and the joy of catching a fish."
After graduating from Forest Park Middle School, Murguia moved to Palatine to live with his father, to a town which in those days felt a bit more rural than it does now. He remembers riding his 10-speed bike while carrying his rod and tackle box to one of the ponds in the surrounding area.
"While the other guys were chasing girls," he recalled, "I was chasing fish."
He also got "hooked" on fishing shows on TV like In-Fisherman and Midwest Outdoors and would read Bassmasters magazine, cover to cover, several times.
"I had such a small area to fish from as an adolescent," he recalled. "It was basically the sub-division ponds that were all very similar in size and contour. But I made it work. Most of the fundamentals of bass fishing and casting I learned from the countless hours practicing at these locations."
After graduating from college, he got "distracted by life" and pursued other interests, going fishing only occasionally. Then six years ago his wife, Maria, bought him a cheap kayak from Sports Authority. This was the gift that kept on giving. His "starter" kayak got him back on the water more consistently, and while paddling around the main lake at Busse Woods near Schaumburg, he bumped into a guy who told him about kayak bass fishing tournaments, the CPR (catch, photo and release) method, and the online application called "Tourney X."
Murguia entered the Michigan Kayak Trail during the 2017 season. He felt intimidated by the other fisherman who looked "so professional" in their state-of-the-art kayaks and gear, but he figured he had nothing to lose by reconnecting with what had been the love of his life.
He placed 17th out of 120-plus anglers and realized he could compete. He placed in the top 10 in his second event and his third time out in his small, beginner's plastic kayak, Murguia outfished the entire field at the Gull Lake Marine MKT Grand River Event. The prize was a 12-foot Hobie Mirage Pro Angler, which, according to Murguia, is the Mercedes Benz of kayaks.
A Pro Angler is built specifically for the angler with plenty of storage, adjustable seating and incredible stability — you can stand and fish. And it's powered by pedaling (Mirage Pedal Drive) instead of paddling, which frees both hands for fishing. He won another Hobie Outback two months later, taking first place in the Michigan Kayak Trail Championship on Paw-Paw Lake in Michigan.
This year he won two more competitions. The prizes included thousands of dollars, hundreds of dollars in gear and, yes, more kayaks. Murguia won the 2018 MKT Championship taking home a VIBE Maverick 120 Stand Up Paddleboard, and earned a Bonafide SS127 Kayak by outfishing the state's best anglers at the Illinois Kayak Bass League Championships last month on Lake Jacksonville.
While he appreciates the prize money, Murguia is keeping his day job as a middle school social studies teacher in the near west suburbs. The prize money he has won barely pays for his expenses — thousands spent on gear, gas, food and lodging. Teaching is also a good fit for him because three months off in the summer allows him to pursue his passion in ways many professionals cannot.
He loves teaching, but it comes with much stress and he says kayak fishing is a wonderful antidote to the emotional drain that goes with his profession.
"Fishing is my miracle drug," he noted. "It is a cure-all with no side effects. It is the healthiest way to cope with the rigors of life and puts you in closer contact with nature — to the natural rhythms of our planet."
He enjoys the competitive aspect of CPR kayak fishing, which he believes to be the fastest growing segment of the sport fishing industry, but he also loves the connection with nature. The high-end bass fishing boats seen on TV programs are incredible but come with limitations — they're costly, noisy and use gasoline. You need a truck to tow it and space to store it. A kayak is virtually silent which disturbs neither the fish he wants to catch nor the wildlife along the shoreline. He has floated to within feet of birds, turtles and even deer.
"The thrill of competing is hard to beat," he said, "but I'd be doing the same thing if the competitions did not exist. Fishing is my slice of pleasure in life. Prizes are cool but this won't make you rich. Happiness and the camaraderie of the kayak fishing community are the true rewards. I'm also able to spend long hours with my loved ones — they often accompany me on my travels."
Maria plays an important role in his avocation, accompanying him on his travels to tournaments. Though not hooked on fishing, she will help him get the kayak in the water early in the morning and spend the day hiking nearby trails or exploring state parks with Lewis, their faithful Border Collie mix. She often settles for enjoying a ride on her own Hobie kayak with Lewis included.
A move from the crowdedness of the Chicago area may be somewhere in the near future.
"I'd like to relocate to a more rural setting and continue teaching," Murguia said. "I could imagine being a part-time kayak guide and writing about my travels and experience. My dreams remain the same as they ever were. A small home and an uncomplicated life, a loving wife, a pleasant dog and a piano to play. And of course, the ability to fish more often."