Sunday, May 28, 2023

RIP: Mike Nyalko

Pete (l) and Mike (r) 
If I recall correctly, I first met Mike on a walk on trip with Walleye Pete, probably back before 2013, before I retired, as I haven't been able to find a photographic record of the trip. Pete introduced him to me and told me he was a retired Marine pilot out of Patuxent River Naval Air Station. I recall catching a lot of Speckled Trout that day, near a small island close to Holland Island and the old backhoe that's still in the water there.

It wasn't until I retired, and became available for Pete's commercial hook-and-line fishing trips that I became pretty well acquainted with Mike. Mike was his favorite choice for a commercial trip, because, to put it simply, Mike was the best fisherman available, with the possible exception of Pete himself, although, in reality, that was probably the least of his accomplishments.

I remember several epic trips with Mike. One where we fished in the fog around the Holland Island and the Target Ship, and practically filled the boat. Another, with a third angler, we had a couple of cooler full of fish on the way back, and Pete spotted a few birds near shore at Cove Point, and a large bunch of big fish too. We ran out of cooler space, and came into Solomons with the deck practically awash in fish too. There was the one where he caught two giant reds (and I got spooled).  There were a few stinkers in there too. I recall a steaming hot trip up near the Bay Bridge, where fish were scarce (and I bet he caught most of the few keepers we got). 

Over time, I came to learn that Mike had been a pilot in Vietnam, and had been involved in the spraying of Agent Orange, the crude mixture of herbicides and contaminants the military used to deny cover to the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars. He had been diagnosed in the 1980s with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer that has been linked to some of the ingredients of Agent Orange. He had been fighting the disease ever since, with rounds of chemo, and even a stem cell transplant that would leave him weak and immune compromised. But as soon as he had enough strength the get back on the boat, he would.  

I know only a little of his family at this point. I know his wife was also a worker at Pax. When I told my friend the engineer (also at Pax), that Mike's wife worked at Pax, he perked up (and it takes a lot to make Tom perk up) and said, "She's the civilian equivalent of a two-star." I know she retired in the last few years. I know they had children, and grandchildren, and that his last trip on Pete's boat was with his son, earlier this year.

In the last year, I know he had been struggling with leukemia as a consequence of the repeated rounds of chemo. Pete called this morning to let me know the he had passed on Friday morning, that a service will be held for him in Leonardtown later this week, and that he will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Nyalko, Michael Alan
Birth: Wednesday, December 25, 1946
Death: Friday, May 26, 2023 at the age of 76 
Col. Michael Alan Nyalko USMC (Ret.)
December 25, 1946 - May 26, 2023
Arlington National Cemetery at a later date

I don't know what the approved final salutations are appropriate for pilots, but as someone who spent a lot of time on the water with you, fair winds and following seas. I expect the fish in heaven to have a sudden outbreak of sore lips.

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