There are surprise birthday parties and there are life-changers.

Let kayak fisherman Dustin Murguia wrap that.

‘‘To be very honest, at my birthday five or six years ago, there was a surprise birthday party,’’ Murguia remembered.

His girlfriend, Maria Milan, had a beginning kayak from Sports Authority wrapped up.

Murguia, 40, has come a long way since that coolest of gifts. This year, he won two kayaks in the Michigan Kayak Trail: a Hobie Pro Angler at Gull Lake in July and a Hobie Outback for taking the MKT Championship on Paw Paw Lake on Oct. 7.

How does a guy go from a girlfriend’s gift to winning a Hobie PA, the ultimate in fishing kayaks?

‘‘I couldn’t wait to get into it, but because my birthday is in December, I had to wait,’’ Murguia said.

He christened it the next spring on Busse Lake.

‘‘I hit all the local lakes I hit to this day,’’ he said.

That continues on. He fishes area ponds and lakes, as well as Geneva, Como and Delavan lakes in southern Wisconsin and Gull Lake and the Kalamazoo and Grand rivers in southwest Michigan.

‘‘It was extremely portable,’’ Murguia said. ‘‘I could go to water and be in the water in five minutes.’’

Murguia, who graduated from Dominican University in River Forest, teaches middle-school social studies for District 99 in Cicero. He and Milan live in Forest Park.

‘‘I learned the basics of propulsion, all sorts of experiences,’’ Murguia said. ‘‘I didn’t think about it, just got in and started making casts.’’

So his advice for beginners makes sense.

‘‘You just have to do it,’’ he said. ‘‘You can learn the basics in a month or two.’’

Of course, it helps to be a fisherman by nature.

‘‘I would spend hours and hours fishing as a little kid,’’ Murguia said. ‘‘I really didn’t have the resources for a boat. Now with these kayaks, they are basically my boat. It has elevated how I feel about fishing. It is a life-changer.’’

In his early life, Murguia shared fishing with a mutual friend, outdoors journalist Javier Serna.

‘‘Cut lawns and ran to the Salmon Shop to buy [fishing stuff],’’ Murguia said. ‘‘Where I really learned to fish was the ponds in Palatine.’’

Those experiences made him versatile, but he said: ‘‘If I had to use one bait the rest of my life, it would a three-eighth-ounce black-and-blue jig with a black trailer.’’

Murguia still is learning, as kayak fishing shows.

‘‘It’s an extremely intimate experience, literally one with the water, a foot above it,’’ he said.

He is planning on taking part in the nationwide Kayak Bass Fishing events next year. And one other thing.

I’m entertaining the idea of opening a kayak guide service for the Chicago area,’’ he said. ‘‘I am just starting to knock on that door.’’

I hope he opens it.

Follow me on Twitter @BowmanOutside.

Dustin Murguia with a big largemouth from Mazonia State Fishing and Wildlife Area.
Credit: For the Sun-Times