Written by: Walter Haze
[Editor’s note: Back in March, we featured a great photo of a young angler named Matthew Owen, who had recently lost his father. Blog reader Joe Millner wrote a nice post to go along with it. Well, it seems that young Matthew has a lot of fans, since I got another email from a blog reader, Walter Haze, who suggested that we make Matthew a “Trout Bum of the Week.” Below are Walter’s pitch to me and then his post about Matthew Owen.]
The Pitch: I would like to submit a nomination to the “Trout Bum of the Week” (which I’ve noticed ya’ll haven’t had in awhile): Matthew Owen. I’m in the fly fishing club he started at his school and have witnessed first-hand the severity of his addiction to fly fishing. In the blog post it mentioned a lot about how his father paid for guide trips, which he did; however, Matthew is pretty much self-taught. He didn’t have anything given to him if that makes sense.
We live in Memphis, three and a half hours away from the nearest trout stream, so we kind of have to do with what’s local around here. Matthew took advantage of this muddy, polluted river that flows through our dirty city and pinpointed gar and carp hotspots. Seriously, this kid treks through huge distances of gross swampland to get a shot at a surface strike from gar he catches on a fly made out of nylon rope. I didn’t even know you could catch a fish on rope until he showed me! Before his mom and dad would actually allow him to make the long distance drive to Heber Springs, Arkansas, he would tell them some excuse as to why he wouldn’t be home for the whole weekend and would drive up to the river and sleep in his car just to fish. Before he had a car, I would always see him riding his road bike all over town to sneak into golf courses and other little ponds and things he discovered that no one has ever heard of. He goes the freaking distance to fish.
Did I mention that Matthew is an excellent fly tier? He ties flies in his study hall for goodness sake….
But what really makes Matthew Owen a trout bum is his amazing outlook on life, his eccentric personality, and his dedication to the sport. He’s just an all-around solid guy who is willing to go any distance just to cast a line. He introduced me to fly fishing and instilled in me a love for the sport. I just wanted to nominate him because beside all the crap he’s gone through in the past few months, dealing with his dad’s death, he is still maintains his love for life, his god, and fly fishing. I just think he deserves it. I hope you’ll consider him, Phil.
The Post: Matthew Owen is 17 years old and is among a select few that earn “trout bum” status so young. He attends White Station High School in Memphis, Tennessee, and is the president and founder of his school’s fly-fishing club. He began his fly fishing career at the ripe age of 9 and has been addicted ever since.
Matthew plans on being a guide when he grows up, and when he’s not in school or on the river, you will probably find him in his room, huddled in the corner tying up something massive to fool the local bass. He’s a solid kid with very developed and mature skills with a fly rod that rival those of men much older and experienced than him. He also has a flawless chaco tan. We asked him a series of question about his favorite sport, and below are his replies:
When did you start fly fishing?
I started fly fishing when I was around eight or nine, when my uncle took me up to the Little Red in Arkansas one weekend to relieve some stress from my parents, who were taking care of my sister who had the flu. I don’t think he had any idea what he was getting into because he gave me the bug and I’ve been bugging him ever since.
What’s your favorite river?
I’m a big fan of the Wolf River that runs through my dirty city of Memphis. I don’t think any one realizes the sheer size of the carp that reside in its feeder creeks. It’s beautiful, close to home, and I have it all to myself.
What’s your favorite fly-rod quarry?
Alligator Gar because, beside the fact that they’re HUGE, they pull extremely hard and readily take flies fished on top. It’s such a rush throwing a 9-inch nylon rope fly to a 4-foot monster just inches under the surface. Plus, I like to imagine I’m fishing with Jeremy Wade on the next episode of “River Monsters.”
What’s your most memorable fly fishing moment?
If I was to narrow it down to one moment I would have to say the beginning of this year, hooking three 20-plus-inch browns in about a mile of river on the Little Red. Best day of chucking streamers I’ve ever had, it was unreal. But really, any time spent in a boat with good company and beautiful fish.
What’s your most forgettable fly fishing moment?
I sneaked off one weekend last year to the Little Red to fish with a good buddy of mine. This was before my parents had started letting me drive that far, but that didn’t stop us. Beside the unfortunate argument with a small-town cop as to whether or not speed traps were constitutional (I’m still paying off that ticket), we actually managed to get some fishing in. My friend had a canoe that we fished out of, but we had only one car. So then who would shuttle us back to the put-in? This is where I came up with the bright idea of bringing a bicycle to bring along on the canoe. The plan was to simply ride up ten or so miles of Arkansas highway back to the car, so I could drive it back to the canoe. It sounded great on paper but two-lane highways wrapped tightly against the Ozark foothhills that were congested with bug gas trucks and crazed locals who seem to travel a hundred miles an hour zooming around the turns made for a treacherous ride. It took four hours to get back to the car, half of which were in the dark. I’ll never forget that ride.
What do you love most about fly fishing?
For me, I love that fly fishing takes me to the most beautiful places in the country and gives me a deeper and more profound appreciation for nature. I see the river as God’s canvas, and I love to admire what he painted for us all.
What’s your next dream destination?
I haven’t dipped my toes in the salt yet, and I so desperately want to go tarpon fishing. I’ve thought of the Florida Keys, and I’m sure they’re pretty great and all, but Cuban cigars are also quite appealing, as I’ll be 18 in a couple months. Castro won’t know what hit him.