Owen Whitehead

As many of you know I started www.maineflyfish.com 20 years ago. I started it because there were little to no resources out there for fly fishermen.  Over the years it has become the go to place for fly fishing information around the state. I’ve met people and had opportunities I wouldn’t have had if not for the website. It has absolutely opened doors for me. 

About 5 years ago a 17 year old kid named Owen was working on his senior project and asked me to help. I gave him some www.maineflyfish.com swag, did an interview, never to hear from him again. That is until this spring. 

My son has always wanted to catch a shark on a fly so we were planning a trip to Florida over school break.  I was tying some shark flies and happened to post a picture of it on Instagram. Not long after,  I got a message. “ Hey Kevin I don’t know if you remember me but I’m that kid that interviewed you and did that fishing project on your website www.maineflyfish.com   when I was in high school.  I saw you guys were coming to Islamorada and I live there now. If you guys want to catch some tarpon on foot, I’ve got a couple spots we can throw some flies. Let me know. -Owen”.  So for the next several weeks Owen and I stayed in touch. Conversing on flies, fishing spots and all thing fishing!  This made the trip just a little more exciting.

Jax and I drive to Florida every year because plane tickets double over school break. Plus I get him all to myself for two days in the car and we can pack as many fly rods and as much fly gear as we can fit in the car!

One of my favorite stops on this trip is in Jupiter, Florida. We fish with my buddy Dino who guides in the area. I love walking outside at 3:30 am and feeling the warm air, stopping at the same convenience store for coffee and snacks and getting on the boat by 4 am. Within minutes we are seeing our first dock lights and throwing out our first casts.  By  9 am we are eating breakfast, talking about our morning. It’s one of the coolest fishing experiences. One everyone should try.


We got to our hotel around 1 pm and got settled in. We plan to meet Owen for dinner and do a little fishing in one of his secret spots to try for a baby tarpon. We meet at Dillions, a favorite pub amongst the locals . The crunchy grouper and wings were amazing.

Now it was time for tarpon.  It was a cool spot where we could see fish moving as it got darker. But the darkness also brought the No see ums. We fished until we couldn’t stand it anymore, then ventured over to the houseboat Owen was staying on.

It was small but had everything he needed. A bed, refrigerator, couch and a tying area. Owen told us he had planned to become a fishing guide since he was 13. He has even gotten his captain license. Owen was able to put both of us on our first tarpon brought to hand! I’d say he’s off to a good start. 

The next couple days we rented a boat in hopes of catching a shark. Sounds simple doesn’t it? It’s a shark, put out chum, get them to the boat, throw a fly and hook one, right? Wrong! We bought frozen chum the day before and let it thaw. We thought it would make it easier for the sharks to find. It did work, we had over 30 sharks come to the boat but we couldn’t get them to even look at the fly. We soaked the fly in the chum and still no shark on the fly. We had mangrove snappers eat the chum and take a fly which entertained us for hours while waiting for sharks. No sharks but I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. I got to spend hours on the water with my son. Time I truly love.

We met Owen each night to check out a different spot.The last night was the highlight of the trip. We met up with Owen for the last time and came up with a plan, walk into a resort we were not guests of and fish from their dock. I do not recommend this but it was fun. Owen told us to let him do the talking as we approached the guard hut but soon veered to the right when he noticed there were several guards at the entrance. As we walked down the road we saw a path that led to the ocean. If we got into the water they couldn’t do anything to us. My question was, how do we get back out? Owen didn’t seem concerned so we fished. We were looking for bone fish so we had 6 weight rods and 6 lb tippet with small shrimp flies. I told Jax to cast out as far as he could, let the fly sink to bottom and do small jerky strips. He throws out and quickly has one on! As we turn to see what he has, a tarpon, approximately 40 lbs, blasts out of the water and instantly spits the fly! We are all laughing and excited at this fish! Keep in mind we had 30 sharks come to our fly in this same water we are now wet wading waist deep in and it’s getting dark. Jax and I get nervous and get out of the water but Owen continues to cast, moving down the shore not phased by the situation at all. Once he sees we are out of the water he decides we should go fish off the pier. I wanted to check it out but also didn’t want to get kicked out of here.  We could see snapper and tarpon just on the shadows edge. Guests from the resort come out and started talking to us about fishing. One had hooked a tarpon the night before with a live shrimp. Before I could say anything Jax hooked into a snapper and Owen was casting to the tarpon. The snapper was the only fish landed that night but Owen hooked several small tarpon on my SBG Streamer. Finally at 11pm we said our goodbyes to him but not before he left us with a place to try for peacock bass on our way up state the next day.

We headed out early the next morning, leaving just enough time for one last fishing adventure before our long journey home. We had to try our luck on the peacock.  The cool thing about Florida, you can fish most ditches, canals and little ponds and find peacock bass, largemouth bass or carp. You just need to be careful of alligators, fire ants, poisonous spiders and snakes. We were able to get a few small ones right where Owen had said.  Even the small ones put up a hell of a fight. It was a good way to end our fishing trip.  

Or so we thought. A fishing trip would not be a fishing trip without something going wrong and that something hit us in Georgia.  When we left in the morning my truck started to shake and rattle. I shut it off and turned it back on. It ran fine but the check engine light was now on. I decided to head for home and hope for the best.  It ran fine the rest of the day and we landed in Virginia for the night. We got up the next day to find the truck running the same as the day before and once again we headed for home. We made it as far as Gardener, Maine. There we sat, in the rain, waiting for a ride. We almost made it home.  At least we got to Maine.

We had an absolute blast fishing with Owen that week and honestly can’t wait to do it again.  He took us to some cool places and we were able to meet some new people. Both Jax and I decided this was our best trip to the Keys. It wasn’t about the fish it was about time spent together. We bonded and just had fun, no stress. It was an adventure we will not soon forget and it will be hard to beat but we will certainly try. 

Kevin McKay and Stacy Chiasson