Owen Gayler is a fly fishing guide on the Texas Coast, a conservationist, and the very first Duck Camp ambassador.
Nacogdoches, TX isn’t exactly a breeding ground for fly guides. It’s a landlocked town of about 30,000 and is home to cattle ranches, chicken producers and a lot of hard work. While there aren’t famous fly fisheries, major waterways or trendy fly shops in Nacogdoches, it’s where our long-time friend and ambassador Owen Gayler is from. And if you know him, that makes a lot of sense.
Owen has become one of more sought after fly guides on the Texas coast. He’s placed in some impressive, competitive tournaments that he won’t tell you about. And he’s one of the more honest folks we’ve been around.
None of that happened by accident.
He grew up as the son of a lineman at a power company. His father worked long hours during the week so the weekends were set aside for fishing, hunting and working at his grandfather’s ranch as a family. In typical Texan fashion, Owen shot his first deer at the age of 8 and as soon as he got his license he started exploring the rivers and streams on his own.
By the age of 13, his gritty love for the outdoors turned into real paying work - not as a lawn mower for neighbors or a bagboy like a lot of early jobs. He started cowboying.
He was, by the far, the youngest of his peers. It’s here he developed a deep need to respect those who are ahead of him. In other words, he learned cowboy etiquette.
Be the first to do the hard job.
Never trot in front of someone else.
Open the gate before anyone else can get to it.
Do the job without expecting praise.
Tip your hat to your elder.
Small things that, he might not have known at the time, would affect his approach to his life as a guide.
Owen worked through high school and college as a day working cowboy from ranches to cell barns. It was during this time he felt the call to the coast. He’d spend any and all free time in Port Aransas while crashing in friends’ RVs trying.
To help pay for his coastal obsession, he’d go to the docks trying to wrangle jobs on a charter. One of those days, a fist fight between two crewmen broke out and he decided to jump in and fix it. The Captain saw the entire scene and told him he’d fit in just fine. He had a job.
After college, Owen continued his cowboy career out of obligation to start a family and make ends meet. He built his business and got to be about as big as a young man could be in an older man’s world. But he was restless. After a divorce and downward trends in the cattle market, he kept asking himself “What do I want my life to look like?”
Turns out, it looked like moving to the coast full time.
He spent the next few years teaching himself everything he needed to know about catching redfish on the flats - all while working charters to put bread (and a little bit of tequila) on the table.
By this point, his fly fishing interest turned into a deep obsession.
It was around this time that one of the more pivotal, tide shifting “life” moments happened.
A guy named Cullin Bacak pulled into the dock one day on a snapper boat. Owen was there with his skiff and Cullin asked him if he wanted to clean some fish. The conversation evolved (as they often do with Owen), they talked fly fishing and they exchanged numbers.
Pretty soon, Owen got a text asking if he wanted to guide in an upcoming redfish tournament.
That tournament turned out to be Borracho Pescador - a Texan fly fishing community staple.
“Who am I guiding?”
Insert text bubbles…
Response: “Paul Pucket.”
Owen knew exactly who that was.
That was their first of many trips together and it involved a failed motor and a four hour delay to get on the water.
Owen wasn’t happy but Paul was, of course, cool about it.
Their rough start became the talk of the tournament and especially the house they were staying that week. Their roommates happened to be JT Van Zandt, Tim O’Brien, Mackey, and Deany…not intimidating at all.
Owen turned what could have been a credibility-killing moment into a pretense-killing moment. That week they formed quick bonds and it ended with a phone call from Van Zandt.
He told Owen that Port O’Connor would be a great spot for him to guide and if he’d do it to go all in and with respect for those who were there before him.
JT noticed that Owen was like a magnet for the other guides and clients.
Owen was respectful but without BS.
He looked you in the eye without judgment.
He was confident without being intimidating.
He was good at his job without having to tell you about it.
He had cowboy etiquette.
Today, Owen now guides over 200 days a year in Port O’Connor and has dove head first into the community there.
In the beginning, he had to tread lightly with the older generation of guides in town but he earned their respect with his persistence, knowledge of the fishery and humility.
It’s something he’s sadly noticed has fallen away with newer guides in the area. So, like his friend JT Van Zandt, he’s making it a point to encourage them follow suit.
And he’ll tell you that if the respect isn’t reciprocated from newer guides, they’ll be sure to hear about it from him.
At the end of the day, Owen Gayler guides with a lot of craft, know-how and hat tips.
So with that, we’ll tip ours to you.
– The Duck Camp Team