Behind the Scenes with Oregon Inlet's Fishing Legends

The only fishing report from the Outer Banks you'll ever need

Oregon Inlet Fleet Leaving For Marlin Fishing

Oregon Inlet Fishing-Isms

The Oregon Inlet fleet leaves for offshore fishing.Tom Spencer

Many times the –isms in our lives are created to fill a need. Our political and moral beliefs benefit most from the addition of an –ism. At the same time our theories, attributions and doctrines line up neatly for ease of understanding when they are transformed by the –ism. And just now, if you will humor me, we will discover the basic theories of a fishing destination nearly 80 years in the making…the Oregon Inlet-isms.

Oregon Inlet Fishing Historic Photos
Big marlin always head for deeper water when hooked.Courtesy of Jordan Crosswait

When asked by author Heather Maxwell about the existences of “true-isms” in fishing, famed wireman Charles Perry replied, “There are no true-isms in fishing. Except big blue marlin will always run for deeper water when hooked. Even big black marlin on the Barrier Reef head for deeper water. I haven’t caught many blue ones out of Oregon Inlet but they all went for the deeper water. The big ones are smart like that.”

Oregon Inlet Fishing Historic Photos
A historic photo from Oregon Inlet's fishing legacy.Courtesy of Jordan Crosswait

Capt. Omie Tillett always said that blue marlin were like elephants and they are – have you compared the size of an Islander lure to even the bill of a rat blue one? In the old days the style was to chase the fish. Today, charter boats still carry only one mate and blue marlin still have a 10 or so bait spread to choose from. Everyone keeps a pitch bait at the ready and hopes to be able to bait and switch that fish to the rod and reel combo for which it is best suited. But stuff happens, just like it did in the 70s. Big fish plus dink rig equals bad news.

Carolina boat fishes out the Oregon Inlet
This Carolina boat fishes out the Oregon Inlet.Photo by Pat Ford

"I don't think the modern technology of the boats makes a lot of difference," says Capt. Jessie Granitzki of Bi-Op-Sea. "It's more to do with who is behind the wheel." And he may be right. Today's captains may be more aggressive. There are no world records on spliced line. Work the fish, don't let the fish work you.

white marlin leaps out the water in the Oregon Inlet
A white marlin leaps out the water in the Oregon Inlet.Courtesy of Swordfish Sportfishing

Oregon Inlet has experienced a recent run on white marlin with fish balling baits in the shallow waters, birds cutting bait and anglers getting more than 30 shots a day. This cycle of the ocean has produced a cult following of anglers, a lot of controversy (dead bait vs. live bait; pitch vs. troll) and even spawned a new tournament. "Before that bite the fish were always over 500 fathoms" states Capt. Arch Bracher of Pelican fame. "On a normal bite I would say that 75 percent of the time you would never know that there were white marlin out there without putting a bait in the water." According to Granitzki there has never been a truer Oregon Inlet-ism. "Arch always said you just have to fish for them and that's the truth!"

Paul Spencer historic photo fishing Oregon Inlet North Carolina
Historic photo from the Oregon Inlet fishing legacy.Courtesy of Heather Maxwell

Capt. Billy Maxwell of Tuna Fever spends what little time he is not building boats or running his charters thinking about tuna fish. "Tuna are the smartest fish in the sea" attests Maxwell. "They change the rules every day, they eat something different every day, they are unpredictable and hard as hell to catch." While he won't guarantee he has never hooked a bigeye on a sunny day, Maxwell does agree they bite better on a cloudy one.

Capt. Omie Tillett historic photo Oregon Inlet North Carolina NC
Watch out for the gravedigger.Courtesy of Heather Maxwell

The gravedigger is that one little mahimahi that flips through the air on the edge of the grass and tells the fisherman, “Here is the school.” “That fish digs a grave for all the other ones,” says Tillett. Capt. Charles Haywood agrees: “It’s steady action, they are the prettiest fish and the charters have more fun catching them, it’s like fishing in a barrel when you get a school behind the boat.”

Stream Weaver off Oregon Inlet North Carolina NC
You can't catch yesterday's fish.Courtesy of Swordfish Sportfishing

Our current, regardless of the wind, averages about 2½ knots to the northeast, all day, every day. One of my many jobs is updating tunafever.com, our charter boat website. On the site I have written the fishing report every day in season for years. I like to think the reports are catchy, edgy even because I usually put in lat/long coordinates. “Give me the numbers,” I tell Maxwell. And he does. There are plenty of fishing secrets he won’t let me tell, but the numbers are easy because they are yesterday’s.

Historic Oregon Inlet fishing photo
All the salty ones are on the bottom.Courtesy of Jordan Crosswait

Capt. Charles Perry told me that there are actually 64 Oregon Inlet-isms that relate to weather. “I know this because I did my senior project in high school on it,” he says. “I interviewed a lot of people and came up with 64 weather sayings.” Perry explained how fishermen like his dad and uncle depended on the weather sayings because they didn’t have today’s technology. “The weather patterns have changed,” he adds “so I don’t think many of these hold true anymore. It’s a good thing we have the technology and forecasting we have now.”

Fishing Fever fishing off Oregon Inlet North Carolina
If the wind shifts on a Thursday, it will blow for a week.Photo by Tom Spencer

Old timers agree but the young guns raise their eyebrows. I haven’t noticed but I will keep a weather eye out the next time it blows on a Thursday. Another one was related by Capt. Marty Brill: “A backing wind is no man’s friend.” And no woman’s friend either! A backing wind on the Outer Banks usually means it is going to flood. “And then there’s the Sundog,” adds Brill “the Sundog heralds bad weather for three days.”

Capt. Buddy Cannady Capt. BC Oregon Inlet NC North Carolina
There is no perfect boat.Courtesy of Jordan Crosswait

Capt. Buddy Cannady is a famous fisherman and boat builder and the purveyor of many an Oregon Inlet-ism. Capt. BC, as he is widely known, built most of the boats in the Oregon Inlet fleet at one time. He believed in Capt. Omie’s classic -ism “There is no perfect boat,” and he built himself a new boat each winter. “I had some boats I liked and one that could roll the dough out of a biscuit,” Cannady told me. He would build himself a boat, run it for the season, sell it and build himself another. And that is the epitome of “Good enough for who it’s for,” because every boat was for Cannady himself.

Carolina boat running off Oregon Inlet NC
If you haven't run around, then you haven't been fishing long out here.Photo by Tom Spencer

No one wants to hear the phrase when the time comes, but it’s just a matter of odds.

Capt. Buddy Cannady Capt. BC Oregon Inlet NC North Carolina

I Just Can’t Hoist It Aboard

A historic photo from Oregon Inlet's fishing legacy.Courtesy of Jordan Crosswait

"I just can't hoist it aboard." This is Buddy Cannady’s expression for when he doesn’t understand something. I find myself saying the very same thing occasionally and I get a nod, not raised eyebrows.

Capt. Omie Tillett North Carolina Oregon Inlet NC
Another wise phrase from the area's legends: "Do the math."Courtesy of Jordan Crosswait

Capt. Omie Tillett’s simple life philosophy of “do the math” has been a beacon for anyone around these parts who is smart enough to apply it, including me. There is not a situation in life without pros and cons and not one that doesn’t add up, or not. Tillett takes it all one step further when you add his ideas about staying in the bilge. “When you put a patch on a patch, you eventually end up with a bunch of junk,” Tillett once told me. “When you have a bunch of junk to keep up with, you just stay in the bilge. When you do the math and you spend more time in the bilge than in your life, you need to fix it.”