Legendary boat captain and fisherman Omie Jennings “Sportsman” Tillett, 90, of Wanchese, died Friday. Tillet was a Dare County native who, along with his father, Sambo, and brother, Tony, pioneered the Outer Banks’ offshore charter fishing industry.
Tillet’s boatbuilding skills were renowned. After fishing the summer months, he built boats in the winter out of his Manteo-based operation named Sportsman Boat Works. Beaufort boat manufacturer Jarrett Bay traces its roots to Tillet’s advice on one of the company’s first boats.
“We went to see Omie and he told us as much as he could about how he built his boats,” said Jarrett Bay owner Randy Ramsey. “He gave us advice about methods, materials, and shared his life lesson ‘nuggets’ along the way. I have been proud to say our boats have a direct lineage to Sportsman Boatworks.”
Tillet was a true living legend in Dare County and was a member of the International Game Fish Association’s Hall of Fame. His boatbuilding linage also includes Manns Harbour custom boatbuilder Paul Mann who says he worked with Tillet to learn traditional Carolina boat building.
While living a life tied to the sea and boats, Tillet was also a Christian who sought out opportunities to tell others about Jesus Christ. For years, Tillet was a mainstay on charter boat radios, sharing a morning prayer daily as the Oregon Inlet fleet headed offshore. The tradition that he started continues today.
Tillet’s name also lives on at local Nags Head restaurant Sam & Omie’s. The restaurant, which dates to 1937, has always catered to the charter fishing industry and attracts fishermen, locals and tourists across from Jennette’s Pier on the beach in Nags Head. Tillet’s father, Sambo, owned a small restaurant on the beach called Sambo’s. Sambo’s brother Toby Tillet ran the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center. The restaurant became a place to eat and book fishing charters at Oregon Inlet in the 1950’s. Eventually Sambo added his son’s name to the restaurant, and Sam & Omie’s has been a local staple since.
Tillet is survived by his wife, Patsy, daughter, Gail Lane of Manns Harbor, four grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren, along with sister, Sarah Wynn Austin of Hatteras, and brother, Tony of Manteo.