Legendary Carolina Builder Omie Tillet Passes Away
Omie Tillet was born to be a fisherman. At just 10 years old he could be found working the water with his father and by 20 he was running his own boat. By the ripe age of 31, Tillet and business partner Warren O’Neal began construction on their first battlewagon, a Rybovich-inspired wooden boat that would become the blue print for the modern Carolina sportfishermen we see today.
“Omie Tillett and Warren O’Neal built a completely different boat for the charter fishing business. They were visionaries,” said Jarrett Bay Founder and President Randy Ramsey in a 2016 interview with Anglers Journal. “They really stepped out. Every day they were breaking new ground.”
Tillet passed away July 4, 2019 at the age of 90.
While he is best known for the boats he built and inspired over the decades, what many sportfishermen will remember about Tillet was his voice. For years Tillet would read hand written, 12-plus minute prayers over the VHF to the fleet at the Big Rock Tournament.
“What a legend Capt. Omie was,” wrote Lyn Kennedy Tayloe on Facebook. “He was the kindest and the sweetest man and one of true faith. I sure missed his Big Rock prayer to the fleet these past few years.”
While most Carolina builders are quick to praise Tillet as a pioneer of the industry, his influence was perhaps the most significant around the founding of Jarrett Bay. In 2011, Ramsey recognized Tillet for his contributions not just to his company but to the Carolina sportfishing community:
I was fortunate enough to meet Capt. Omie when I fished with him in 1982 on “Sportsman”. We traveled to the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center that fall, and while we were anxious to take part in the white marlin fishing, Capt. Omie wanted a “few fish for the dock”. Little did I know that his definition of a few fish was having a box full! When we started in, the wind breezed up and I was amazed by the way the boat handled in the sea and how well she did compared to the boats I had run. Soon after that trip, we set our goals to build a similar boat that we would use in our charter business.
As time passed, we got to know Omie better and in the fall of 1986, we set out with a plan to build “Sensation”. We went to see Omie and he told us as much as he could about how he built his boats. He gave us advice about methods, materials, and shared his life lesson “nuggets” along the way. We soon started “Sensation” and Omie was open and helpful throughout the entire process. For many years, I have been proud to say our boats have a direct lineage to Sportsman Boatworks.
Over the years Omie has become a wonderful friend and I am proud that he kids with me and calls me his son. He is a favorite at the Big Rock, and many people are inspired by his morning prayer on the radio. He always makes time to share his knowledge, give you a hug, and let you know he “loves you”. Omie’s generosity and sense of family has been a guiding force in all we do at Jarrett Bay, and we are proud that he is part of our lineage.