Fishin’ Fun: Whalebone Willie
Get your mullet from Willie.
From outside, Whalebone Tackle appears to be just another tackle shop that caters to fish-hungry anglers schooling along the Outer Banks. Located at Whalebone Junction in Nags Head, if you poke around carefully inside, you might find a large artifact that’s a reflection of the business name located off to the left side.
But what really makes this place great can be found front and center – Whalebone Willie McCaskill. He’s often standing at the register ready to ring you up, tell a story and make you laugh. He’s got a great sales pitch for a shrimp peeler tool and even better ones about the oyster shucker knives.
My son Austin and I went in there several times recently because it’s an interesting place full of tackle and fishing accessories. Plus, I won a $25 gift certificate from Whalebone Tackle in a raffle during the Nags Head Surf Fishing Club invitational tournament last month.
And during our visits, Whalebone Willie kept busy telling stories and joking around with folks who came through the front door. Most visitors appeared to be his buddies just stopping by. One day, however, a man who looked like a pretty serious fisherman quickly ordered 1,000 hooks, a ton of line and left holding some sort of stainless steel spreader bars for trolling teasers, I think.
Later, I asked Willie about that guy and what type of fishing he was doing with all of that gear. It turns out Whalebone Tackle supplies dozens of offshore sport fishing vessels with all of the tackle they need for successful seasons. This includes the fleets from Pirate’s Cove, Oregon Inlet and down on Hatteras Island.
Man, Whalebone Willie has got this gig wired.
He says he lets the different outfits run monthly tabs and he has help with the paperwork and eventual billing. With his scruffy appearance and constant comic banter, it’s easy to see why people like to do business here.
There’s always fresh mullet out front and cold beverages in the back. Displayed proudly on the wall near the front counter is his Bachelor of Arts degree from UNC Chapel Hill, or simply “Carolina” as it’s known in these parts and beyond.
“They made me an ar-tist!” he joked.
When I was carefully eyeing all of the different T-shirts, reels, hats and rigs I might want to spend my $25 on, he saw the envelope with his company logo on my person. “Hey, don’t let that thing wear a hole in your pocket!”
Then he went into a pretty neat story that’s telling about the way he does business around Whalebone Tackle. If running a tab for charter boats isn’t enough, get a hold of this tale.
Whalebone Willie said that a man once came into the shop that also had a $25 gift certificate. Turns out, he had just bought it at a yard sale for $5. It was five or so years old, Willie said. True to his nature, he honored the man’s gift certificate, no questions asked.
In September, when it came time to purchase a fancy reel to be given away for a fishing tournament I was doing for my day job, he generously discounted the pricey item to half the sticker price, again no questions asked.
This is why I’m thinking about spending my $25 on an extra-large white T-shirt that features a graphic image of him on the back holding a fish and a can of beer: “Whalebone Willie – The Man and his Mullet. Established 1977.”
So when you’re down at the junction, headed for fishing in Nags Head or heading to Roanoke or Hatteras islands, be sure to visit Willie and get your mullet from him – you’ll have a whale of a time.
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