Fishin’ Fun: Legendary captain heads home

Published 7:59 pm Friday, July 5, 2019

Capt. Omie Tillett was at the helm of the Sportsman that fine May day in the late 1980s when the bigeye tuna were practically jumping into the back of the boat during one of my first ever days at sea.

Before it was over, the fish box was brimming over and the largest tuna of the day was iced down in a large plastic trash can kept on board for just such occasions, I imagine.

Yes, sir, the captain and his mate, Jimmy Ruhle Jr., worked together like a well-oiled new reel. I’ll never forget how Ruhle answered Tillett: “Yes, cappie. No, cappie. Okay, cappie.”

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Tillett first found the fish on a grass line along the edge of the warm Gulf Stream waters that beautiful morning, which featured blue skies, green water and brilliant sunshine. The trolling lines were dropped back and the wait was not long.

Like clockwork, the bites came; first the hook up, then the fight and last the fish box.

And the tuna were big ones, not as large as a bluefin, but they were big and had big black eyes. The men took turns in the fighting chair as one by one they loaded down the now famous fishing vessel.

Over the years, I thought a lot about that trip and it eventually dawned on me, I might have seen both of these men at their prime, now they’re both gone. Capt. Tillett died July 5, Ruhle in 2000.

I feel blessed I was there to see them working together doing what they loved and I will never forget it.

I was on board the Sportsman that day strictly as an observer for a newspaper I worked for at the time. I clicked away with my trusty Canon film camera and tried to stay out of the way as the action unfolded.

Ruhle and Capt. Tillett never missed a beat and before I knew it, the Sportsman crew was done for the day. It was 9 a.m.

I never had the chance to ask the captain or the mate but I’m pretty sure Capt. Tillett broke off from the school on purpose that morning because they’d taken enough.

So we didn’t get any more bites and around mid-morning, Ruhle brought the lines in and Capt. Tillett motored home to the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center.

At the docks, everyone seemed pleased – the captain, mate and crew. The customers from Poquoson, Va. had come prepared. They had a chest freezer in the back of a pickup and a small arsenal of tools including saws, hatchets and knives.

They made quick work of the cleaning and packing the meat in ice before pulling out for home. Someone mentioned they owned a restaurant. Ruhle cleaned up the vessel and Capt. Tillett had a happy look on his face.

Many years later, I was fortunate enough to go to Capt. Tillett’s home and visit with him in his living room. He talked a lot about his faith in God.

I know he used to say a blessing for the fleet every morning and I’m not sure if he did it that one fine May day I went because I wasn’t on the bridge with him.

Capt. Omie had such a nice smile as he gently loved up on his cats, who looked like they perhaps thrived on tuna and dolphin scraps he brought home from many blessed trips to the Gulf Stream aboard the Sportsman.



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