Shucking Oysters with Fletcher O’Neal

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Fisherman Profile by Maddy Sweitzer-Lamme

Fletcher O’Neal pulls his truck through a narrow road and up to the edge of the water. We climb out of the car and into the boat, where he offers me a water and admonishes me that when the sun is this hot it’s easy to get dehydrated.

It’s the middle of July and Ocracoke, the small island where Fletcher was born and has lived most of his life, is packed with tourists in search of sun, salt and seafood. On his boat, though, as we speed less than a quarter mile off the island, the heat and intensity of the island’s high season falls away.

fletcher-oysters2Fletcher grows Devil Shoal Oysters & Clams about a five-minute boat ride from Ocracoke, surrounded by cormorants and other animals. He laughs describing a sea snail he found recently that shot out purple ink when you touched it, which he brought to a friend for his aquarium. The oysters, he says, are so close to the island that they’re intrinsically connected. For him, they’re a true taste of home.

As we pull up to his oyster baskets, he cuts the engine. It’s so quiet – I immediately understand the appeal of his work, even as he uses his whole body to lift a basket onto the boat for me to look at.

He starts shucking the oysters, almost faster than I can eat them. I ask if he likes them and he laughs.

“It’s the one thing my doctor told me I can’t eat,” he tells me, rolling his eyes. Fletcher had kidney issues a few years ago, which took him off the island for some of the longest stretches he’s been away his whole life. The treatment was hard on his body, but he tells me it was also painful to be away from Ocracoke and the water.

“I would get out for the weekend and come home, and I always just wanted to come float on the water, even if I couldn’t fish or do nothing.”

8 Questions with Fletcher O’Neal

What is your favorite fish to target commercially? Flounder

What is your favorite fish to target Recreationally? Speckled Trout

What is your favorite fish to eat? Red Drum

Name 3 watermen, over your lifetime, that you consider to be the most professional guys in the business…guys that exude professionalism? Farris O’Neal (alive), Carlton Boyce O’neal, Dave Havard (alive)

Describe the best or most favorite boat you’ve ever owned? 20′ Sea Ox…crab and fished out of it…sold it years ago

Who is your favorite college team? UNC

What do you like to do when you aren’t fishing? Hunting ducks

What are TWO things somebody has to do or see when visiting your hometown? eat seafood and visit the lighthouse

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