Going to the Outer Banks Marina is like a step back into the Outer Banks of yesteryear. When driving over the Washington Baum Bridge to Roanoke Island, glance to the right. You see Manteo’s downtown, homes, condos and bustle. On the left, though, it’s a whole other world. The thick salt marshes stretch for miles, dotted by a building or two, and you can see boats passing through the sound waters on their way to and from Oregon Inlet.
Turn left and follow N.C. 345 into that world – Wanchese. The scene immediately quietens into a simple two-lane road winding through the marsh. With every turn you see another breathtaking view of the sound, the rustling marsh grass, uninterrupted save for the occasional homes and businesses. Deeper into Wanchese, you’ll find a little community unlike any other town on the Outer Banks. The shops, restaurants and entertaining diversions are few, but there are homes, a school, churches and a few businesses. It’s a living glimpse into the past fishing village heritage that the Outer Banks is built upon.
Rooted in the heart of it all is the North Carolina Seafood Industrial Park and the hub of the Eastern Seaboard’s fishing industry. For commercial and recreational fishermen and boaters, this is the Big Kahuna of East Coast fishing.
With its many sound waters, the Atlantic Ocean and easy access to the Gulf Stream, it’s no shock that the Outer Banks distinguishes itself as a premier destination. And the secret that the locals and visitors share is that the start to a good fishing experience – no matter how much you reel in that day – begins at the Outer Banks Marina.
Recreational anglers flock here for the ready array of charter boats and fishing services, such as the bait and tackle shop, knowledgeable captains and fish-cleaning services. The marina’s commercial fishermen and charter boat captains rest easy because they know that their boats, business and clients are in caring hands, even when they aren’t on the scene themselves. For everyone enthusiastic about Outer Banks fishing, hanging out at the marina is the film buff’s equivalent of visiting Hollywood’s movie sets. There, they have front-row seats as each day’s action unfolds: Watch the boats come and go, check out the catches coming in, feast on fresh-from-the-water seafood and kick back with a cold one at the marina’s Tiki Bar, where there’s live entertainment throughout the summer.
For an incomparable way to experience Outer Banks fishing, though, you sit down and chat with the marina’s longtime users. Locals make up the marina’s core, and even though it and its services increase in popularity with newcomers each passing year, it maintains a reputation as the locals’ best-kept secret. Since 2003, marina owners, Jarrod Umphlett and his father, Wayne, have strived to give everyone there – whether they’re there to work or play – the best possible experience.
Those who’ve been here since those early days prove how the Outer Banks’ fishing village roots still flourish at the marina, thanks to the Umphletts, their staff and the other marina users.
“There’s a lot going on at the end of a dead-end road,” says Jamie Reibel, owner and captain of the Phideaux. Jamie moved his charter fishing business to OBX Marina in 2005. At a time when the area’s other marinas were starting to swell in size and popularity, the OBX Marina presented a small and tight community of users and staff. Even with the marina’s ever-growing following 15 years later, that atmosphere still remains. “Everyone who works there is in a good mood,” he says. “It’s a fun place to be.”
Not only do people like Jamie treasure the marina’s close community, but they also love its convenience. “Everything you could possibly need is in one place,” Jamie says. Captains can have boat maintenance or repairs taken care of in the state-of-the-art working yard onsite. Before a day on the water, users can get in-slip fueling and pick up bait, tackle and ice all in one place. And when they’ve returned from a day on the water, they can swap stories at the Tiki Bar while waiting for their fish to get cleaned. And even when the fish aren’t biting (hey, it happens), the nearby seafood markets can always promise fresh seafood. “It’s a one-stop shop,” Jamie says. He recognizes that the services all shape the Phideaux Fishing charter experience, where customers have a good time, bring home fish to eat and eagerly plan their return trip.
While Jamie and many others headquarter their businesses at the marina, the space brings them together with recreational users too. “It’s great to know a lot of regular guys just fishing for fun,” Jamie says.
That sense of camaraderie also stands out to Leon Hamilton. When I asked him what he liked most about the marina, he didn’t hesitate, “The people. People treat me great here.”
He first visited the marina when rockfish season brought him to the Outer Banks in 2006. What began as a three-month fishing trip turned into 13 years, a move to Roanoke Island and an unwavering loyalty to fishing only on the Outer Banks. For Leon, the idea of fishing anywhere other than the Outer Banks is out of the question. “I’m happy right here. It’s a short run out to the Gulf Stream, and the people take care of me.”
As a user of the marina’s unparalleled indoor/outdoor dry stack storage facility, he can leave his 28-foot Carolina Classic in safe hands during trips back to his Virginia home. There at the marina, people are in the habit of keeping an eye on each other’s boats and equipment, and they quickly pass on the word whenever possible concerns arise.
It circles back to the people and the setting. It’s the thriving image of the Outer Banks fishing village of yesteryear, and the people who keep that alive make the marina a place that attracts up to 200, 300 or even 400 visitors a day during the summer season. They come to fish for tuna, marlin, mahi-mahi and wahoo during the summer and rockfish and tuna in the winter. They come to marvel at the Wicked Tuna fleet. They come to eat fresh seafood at the restaurants or catch up with friends over a cold drink. They come to feel a part of the marina’s community – one that is always happy to see them and truly cares for each user, from the local boat captains to the first-time visitors.
Fishing Charter: (252) 473-9991
Slip Rental: (252) 473-5344
708 Harbor Drive | Wanchese | obxmarina.com