Dewey Hemilright: Ardent voice for Outer Banks fishing

By on October 4, 2014


By Susan West

Outer Banks fisherman Dewey Hemilright took a busman’s holiday this summer and went to Alaska to fish for salmon.

The Kitty Hawk native spent seven weeks in Dillingham, set-netting sockeye salmon in the Wood River, which flows into Bristol Bay, and experiencing another dimension of America’s commercial fishing industry.

“The fishing was good and the area beautiful and remote, accessible only by plane or boat,” he says. “I plan to go back. It’s good to know more about fishing beyond what happens in my own backyard.”

Hemilright’s backyard is the Atlantic Ocean. He runs his boat, the 42-foot Tar Baby, out of Wanchese through Oregon Inlet to fishing grounds. Built in Dare County by boatbuilder John Bayliss, the boat takes its name from a much larger boat Bayliss built called the Tar Heel.


From gillnetters to longliners, crabbers to oystermen, Outer Banks commercial fishermen are a diverse bunch.

The Outer Banks Seafood Festival was created in part to celebrate these hard-working people who help put the bounty of the sea on our plates.

This the second in a series of stories about the people of the seafood world and Outer Banks Catch.

Hemilright fishes for a variety of species. His typical annual round includes longlining tuna and swordfish in the fall, gillnetting dogfish, croaker and bluefish in the winter and spring, and longlining mahi-mahi and tilefish in the summer.

“It’s kind of like the lugnuts on a tire; you have to have each of them to make it work,” he explains.

He laughs hard before describing his first commercial fishing job.

“I was probably one of the greenest greenhorns ever,” he says. “I was so sick I lost something like 15 pounds on that swordfishing trip.”

Despite the rough start, the experience struck a chord with the 21-year-old Hemilright, and he knew fishing was a challenge that matched up to his youthful appreciation for adventure and his expectation of a life well-lived.

A quarter of a century later, the affable fisherman is also a dedicated spokesperson for the U.S. fishing industry. He serves on a federal fishery management council and is a member of several state and national advocacy organizations.

He also works with scientists studying fish migratory and breeding behavior, carrying teams of researchers on his boat to record information about the catch and to tag fish.

For the last nine years, Hemilright has visited classrooms from Montana to New York to tell students about his work and to show them fish hooks, glow sticks and other artifacts of the trade.

One story popular with schoolkids is about the time a small kitten crawled out of the cabin on his boat and jumped overboard into the dark, rough sea. The fisherman rescued the stowaway kitten with a dipnet.

Hemilright is a member of Outer Banks Catch, a local seafood-branding initiative focused on consumer education, and he often pitches in to fry fish or soft-shell crabs at fundraising events for the program.

“Most people don’t know that over 90 percent of the seafood consumed in this country is imported and often comes from countries that have lax conservation and public health controls,” he explains.

He advises consumers to ask wait-staff and retailers about the origin of the seafood they sell.

“People always ask me what type of seafood I like best,” he says. “I like whatever is local and in season.”

But he says there’s nothing better than “a mess of round-heads,” a reference to sea mullet by one of its regional names.

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