At age 26, Key Largo commercial fisherman Ernie Piton III has become quite the boat rehabber; his sixth and latest re-creation is an aged, unnamed fiberglass skiff rebuilt for bully netting lobster in the shallows of the Florida Keys and Miami’s Biscayne Bay.

Almost every night during lobster season, which begins in August and runs through March, Piton can be found cruising slowly through flats and channels, standing at the helm on the reinforced bow of his unnamed 17-foot Mako skiff, looking for crustaceans crawling on the lit-up bottom.

With one hand on the throttle and the other clutching a 14-foot-long pole attached to a mesh net, Piton can see the creatures clearly within the radius of his twin, foldable 500-watt, 120-volt underwater lights encased in PVC piping.

He scoops one up in his net and drops it into a fiberglass hold in the stern that can hold 200 pounds of live lobster. Then he continues along, bumping his rebuilt 1997 Mercury 115-horsepower outboard in and out of gear and using lights powered by a 2,000-watt Honda Powerhorse gasoline generator.

On a decent night, he says he averages 100 pounds.

“I can fish every day and not put a ton of money into it and still be able to make good money,” Piton said of bully netting. He also runs lobster traps but says the trap tags are too expensive to fish a large number. And he operates three other boats he rebuilt himself for the stone crab, live bait and yellowtail/amberjack fisheries.

“I do it all,” Piton said. 

Boat Specifications

Home port: Key Largo, Fla. OWNER: Ernie Piton III BUILDER: Mako Boats YEAR BUILT: 1978 FISHERIES: Spiny lobster HULL: Fiberglass LENGTH: 17 feet BEAM: 7 feet DRAFT: 15 inches CREW: 1 MAIN PROPULSION: 115-hp Mercury two-stroke outboard PROPELLER: Stainless steel three-blade SPEED: 25 knots FUEL CAPACITY: 30 gallons ELECTRONICS: Garmin Echomap Plus 64 CV chartplotter/sounder

Sue Cocking spent more than 20 years as the outdoors writer at the Miami Herald, covering everything from commercial and recreational fishing to powerboat racing and scuba diving. She once worked as a light-tackle charter boat fishing captain in Key West and had an 18-year career in radio news broadcasting. She lives in Sebastian, Fla.

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