Joe Warren’s mullet boat —18 feet long, built in 1979 and powered by a 60-horsepower Evinrude outboard — shows its decades of hard service in the baking Florida sun.
Of indeterminate color with unpainted fiberglass covering a battered wooden deck and equipped with a homemade plywood center console and an oar for a depth-sounder, this compact workhorse with no name nevertheless catches a lot of fish.
For up to eight hours a day, Warren, 67, a third-generation Florida commercial fisherman — throws a 12-foot cast net that opens into a perfect pancake in the shallow, brackish waters of the Indian and St. Sebastian rivers.
In the fall and winter, he hauls in up to 2,000 pounds per day of black roe mullet that earn him between $1.25 and $1.50 per pound at Judah and Sons Fresh Fish in Sebastian. In the summer, before the mullet are heavy with roe, he makes about 80 cents per pound.
When he’s not mullet fishing, Warren carries up to 30 traps for pigfish — a baitfish species that’s very effective for catching large spotted sea trout.
Today, his vessel is a bit more high tech compared to its origins as a mullet gillnet boat in the ’80s.
“I bought it from my brother-in-law after he quit fishing after the net ban in 1995,” Warren said, referring to Florida’s statewide prohibition on gill and entangling nets in state waters. “I rowed that boat for years with another man. I rowed and he threw the cast net. I’m by myself now, so instead of rowing, I put a trolling motor on.”
Now he eases up to schools of mullet along shorelines, steering with the electric trolling motor from the elevated bow while the outboard is turned off.
“When I see fish, I turn off the trolling motor, let it drift a little, then throw the net,” he said.
Warren owns and operates two other commercial fishing boats — a 24-foot Stapleton for king mackerel fishing and a 14-foot skiff for spotted sea trout.
Home port: Sebastian, Fla.
Owner: Joe Warren
Builder: Suncoast (out of business)
Year built: 1979
Fisheries: Mullet, pigfish
Hull material: Fiberglass
Length: 18 feet
Beam: 6 feet
Draft: 18 inches
Crew capacity: 2
Main propulsion: 1990 Evinrude 60-hp outboard
Gearbox: Homemade plywood with side-mounted OMC gearshift
Propeller: Three-blade, stainless steel 13 3/4 x 15 inches
Speed: 20-mph maximum
Fuel consumption: 6 gallons per hour
Fuel capacity: 12 gallons
Hold capacity: No hold, but 1,000-pound fish box
Deck gear: Minn Kota Riptide electric trolling motor with 55 pounds thrust