This 22-foot Florida-style mullet boat, built in 2015, is fiberglass over wood with an aluminum tower. It is the work of Florida-based boat builder Albie Burtoft who has built several boats for North Carolina fishermen.

The boat was custom-built for fourth-generation commercial fisherman Peter Darna, 72, who can’t remember the time he didn’t own what is commonly known as a kicker boat in Florida. This native Floridian has fished similar boats for over 50 years.

“This tower boat is ideal for shallow water sight fishing,” says Darna. “It is very maneuverable and is used primarily for run around gillnetting as opposed to setnetting.”

“I grew up fishing on a mullet boat with my father, but it wasn’t until I returned from a tour in Vietnam with the Marines in 1968 that I purchased my own,” says Darna. “It wasn’t the last — I haven’t been without one since.”

These low-maintenance, basic vessels are the backbone of inshore fishing for many sight fishermen, who depend on the ability to run close to shore and spot fish from the tower.

For Darna, the boat represents much more.

“When the net ban hit in 1994, I headed to North Carolina with my mullet boat in tow,” says Darna. “For me, there was no choice. I couldn’t imagine not running a net overboard.”

The conflict between commercial net fishermen, who made their living on the water, and recreational hook and line fishermen, who fished for fun, was a brutal fight fueled by the Florida Conservation Association.

While many initially opposed the net ban, the public was won over by widely publicized photographs of dead dolphins and sea turtles supposedly killed by walls of gillnets. The result was a state constitutional amendment banning the nets.

In a cruel turn of events, the photos that caused public outrage turned out to be a research study undertaken by the University of Georgia.

“The net ban cut out a way of fishing. One day I could catch a mullet, the next day it was against the law,” says Darna. “It’s difficult to spend your life fishing and have it disappear overnight.”

“The day after the net ban was passed, I left Florida with my boat.”

Home port: Merritt, N.C.

Owner: Peter Darna

Builder: Albie Burtoft

Year built: 2015

Fisheries: Variety of finfish, primarily mullet, speckled trout, spots

Hull material: Fiberglass over wood

Length: 22 feet

Beam: 8 feet

Draft: 1 foot

Hold capacity: 4,000 pounds

Crew capacity: 2

Propulsion: 70-hp four-stroke outboard

Maureen Donald is a freelance correspondent for National Fisherman.

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