Born and raised in North Carolina, Jacob Willis started fishing at age 15. Ten years later, he’s learned a lot.

Willis started his journey drop-netting with his father. While the rest of the family enjoyed fishing, Willis fell in love with the profession.

He started saving money, purchased his fishing license and started buying flounder and speckled-trout nets.

At age 18, Willis moved to Georgia to work on the deck of a 75-foot trawler named Lady Susie II.

He moved up the chain to captain but quickly learned that life on a trawler wasn’t for him, so he returned home and started fishing for flounder and trout full time in North Carolina.

“In 2019, they passed the large-mesh net ban and it about knocked me down,” says Willis. “But I knew I had to go bigger, so I started building my net reel boat.

“It was a huge learning curve for me, but with a little luck, a lot of faith and hard work, I was successful. I couldn’t have done it without the help of a lot of local fishermen that extended a hand to me.”

Willis has a plan to grow larger and add boats to work strictly in the ocean.

“The best part about it is I really love the profession,” says Willis. “Knowing it’s all on me — I don’t have to be at a place at a certain time, I don’t have to report to a job where I have a boss, and I love the fact that I can provide a part of the freshest seafood in our state.”

Willis also knows there will still be difficulties.

“What I really want people to know is that it’s hard being controlled by the prices and a new law popping up every other month. Unfortunately most people don’t like commercial fishermen, but I’m not out there to take from anyone or destroy a fishery.”

Boat Specifications

HOME PORT: Oriental, N.C. OWNER: Jacob Willis BUILDER: C-Hawk YEAR BUILT: 1984 FISHERIES: Primarily sea mullet, spots, croakers and Spanish mackerel HULL MATERIAL: Fiberglass LENGTH: 25 feet DRAFT: 2 feet CREW CAPACITY: 2 PROPULSION: 250-hp four-stroke Suzuki outboard TOP SPEED: 35 mph FUEL CAPACITY: 75 gallons

Maureen Donald is a freelance correspondent for National Fisherman.

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