Norman Lovett makes cast nets. Lots and lots of cast nets.
In his Clearwater home, piles of netting fill the living room. There are 1,600-yard spools of 150-pound test line stacked in various parts of the house, some full of line, some empty. Buckets of nets, net horns, ropes, swivels, weights and tools occupy any available space on the floor.
And that's just in the living room. In the basement, down a small flight of stairs, there are more piles of nets. Some reach halfway to the ceiling. Blue nets. Green nets. White nets. More spools of lines, more weights, more tools.
In the back yard, 6-foot tall wood stakes are spaced about 10 feet apart. Brills, the line used at the bottom of the net, are stretched on nails. In the front yard, a net in need of repair is tied to a palm tree and stretched wide.
Even the van in his driveway has signage on each side touting his nets. In the back of the van there are piles of — you guessed it — nets.
"I've got enough material to make nets until I'm 80 years old," said Lovett, 51. "This is what I do and will do until I die. This is my therapy."
A St. Petersburg native, Lovett joined the Pinellas County Sheriff's office as a detention deputy in 1991. The job was stressful, so to blow off steam he would go to the gym. A competitive weight lifter since he was 21, he said at one point he bench pressed 440 pounds.
But slowly, his body started to break down. Over the years he has had trouble with his back, a kidney transplant, a hip replacement, a steel plate put in his head after a work accident and a pacemaker inserted after heart trouble.
He said he also suffers from depression.
The accumulation of health problems forced him to retire from law enforcement after 18 years.
"I'm a shell of what I used to be," Lovett said. "With all the surgeries and sicknesses, I'm just happy to be living."
But ever since a late-night encounter on a Coquina Key bridge in 1995, Lovett has had his nets. He saw a man named John Buick throwing a net and catching fish. Lovett started asking questions, enough questions to finally get Buick to ask if he wanted to learn how to make nets.
Lovett took him up on his offer. Through trial and error, lots of error, he finally figured it out. Buick is gone, but Lovett never stopped making cast nets.
"I wanted to honor my grandfather (Ira Wilson), so I decided that every day of my life I'm going to figure out how to do this, if it takes me one year or five years," Lovett said. "Along the way I got better and better every day. I tell myself that I'm the best. I'm definitely one of the best."
Making nets became a hobby, perhaps even an obsession. The process of making a net can be mundane, but for Lovett, who is divorced and lives alone with his 10-year-old Yorkshire terrier, Candy Ann, it's a stress reliever.
Depending on his mood, he will stitch his nets either in the house, in the front yard or at a waterfront park in Clearwater or St. Petersburg. He can almost make a net in his sleep.
"This is what makes me happy. This keeps me sane, keeps me stable," he said. "It's something that I do every day. My thoughts, my being, everything, is invested on making a cast net. You know how you go to sleep with things on your mind? I think about cast nets."
Making the nets
Lovett doesn't like to skimp on his nets. He only wants to use the best materials he can find. That's why he orders his netting from a company in Seattle. The moi moi style netting is triple knotted and costs $14.50 per pound. Typical netting costs about $9.50 per pound.
He specially makes the net horns, which are the plastic circles at the top of the net that keep it in place. The weights on the bottom of the net need to be spaced correctly to allow the net to fan properly.
His nets range in size from 8.8 to 14 feet. The smaller nets are best for catching bait fish. The larger nets are used mainly to catch mullet, which usually school and spawn in November. Lovett used to make skirt nets, but now he makes pie nets, which means the nets should fan out in a pie shape when thrown correctly. He makes a special cut in the net before sewing it together to ensure the shape.
Typically, his nets range from $150 to $350. They are designed to last more than five years, although it's always possible a fin or rock could cause rips.
"This is not a job," Lovett said. "This is my hobby. This is what I do. This is what occupies my time physically, mentally and emotionally.
"This has helped me deal with a lot of issues in life."
Contact Rodney Page at [email protected] Follow @RodneyHomeTeam.