A Buyers Guide To Flats Skiffs

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Courtesy East Cape Skiffs

By Owen Plair

As the world of saltwater fly fishing steadily grows, so the does the market for poling skiffs.

There are tons of different flats boat companies out there today and an unreal number of different skiffs to choose from. Each flats boat is designed for a purpose–whether you want to get super shallow, pole deeper for tarpon, or simply have a boat you will only pole on the weekends before picking up the family for a day at the sandbar. Inshore fishing is a lot more affordable and easier than offshore fishing, especially in today’s economy and fuel cost. Be sure that you will use this boat more than 10-12 times of year because it’s often cheaper and always easier to hire a guide than own a skiff.

Steve Seinberg

Steve Seinberg

There are many different types of hulls. Each one is made for a specific kind of fishing, determined by draft and types of water you fish. In short, you want a skiff that will meet your needs in the waters you will be fishing. Write down what your priorities are for your skiff. Things like draft, poling ability, comfort, size, storage, engine, how many people you will have on board, and most importantly price. These are all factors that will help you decide what kind of skiff you will be happy with. Most of all, keep in mind that your wants may not be perfectly met, because no matter how you look at it, there will always be a compromise of one preference to achieve something more important.

Do your research:

One great asset when buying a flats boat is the internet. There are endless places to shop and get a feel for the flats boat market. Boat Trader, dealer websites, forums, and even Craigslist. Once you have an idea of the boat you’re interested in, start Googling for forums and articles about that certain boat. Websites like Micro Skiff and Skinny Skiff have good information on different poling skiffs. Another great trick is to look for the skiffs guides are using in your area. These guides make a living on their skiffs, and have plenty of good information from personal use. I always recommend going out with a guide who runs the skiff you’re looking at. Not only get more information about the skiff but actually fish on the boat.

The Technical Skiff:

DSC04420-1200x800The term “Technical” is used a lot in the flats boat industry. Mostly referring to skiffs that are designed for the angler who wants the absolute best performance when poling, fishing, and running. This is the badass side of the skiff market and usually the most expensive because of how they are built and how they perform on the water. People sometimes complain about how expensive these skiffs can be, but there is a reason they cost $35-60K for a brand new 17ft boat. Companies like Maverick Boat Company, Hells Bay Boatworks, East Cape Skiffs, Chittum, Beaver Tail, Dolphin, and other big names put a lot of time in research and development. These technical skiffs are designed and built for fishing the flats just like a Lamborghini is built for going fast. The history behind these skiffs is amazing and it’s truly unbelievable how much technology has been developed over the last 20 years. It all started with a boat to get you and your angler shallower, and closer to the fish in their natural environment.

GLIDE-2015-30-SUZUKI-ICE-BLUE-TILLE-PERRY-MCDOUGALD-EAST-CAPE-SKIFFS-BOAT-IMAGE-GALLERY-CUSTOM-BOAT-BUILDER-FISHING-SKIFF-MANUFACTURER-119fcb36b4-1200x884Size is a key factor for a technical skiff. These are skiffs between 15-18ft and draft between 4-8 inches of water. They are small, lightweight, and made for poling in shallow waters. Anywhere from 6 inches of water for tailing fish or 10ft of water for migrating tarpon. These are not boats to take a bunch of people on and usually have a limit of 2-3 people max. They are often a tad tippy when walking around but again they are designed to have a person on the bow casting, the other sitting on the cooler, and someone on the tower poling. The way these skiffs perform in their desired fisheries is what makes them “Technical” and they are one of the most important tools in saltwater fly fishing.

Lots of other factors come in to play. Kevlar Hulls, for example. It always makes me smile when you see a client’s face after they realize the boat they’re fishing has a Kevlar hull. Not to mention various vacuum-infused systems and other technologies that make these boat feather light, and draft just inches of water. The entire layout of these boats from the deck, hatches, console, drainage systems, and even rod storage are well thought-out designs and have made the world of fly fishing better for guides and fisherman alike.

DSC04029-1200x800These skiffs allow you to get closer to the fish, poling easier and quieter, and are comfortable while running. I could go on for days about the technology of a technical skiff and all the differences for each skiff. If you are a serious fly angler and want a serious poling skiff, then these are the skiffs you will want research. The price of these boats show their place in the market, just like a Lamborghini. If a new skiff is not in your budget, then there are plenty of used ones out there to choose from under $30k. Test ride the skiffs, pole them around, and even throw some line on the bow to really see if a Technical skiff is the right choice for you.

The All-Around Skiff:

These skiffs will do everything you need them to do. They might not have a vacuum-infused Kevlar hull and might not pole, or run like other skiffs, but they will get the job done. I fished out of a 17ft Scout Costa flats boat for the first 3 years of my career. That boat poled like shit, weighed as much as the titanic, rode like a bull, and was nowhere near technical. But in those first 3 years, it was affordable for a new guide and the perfect boat to get my career started. In reality, you can pole any boat out there under 20ft but the larger the boat, the more weight you have, the harder it will be to pole. Lots of people instal poling platforms on aluminum john boats or Carolina skiffs which gets the job done just fine for half the price.

Louis Cahill Photography

Louis Cahill Photography

The all-around skiff is a boat that can do a little of everything and doesn’t break your bank account. Companies like Scout, Ranger, Hewes, Action Craft, Spyder, Mitzi Skiff, Carolina Skiff, Mako, Bulls Bay, Key West, and many more companies make great boats. Most of these boats you can find lightly used for about half the price of a technical skiff. The best thing about the all-around skiff is they are usually larger boats that are very stable, and able to take 3-4 anglers. Or a smaller skiff without the technology of a technical skiff. They are good for the weekend angler who may be new to shallow water fishing and wants a boat to learn on or something the whole family can enjoy. Of course the downside to these larger skiffs is that they are heavier, and much harder to pole. They usually draft 10-13 inches of water if over 18ft long. The smaller skiffs are great but lack a good finish, storage, and running ability. Which is not a big deal if you are only using the skiff part time.

Micro Skiff:

Steve Seinberg

Steve Seinberg

There is also the option of going small. Very small. These skiffs are considered “micro” skiffs and can very well be the right choice for the serious shallow water angler who only wants a simple fishing tool. Companies in the micro skiff world include Towee, Gheenoe, Ankona, Inshore Power Boats, Solo Skiff, and a few more. These are 1-2 person skiffs that draft 2-5 inches of water and can get stupid shallow. Usually powered by a 10-25hp outboard engine that gives you that raw old school feel of a skiff. They are also very affordable, costing anywhere between $7-15k brand spanking new with a trailer. Not the most comfortable skiff, but very fishy in the right conditions for backcountry sight fishing. Another good option to check out while you’re in the market.

Screen-Shot-2015-12-10-at-3.33.42-PMThe more research you do, the more you will learn about the difference in types of flats boats on the market. I could go on for pages about skiffs because there are so many different kinds for different needs, but there is always that one boat that will be a great fit for you. If you buy a used boat, make sure to get a compression check on the engine. Take a look at the wiring and other metal parts of the boat to make sure it’s in good shape and has minimal corrosion. Make sure there are no cracks or voids in the hull. Check the trailer to make sure there is not too much rust on the axel and that the bearings, and other moving parts are in good shape. Things like a push pole, trolling motor, gps, power pole, and other accessories always add more value to the boat. Most importantly, take the boat out for a test run and pole it around for a while to get a feel for the boat. Testing a boat out will always be the key selling factor for you.

Hope this helps you out with your search for a poling skiff and good luck on your hunt!

Tight Lines,

Owen Plair
Gink & Gasoline
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5 thoughts on “A Buyers Guide To Flats Skiffs

  1. Owen, first time I talked to you it was about your boat. A Scout Costa. Forget about poling the boat. I still have the same boat. A 17 scout Costa. I love it. It meets my needs, this ain’t the Bahamas. I started to dream about Beaufort SC……….came down, bought a place in New Point, hired Allison Ramsey to design my next house, and decided I needed a new life. I hope to be living there this time next year. I blame you. Be careful what you recommend. I’ll stop and say hi, and go fishing with you when I finally get down there. Best regards, alex

  2. Developing a good relationship with the dealer is maybe as important as the boat itself. When it comes to crunch time and you need service then it’s nice to get squeezed ahead of the crowds. That c I mes with the relationship.

  3. A really good alternative is the Sea Ark, aka Mon Ark. I run an 18′ Sea Ark with a 90HP Yamaha 4 stroke. This is the skinny water dream. Whether in the Indian River Lagoon, flats off of Homosassa or one of our shallow Florida lakes this boat does it all. I am seeing more and more guides going to the Sea Ark – and you don’t need to mortgage your house to afford it.

  4. For this summer, my husband and I are looking at buying a boat that we can use to go out fishing. Since it is just my husband and me, we could probably do with a smaller boat. We will have to look more into the companies you mentioned in the micro skiff world like Gheenoe and Towee. As you suggested, we’ll be sure to do our research to find what boat will be the right fit for us and our budget.

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