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August 04, 2009

Building a Tricked-Out Flats Boat

15 features of the perfect skiff

The flats skiff has become an icon of Keys inshore fishing. This specialized craft resolves a range of technical problems, but guides and anglers continue to refine the design and outfitting to meet the particular challenges of flats fishing.

The way each angler rigs and accessorizes his skiff is informed by the nature of the quarry. Few of the features and modifications are useful in all fishing situations, but all have a place at one time or another on the flats. Redfishing may mean long runs across open water into the backcountry off Flamingo, so a hull that handles chop proves essential. Tailing bonefish demand a quiet hull with an extremely shallow draft. Tarpon haunt deeper flats and require accessories that would only be in the way on a bonefish-hunting skiff.

The generic flats boat is a 15- to 18-foot center console. The (1) console should be low so it does not interfere with casting and allows the driver to see ahead when seated. It should be just high enough to put the steering wheel in reach for stand-up navigating through channels and passes.

(2) Trim tabs become critical for trimming out in shallow water and adjusting to varying loads and sea conditions. (3) Wide covering boards and low cockpit freeboard allow storage of the (4) push pole on top and provide ample space below to (5) stow rods in racks against the hull. A (6) clutter-free front deck provides casting and fish-fighting space for the angler. (7) Bow lights, cleats and push-pole brackets should fold down for a snag-free surface, critical for fly-casters.

(8) Platforms front and (9) rear provide extra elevation for poling and spotting fish from the stern and casting from the bow. On the flats, the extra height vastly improves the ability to spot fish. Boats without a (10) console seat often feature a sturdy, nonskid cooler that does double duty as a seat and a temporary casting platform on the front deck.

(11) Electric trolling motors assist when moving from flat to flat and for approaching productive water without the noise of the main engine. Tradition-ally, trolling motors were mounted at the stern, one on each side of the poling tower, but bow mounts have gained  favor, as quick-release brackets make them instantly removable when they aren't needed.

Serious fly-casters install a (12) line tamer on the front deck.It looks like a wastebasket and holds loose fly line, preventing it from blowing overboard or tangling inside the boat. A (13) Power-Pole or Wang Anchor, mounted on the stern, sticks into the bottom to hold the boat in place.

A (14) stakeout pole, usually a 6-foot section cut from a broken push pole, is useful for tying off the bow when setting up the casting angle for fish cruising a known path. Atop the console, a small (15) GPS/chart plotter with a sea-surface-temperature gauge gets you to the spots, remembers where you caught fish and lets you know conditions are right for success.