Evolution of the Technical Poling Skiff

These vessels have significantly progressed since the earliest models were built more than a half-century ago.
Poling a skiff during the day
Technical poling skiffs are are light, quiet, and capable of getting into extremely skinny water. Jon Whittle

The lineage of the poling skiff goes back to the early 1950s, when Bob Hewes built a small boat to tow his daughter, a competitive water-skier, around the canals near his home. It was light, handled a powerful outboard, and stayed on plane in corners. Fishing guides who worked the flats of nearby Biscayne Bay realized that the boats ran in very shallow water, so raised casting decks and poling platforms were added, and the Hewes Bonefisher was born—the first flats-fishing boat.

Along the way, flats boats underwent a divergence ­between backcountry models and technical poling skiffs. The former are larger, heavier, and not as stealthy. The latter are lighter, quieter, and capable of getting into extremely skinny water with nary a ripple. Today the Maverick Boat Group manufactures both Hewes and Maverick flats boats and is the largest boatmaker in these genres. It has pushed the envelope of technical-poling-skiff performance through design and construction improvements. Charlie Johnson, director of marketing and a devotee of shallow-water boats, ran us through some of those improvements.

“Backcountry boats have pretty much morphed into bay boats, like the larger Hewes and our Pathfinder models. They can get into relatively shallow water but utilize trolling motors to maneuver. Technical poling skiffs remain unique to very specific fisheries,” Johnson says. “Lighter, faster, quieter are the hallmarks of a poling skiff and the driving force behind their evolution. Early skiffs had hard edges and utilized the materials and construction techniques of the day, which meant they were heavy and harder to pole. Water would slap the hull while running and at rest, creating noise—the last thing you want in very shallow water. Later Hewes and Maverick designs feature no hard edges at or below the waterline, and weight savings are accomplished using carbon-fiber and Kevlar cloths and VARIS construction, a process of resin infusion that optimizes the resin-to-cloth ratio for a stronger, lighter hull and deck assembly.”

Modern technical poling skiffs such as Maverick’s models are the epitome of the art and ideal for making stealthy approaches into places where the fish one seeks are at their most vulnerable and wary. How stealthy? When a fish takes a fly literally alongside the boat in 10 inches of water, that’s stealthy!