One for the blue, another for the backcountry.
What can you do with a flats skiff? These days it’s harder to answer the question, what can’t you do with one? When Florida Sportsman began chronicling the development of shallow-water outboard boats in the early 1970s, there were only a handful that qualified.
Today there are dozens and dozens of builders, with skiffs out there in every imaginable configuration. Some owners like to keep theirs simple, for fly fishing in extreme shallows, for instance. Others like to outfit their boats with bluewater-grade electronics, big livewells and lots of rodholders. Some prefer boats that skim across moist seagrass with the slightest push of a pole. Others want a big outboard and big-seas comfort.
These two Dreamboats, viewed together, exemplify the spectrum of boat configurations and rigging options available.
Totally Tricked Out
Bob and Patty Markland had a tough decision to make when planning the purchase of their latest fishing boat, Good Vibrations. Fanatic anglers, both enjoy fishing their Atlantic home waters near Miami, but don’t mind trailering the boat down the state a few hours to the Everglades National Park at Flamingo to fish. They are as comfortable trolling offshore in 200 feet of water as they are poling the shallow flats near the islands of Florida Bay, and needed the appropriate vessel. Safety, comfort and fishabililty were the obvious concerns for them as they began their search for their dream boat, but versatility was the number one issue.
“Totally tricked out” best describes the Markland’s boat. This is not an inshore-only boat fully rigged, but a boat rigged to its fullest capabilites for almost any fishing situation.
The Marklands started with a 20-foot Young skiff built in Inglis, just north of Crystal River, on Florida’s west coast. It’s larger and heavier than some might prefer for true shallow-water applications, but that’s not the point. The Marklands wanted safety and seaworthiness offshore, as well as shallow draft for inshore fishing. They made almost-weekly 350-mile trips to the shop during the boat’s construction to oversee the progress.
Bob and Patty wanted lots of options. Taking the basic hull, they had it customized to their specifications. They didn’t have to look much farther than the factory, which was happy to install many items.
Powered by a 300-horsepower, high-pressure direct injection, two-stroke outboard, Good Vibrations has the ability to bully moderately heavy offshore seas or race home across the flats ahead of thunderstorms at speeds in excess of 50 mph. The Marklands made no compromises as to power, realizing that the weight of the 300 was about the same as the 225 they had originally planned to hang on the stern. A jack plate, poling platform and Power Pole unit round out the inshore performance accessories, while dual, aerated livewells and lots of rod holders make the boat a great platform for kite-fishing or trolling live baits offshore.
Other accessories make the boat “just plain nice and handy,” as Bob puts it. A filler system for the oil reservoir, 18-gallon freshwater washdown system, dipnet holders mounted under the livewell covers, and a nice fabric pouch for leader and lure storage behind the seat back all help make Good Vibrations a highly efficient fishing rig. Rounding out the list of goodies are a couple of definite luxuries—a CD changer system for Patty and a Mantis umbrella for Bob.
Outfitting a 20-footer as completely as Good Vibrations might seem frivilous or excessive for some anglers. However, Bob and Patty Markland have taken a very versatile hull design, worked with the builder to make it both inshore and offshore friendly, and created a true crossover boat, capable of fishing big water, skinny water and everything in-between.
Keep on Poling
Jody Moore is a frequent contributor to Florida Sportsman magazine. From his home in Broward County, he trailers his skiff regularly to Flamingo, fishing the wilderness waters of Everglades National Park.
For 17 years, his 15-foot Challenger Perfection was a familiar sight at the park boat ramp. The Challenger, long out of production, was originally built as a ski boat and later modified in the 1950s for flats guides in the Keys.
“It was a great boat,” Moore recalled. “It floated in 5 1⁄2 inches of water, poled like a dream, and was extremely quiet.”
When Moore began looking for a new skiff, he wanted to retain the performance characteristics of his old boat, but enjoy the “extras” available on modern flats boats. His new boat would incorporate all the little tricks Moore needed—for sight fishing skinny water; for remote backcountry exploration; and for long-distance trailering.
He ordered a modern 17-foot skiff designed for shallow-water poling. The Maverick HPX 17 is Kevlar, light and impact-resistant. It’s also simple and shaped to minimize hull slap.
“It’s fly fishing friendly,” said Moore, “with no overhanging hatch corners or lips that catch fly lines. The hatch latches are recessed and the pushpole holders collapse in unison, flush with the deck.”
The trim tabs, made by Lenco, are recessed, less likely to be subject to damage when trailering or launching the boat.
Some other factory special orders included a compass, forward pop-up cleat and mechanically adjustable steering.
“I can move the wheel from a vertically slanted position that is best for steering while seated, to a horizontal position for when I am standing at the console,” he noted.
He had a choice of a vee-hull or tunnel, but chose the vee-hull for a better ride in choppy water.
“My thought here is I generally avoid running shallow since I am not into burning the flats and I’d rather have the smooth ride.”
Where Moore doesn’t run shallow, he certainly fishes shallow, and thus weight was a big concern. He ordered the boat with a 90-horsepower two-stroke, as opposed to a four-stroke.
After logging thousands of highway miles towing boats, Moore has seen every possible thing that can go wrong with a trailer. He ordered a trailer constructed entirely of stainless steel, from the frame to the tire rims, and even the hand winch. It’s a trailer configured to launch so that he never needs to submerge the hubs; surefire insurance for the bearings.
“I had the bunks equipped with skid pads that with the slightest shove launches the boat; the pads make it just as easy to load with a hand crank or by running the boat up on the trailer. There’s also a stainless steel running board that allows me to walk the length of the trailer when hooking up to the winch strap,” he explained.
The spare tire, spare hub and bearings are attached to the front of the trailer, easily removed if he needs to change a flat or ruined hub.
To trick out the boat, Moore visited Master Repair in Fort Lauderdale, owned and operated by Mike Flavin.
“First I wanted the factory wiring replaced with nickel-plated wiring,” Moore recalled. “I would never have to be concerned with the corrosion copper wiring is prone to.”
Flavin installed courtesy lighting under the gunnels, handy illumination for the rod racks before sunrise. He also installed a light under the poling platform, enough to see the baitwell, tie knots or rummage through rear hatches. Lastly, a courtesy light inside the console.
Flavin also made a custom battery tray; Moore uses one for the trolling motor, the other for cranking the outboard. Within the console is a battery charger that requires only an extension cord from the house.
The batteries Flavin installed are Odysseys, a new make which debuted in military applications. The batteries are smaller than regular marine 12-volt batteries, and have a 6- to 10-year service life. Moore will put some of the company’s promises to the test, such as recharge after full discharge over 400 times.
The trolling motor is a Minn Kota CoPilot. Speed and direction are controlled by foot pedal or with remote control attached to the fishing rod, belt or your wrist. The motor also has an autopilot feature that maintains direction with the push of a button. A quick-release system on the bow deck lets Moore remove the motor on days when he’ll be using the pushpole instead.
Since the trolling motor blocked the light of the boat’s factory-installed popup bow lights, Moore had LED lights installed on the console.
On the console is a fishfinder/GPS combo unit, with a temperature gauge. “Water temp helps me determine the mood or presence of fish,” Moore said.
For hot days, Moore added an ice chest. He chose a Frigid Rigid model, fiberglass with two inches of foam insulation and an airtight seal.
“It serves dual purpose as a seat in front of the console, and even a casting platform,” said Moore.
The pushpole is a 20-foot Stiffy model, graphite wrapped with epoxy tape, coming in at 4 pounds. On the poling platform is a pushpole holder as well as a stainless steel rodholder, attached to the front left leg and angled slightly forward.
“The fishing rod is out of the way of the poler, but within easy reach in case a double hookup or backup cast presents itself,” said Moore.
On the base plate of the rod holder is a hole Moore can use to clip a 4-foot length of line with a 10-inch loop in the end; this serves as a securing line for staking out with the push pole.