What is the best flats boat?

Each month I field a question from a reader and answer it as best I can, focusing on those inquiries and responses that I believe will be of general benefit or interest…or at least of interest to me. Blogger’s prerogative. I recently received this email from sometime Florida angler Tom G. from Dayton, Ohio: “John, what in your opinion is the best flats boat on the market? I’ll be moving to Florida in the next year or so and I’ll be buying a shallow-water boat.”


Tom, I can help, but to do your question justice I’d need to write many pages in reply, which is beyond the scope of this website. Bottom line is that (contrary to the claims of several manufacturers) there is no “best” flats boat for all conditions.

If you’ll spend time offshore or run across big bays in chop quite often, it’d be tough not to recommend a 21-footer with a 200-HP (or more) motor. If you’ll primarily fish the back-country with the occasional long run or offshore jaunt, there are now quite a few 17 to 18-ft. models that will do that trick nicely. And if you’ll be targeting skittish fish in real skinny water, you’d be best served buying one of the smallish technical poling skiffs that are relatively easy to pole for hours on end. There are other options, as well, including everything from versatile bay boats down to microskiffs, depending on your primary goal. Of course, cost will factor heavily into the decision – for most of us, anyway. Just remember this: every boat that excels in one area has a drawback in another – just the way it goes.

I’m working on an eguide that will address construction-related issues such as deadrise and freeboard and the way they impact draft, ease of poling, hull slap, etc. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the annual shallow-water boat guide published by Florida Sportsman. There are no reviews in that publication (they don’t want to alienate any current or potential advertisers, I’m sure), but they do a fine job of categorizing and profiling all of the options out there.

For now, however, I’d just concentrate on defining what your primary goal is. Finding and buying a boat is great fun, but having it meet your expectations is the bottom line.

Thanks for writing, Tom.


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2 Responses to “What is the best flats boat?”

  1. jim oetter says:

    Dear John
    I’m a plug caster that fish’s the 10,000 islands out of Everglades National Park. I DO NOT POLE, but use a bow mounted trolling motor. The light weight micro skiffs like hells bay, Inshore power boats, take a toll on your back when running across the many bays. What boat do you recommend?

  2. admin says:

    Jim, this is a question that lends itself to big-time bias. I love my little Dolphin Super Skiff, since it’s shallow (8 inches or so) and has a modified V, so it offers a smooth ride and cuts chop surprisingly well. It’s flared hull also keep overspray to a minimum. The downside: it’s small so if you fish more than two anglers you feel a bit cramped, and the v-hull makes it tippy if you stand on the gunnels. Every boat demands trade offs for benefits. If I were you, I’d concentrate on 16 to 18-foot skiffs from Dolphin, Hewes or Maverick, since they all have forgiving rides, all work well with bow-mount trolling motors and all have good re-sale value. I’d be happy to hear from owners of other skiffs, however, since there are many other solid brands out there.