The Great Skiff Hunt, Part I

skiffhunt_introI spent hundreds of hours this past fall and winter catching up on the “state of the art” in skiff design and production.  I spoke at length with the manufacturers of most major skiff models, talking about unique features and how various models fit customer expectations for high-performance fishing boats.  And ‘fit’ is the perfect word, if only because we know there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all skiff.

The ideal skiff for redfish in Plaquemine Parish or stripers off of the Cape is a different beast from the boat you’d want for hunting laid-up tarpon in Ten Thousand Islands or riding four-footers on your way to permit in the Marquesas.  Quietness, ride, tippiness, storage, speed, deck layout, draft, and dryness are just a few of the characteristics that distinguish one skiff from another, and each of them matter more than others in specific types of fishing.  But few of us can afford more than one skiff, and so we must choose.

As March–prime permit season in the Florida Keys–neared, I realized the time to make a decision about my new boat was growing short.   I forced myself to narrow in on the factors that made the most difference to me.  In approximate order, they were:

1. Fishing Performance – I’m still able to occasionally fool myself into thinking that I am 25 years old and pushing a skiff into a 20-knot wind one-handed while barking instructions to the guy on the bow.  I want a boat that responds to my effort, stays quiet while moving into a quartering shop or staked-out, doesn’t push a big pressure wave, goes shallow enough for bonefish stuck in potholes.

2. Ride – I don’t expect to arrive at my destination without having to absorb some serious chop or steer around some big seas.  But I don’t want to feel every bit of wave chatter or come down hard when the boat catches some air. I also want to be able to drive the boat at an angle that keeps me dry, mostly.

3. Price – One thing that you can be sure of in high-performance skiffs: quality doesn’t come cheap.  Yes, you can find boats that are well-made, inexpensive, and give you 80% of the fishing you’d have with a top-tier boat.  But when you consider what goes into making a boat that combines all of the characteristics necessary to do what what we do really well, manufacturers are left with pretty small margins.   It’s a fact that most builders are motivated by a passion for the sport and for boat-building, and not by the opportunity to make a killing in the skiff market.    That leaves us with some well-defined choices.  There aren’t any skiffs that fit my criteria that can be bought new for less than $30,000-35,000.    And I don’t begrudge a manufacturer who is making fewer than 50 skiffs a year the chance to make a $5,000 profit.  On the other hand, the used market is tempting.  That is, if you can find the right hull with the right engine that doesn’t need a $7000 overhaul to make it trustworthy and comfortable.

4. Aesthetics – As much as all of the above matters, I couldn’t ride in an ugly boat.  I like my skiffs simple, clean, and sharp-looking.

There were other criteria, like the ability to be to run shallow and rod storage, but those four were the biggies for me.    In my mind, if you’re satisfied with all of the above, you can adjust your habits to make almost anything else work.  It’s hard enough to find a skiff that offers all of the above–and match personal tastes–without worrying about things like whether a popup cleat is automatic or manual, or whether the cockpit lights are LED or low-end.  You can even get away with subpar wiring, though you should consider having a rigging expert redo it.

So with time growing short and hard choices to make, what boat did I end up with?   Stay tuned for Part II.


Building the “Hemingway and Fuentes” Boat

Boatbuilder John Lubbehusen

Boatbuilder John Lubbehusen

Douglas Jordan interviews boatbuilder John Lubbehusen about his work on the fishing skiff that will be used for the upcoming “Hemingway and Fuentes,” a film directed by and starring Andy Garcia.

“The boat, which is 16 feet long with a beam (width) of about six feet, is framed in mahogany and planked with Spanish cedar, he said. It will have a gaff-rigged sail.  ‘I’m trying to use materials that would have been found down there on the island at that time (the 1950s),’ Lubbehusen said.” (Thanks to Todd Thompson for this link.) [Read more…]

Maverick’s New 17 HPX-V 2

Maverick 2013 HPX-V 2Maverick 2013 HPX-V 2

Maverick 2013 HPX-V 2

Yes, they added a ‘2’ to the name to help distinguish it as a new model, but the only visible changes to Maverick’s long-live HPX line (which started with the Mirage in the 1990s) is a reconfiguration of the hatch and livewell/storage layout.

I spoke with Charlie Johnson, Maverick’s marketing director, just after the Miami Boat Show this past weekend, and he said that the new 17 HPX-V 2 helped them reach record sales at the show.   Continuing a trend that started about two years ago, it’s nice to hear that one of the mainline brands is reporting growth.  Johnson fished on the new 17, rigged with a 70 Yamaha, during the show and and reported: “Two or three shoves of the pushpole and that skiff is going.   It tracks better than any skiff I’ve poled in that size range.”

So what’s the new cap and deck layout all about?   “The newer layout simply makes the boat much more user-friendly,” said Johnson. ” There’s more storage in the bow and stern, and it’s all much easier to access. Plus, the livewell is  now on the centerline, which helps with balance and stability, and there’s a padded lip underneath where the back deck protrudes slightly into the cockpit that functions as a very comfortable handhold for passengers. All this was done without impacting the famous 17 HPX-V ride.”

I’ll be spending some time hands-on in the new skiff in a few weeks and will be able to offer up my personal impressions then.  If anyone has specific questions about the skiff, add them to the comments here or send them to me at

$3000 Inflatable Flats Boat

Bare Bones Flats Boat

Bare Bones Inflatable Flats Boat

Richard Swan, an avid fly fisherman and entrepreneur and formerly CEO and founder of Glacier Glove, has just announced his latest product: an inflatable flats boat that can be checked as luggage or fit into a car trunk and set up in about ten minutes.  The boat will be introduced at the Miami International Boat Show, Feb. 14-18 at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

One to two adult anglers can stand up and cast from the Bare Bones™ thanks to an innovative drop stitched floor. Drop Stitch construction is widely used in inflatable Stand Up Paddleboards (SUP) and greatly improves stability. The light weight design floats in five inches of water. In addition, the frame offers two sets of oar locks strategically placed to allow the Bare Bones™ to be rowed facing either the stern or the bow. Facing the stern provides the greatest rowing power, while facing the bow, allows the rower to see the fish and move the boat with precision to the best casting position. “Flats boats have traditionally been poled on the flats, a skill that takes a lot of practice to acquire,” said Swan. “The Bare Bones™ offers the option of rowing, a skill that most fisherman already possess.”

Podcast: Paul Sonnen Garage-Built Skiff

Paul Sonnen SkiffZach Matthews interviews Alabama coastal guide Paul Sonnen, who describes his garage-built Flats Stalker 18 skiff as looking something “like a surfboard with an engine on the back.”

Sonnen tells about learning how to build a skiff with Internet references and help from online forum participants, then how he went on to build a highly finished final product with a “stitch and glue method“–including using a lot of twist ties in the construction.

Blue and White East Cape Fury

A recent release from the East Cape shop is this blue and white Fury powered by a 60 Suzuki.  Go small motors! [Read more…]

“The Road to a Jericho”

Jericho Bay Lobster SkiffShearline Boatwork’s Chip King tells the story of building a wooden Jericho Bay skiff, based on an old lobster boat design, for wooden boat aficionado Larry Wilson. There’s some wonderful detail here about the inspiration and skills required to build this classic boat. [Read more…]

Blue East Cape Fury and ETec 60

NEast Cape Texas Furyew East Cape custom skiff: a Fury headed to Texas with an Evinrude Etec 60, jack plate, power-pole, grab rail, casting platform, and trolling motor. [Read more…]

Hell’s Bay to Introduce New Marquesa in Fort Lauderdale

Hell's Bay Marquesa

Hell’s Bay Marquesa

It’s not all big yachts at the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show.   Hell’s Bay Boatworks will introduce the new 18′ 1″ Marquesa, which the company touts as a skiff with a “buttery smooth ride” that weighs only 695 pounds.  The Hell’s Bay booth will be a hub for captains and experts as well, with C.A. Richardson, Capt. Rob Fordyce, Capt. Joe Gonzalez, Capt. Carl Ball and author and fly fishing personality Chico Fernandez all in attendance.

We’ll hope to hear all about the new Marquesa in an upcoming interview with the company on Skiff Republic.

East Cape Gray Vantage with 115 Mercury Pro XS

East Cape Skiffs Gray VantageThe latest skiff out of East Cape Skiff’s shop is this Vantage VHP, powered by a Mercury 115 Pro XS, with lean bar, offset center console, GPS, and Power-pole. [Read more…]