Skiff Republic: We’re talking today with Scott Deal, a highly respected businessman and angler who started Maverick Boat Company in 1984 after discovering and fishing out of the original Maverick hulls built in the 1970s. Since that time, he’s built Maverick into a dominant brand in both the skiff and bay boat markets. Welcome, Scott.
Scott Deal: Thanks, Marshall. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to chat.
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SR: Your reputation today is mostly as a successful businessman. Many listeners don’t know what I know, which is that you were involved in the development of modern performance skiffs and small boats as anyone. You knew and fished with many of the craftsmen of that time and the anglers who were inspired in the 60s and 70s to come up with the really truly fishy boats. Tell us a little bit about your role in moving those ideas along.
Deal: I think your statement “moving the ideas along” is really good, because as I think a lot of people recognize, we all build on the accomplishments and the hard work and tutelage of people that have come before us, all the way back to the guys that were taking wooden skiffs with 200-pound 20-horse outboards and taking half a day to get out to Buchanan Bank or Nine Mile Bank and fish. Those guys developed a fishery that we take for granted, as if it was always was known and always understood. It’s just not the case.
Someone had to go out there, somebody had to decide that they could catch these fish on light tackle. Somebody had to figure out how to do it. It certainly wasn’t me, and it certainly wasn’t even my generation.
I do think that I helped move those ideas along on skiff design. My history was such that I had lived in the Keys and I had purchased an old 18 Maverick from a guy named Herman Lucerne, whom many of you know, and he and I became really good friends. He had a houseboat on the bayside of Flamingo–not Florida bayside, but Whitewater bayside of Flamingo.
There was a fishing community there that I was really lucky and blessed to be introduced to. Ted Juracsik had a houseboat next to him and Herman’s houseboat sort of was a rallying point, a meeting point for people who would either come and stay, or come and have a drink after fishing all day, or come for dinner. I got introduced to a whole lot of people.
The fishing that we did there mostly was what I’ll call backcountry-style fishing. For that, that old 18 Maverick was absolutely perfect. I used to take people out and do that style of fishing on Whitewater bay and the oyster bars north of Shark River, and somewhat out front, the Flamingo grass flats areas. Mostly, I was a backcountry snook and redfish guy. The boat functioned very, very well.
In the course of living in the Keys, I did a lot of near-shore and offshore fishing out on the boat, and I also did some bonefishing, and of course tarpon fishing primarily around the bridges.
I ended up leaving my job with Xerox and through sort of an odd and long story ended up owning the molds to the 18 Maverick. At that point in time in the mid-80s, 1984, there was no production of the Maverick boat, which was built ostensibly by a company called Berg Boats, which was owned by an eye surgeon in Fort Pierce, Lenny Berg, someone you may know. Great guy, big fisherman, used to be an eye surgeon in Key West and certainly was involved in some of the early days of fly fishing down there. He fished a lot with Steve Huff and some other legendary people. I ended up buying the molds and started the subcontract relationship with Berg’s subcontractor, which was a company called Atlantis Fiberglass. That’s how we ended up in Fort Pierce.
SR: I didn’t want to interrupt you, but what kind of hulls were those? They obviously were very different than what you ended up building later on, but …
Deal: The original Maverick was built by a guy named Wally Cole out of Miami. He built a racing boat. Originally, it was an inboard racing boat which was a modified version of the California drag boat called the Maverick.
A couple people convinced him to make a skiff design out of that. He built a couple of them. I’ve spoken with Wally about that, and actually his son lives within a mile of my house of Vero Beach. It was an interesting time because people were having to literally design and build their own versions of what we would later call “flats boats.” You couldn’t just go buy a flats boat. There was nothing out there in the market.
He made a couple of the tumblehome–meaning it’s sort of a curved-aft-transom boat–off of that and made a skiff deck for it. Guy Valdene, who was at Key West at the time with Tom McGuane and Jimmy Buffett and Jim Harrison and all those guys, you’ve probably seen in the film.
SR: I’ve had the pleasure of fishing out of the boat I think you’re about to describe.
Deal: That was Gil Drake’s boat, and Guy Valdene had one. I want to say there were a total of four of them produced. To my knowledge, there’s only one of them left and that was the boat that ended as Jimmy Buffett’s, which was formerly Guy Valdene’s boat and it ended up as a display item at the IGFA Museum. But I don’t believe that boat’s still there. [Editor’s Note: It has been moved to a local Bass Pro Shop in Florida.]
That was the boat called the Maverick. It had a curvy shape to it, and was kind of sexy looking, but it was prone to go through waves as opposed to over them and had some limitations.
Lenny Berg wanted one of those boats in the worst way. Wally called and said, “Look, this is not what I do. I do racing boats and other things, but I’ll sell you the molds and you can make your own damn skiff.” Lenny bought the molds but decided to make some improvements to the boat. He took that set of tooling to another guy in Miami by the name of Les Stratton. I have never talked to Les Stratton, but this is a story that was related to me by Lenny Berg when we were acquiring the tooling. Les set about extending the transom, straightening out the curves of the tumblehome, and giving it a flat sheer instead of the dropnose sheer that the originally boat had, and the two sponsons were live wells off the back.
You may remember that boat as the original 18 Maverick. That was built by Berg Boats for quite a few years and they built a total of about 50 of them. That was a great boat, and that’s a boat that I ended up with from Herman Lucerne.
There’s lots of vintage footage of that boat being fished by Stu Aplin, Flip Pallot, and some pictures of Eddie Wightman, the world-record bone fish caught out at Islamorada in that boat.
In its day, it was really almost peerless for ride and stability. The fisher was different then and that boat worked really, really well in the 70s. When I started building them in the 80s and getting more into bone fishing as I got integrated into the Keys fishing community a little bit, I would go down there and learn quite a bit about bonefishing and tarpon fishing and fly fishing for these fish.
You could still do it quite effectively in an 18 Maverick. At some point in time–I have to go back, I want to say it was probably 1990-ish  –Mark Krowka, who now is well-known as just an absolutely dominant tournament captain and fishing guide, I don’t know if you know Mark, but he’s …
SR: He’s a superb guide, no question.
Deal: He’s an exceptional human specimen. Anybody who has fished with him will understand what I mean by that. From the first time you shake hands with him and get crushed by the catcher’s mitt at the end of his arms. He’s just a different guy, and just an exceptional fisherman, and really taught me everything I know about bonefishing and the Keys, he really did.
I was fortunate enough to fish with him and he suggested that we do a tournament together. I’d never even considered doing a tournament, didn’t know how the whole thing worked. He said he’d call somebody and get me an invite to the Islamorada Fall Invitational Tournament, which was at that time a 5-day tournament, all fly, and that was the first tournament for both of us.
I had made a Kevlar vacuum-bagged, shortened version of the 18 Maverick which was our 16’ 10” and we fished that boat. The boat was super light, we’d go plenty shallow. You had to be careful poling into a wind or chop because the boat had hull slap. It was a hard chine boat and had some hull slap. We worked around that and Mark was aware of the issue. We still caught a lot of fish.
SR: The late 80s, the early 90s were the time when you were first beginning to take these hulls and sort of shape them to what you envisioned to be.
Deal: Exactly. The boat was too hard to pole. Everybody said you got to make them lighter. Boats are displacement vehicles when you’re poling them. They’re not planing hulls. They’re just like a canoe in that respect. You’re shoving the boat with a stick. Shoving the big, wide flat kind boat with a stick is always going to be harder than shoving a narrow one, irrespective of the weight.
I learned in the course of poling these boats, and fishing in these boats in the extreme tournament-type conditions, that it’s hard, and it needed to be easier. Also, the footprint of the boat would affect the fish. Now I’ll get to the comment that Steve Huff made to me, and I’ll get off the tournament thing.
We were neck and neck with Huff and Bill Hassett, who was the great angler from St. Louis, and those guys had just cleaned everybody’s clocks for years. Mark and I went for the minimum in the Calcutta. We were nobodies, but we did well and we caught 20-something fish. I can’t remember exactly, but we caught the largest bonefish. It was neck-and-neck to the last day, and then those guys ended up with a fish or two more than we did and they won.
Afterwards, at the banquet, Steve Huff said to me–and I remember it to this day–he said, “Just think how you would have done if you had a real boat,” which kind of pissed me off.
Then, I said, “Okay, let’s talk about that.” I started talking to him about boats a little bit and observed that he was fishing out of this boat that he had built himself out of Super Skiff tooling and had done a beautiful job. He spent his time and went off to a unique boat for his needs, talked to more and more people about hull slap and shape and became intrigued with these little boats. At that time the only type of what I’ll call a “little boat” was a Dolphin Super Skiff. Interesting design, drew a lot of water, even in the light version because it had a very deep V and very little volume within the hull. Once you started putting people in the boat, it went down very quickly.
The effect of that drop was that the boat needed at least a foot of water, which could be problematic. It didn’t make any noise, so it was killer for mudding bonefish and fishing in the wind. It tracked pretty well–very well, compared to some of the other boats on the market at that time.
In the course of the tournaments, I became very friendly with Harry Spear and I had fished several tournaments at that point and started talking to him about designing a boat. He actually took me out in his Super Skiff and we discussed the virtues and the limitations of the design. I understood how to try to design a boat so that it would draw less water and wouldn’t be so inclined to dip on the oceanside where you’re caught between swells—when you’re tarpon fishing and the bow goes down and the weight goes into the boat which is something those boats did very badly–and how to make a boat run more efficiently.
The power choice was a 90 Yamaha. I designed a boat with a similar chine structure to Dave Exley’s design. Dave Exley is the guy who made the mold that became the Super Skiff. I discussed his design, and how he came about it was quite interesting.
SR: I heard a story that he had actually began with that flat bottom. I think it was the Banana River boat, is that right?
Deal: Exactly. You see those boats even now. Dave Exely’s original design was this flat-bottom skiff. You see boats of that hull shape driving up and down the roads today behind trucks to spray in mosquito impoundment ditches.
As he explained it to me–and I can only go on what he told me–is that he was selling those boats, but they beat the crap out of you. They’re flat bottomed and he was in the Banana River and up in Merritt Island area and he wanted to have a boat that rode better. He had an old Mitchell hull–he liked the way the Mitchell ran—so he cut the V off of the Mitchell and glassed it on to the bottom of this skiff that he had.
It didn’t spec. The lines didn’t line up. If you knew Dave, you’d understand that that was probably okay for him because it did what he needed it to do. That’s where that flat chine structure came from. It wasn’t an intentional design, he had no knowledge of nor interest in hull slap. He put that design on the water and it ran great and he started selling a few of them. I think Steve Huff’s the one that saw that design and said, “That would make a heck of a flats boat.”
Deal: It was pure serendipity on his part. I will definitely say that Dave is responsible for the chine-less, or the sub-water chine design V-hull boat. All Bahamian wooden skiffs are all flat chine boats and they don’t slap. I’m talking about the ones from the 50s and 60s and the Bahamian guys who poled with a guava stick. They don’t make noise either, but they don’t have any V to them, they’re just flat-bottomed and the chines go underwater.
With this new boat, when you came off a plane, the chines went underwater and the waves would go around the boat, and it made very little noise. There was a style line that made some noise and there were some issues with the transom that made some noise, but by and large the boat didn’t make any noise.
I’ll give Dave full credit for that one. For those that don’t know Dave, he’s an interesting guy and gets full on into whatever he does. He was head of a business where he provided learning materials for people that home-schooled. Then he decided to build canoes, and then he decides to build something else. When he goes in something, he just goes into it. He’s a real interesting guy and very, very, very intelligent guy.
I looked at that and said, “Well that’s a good idea, but I think the execution of the concept could be improved tremendously.” That’s where the first Mirage came from. I worked on that design and talked with Harry Spear about it and came out with the very first Mirage and Harry was one of the first ones. Flip Pallot got one of the first ones, and Jose Wejebe got one of the early ones. They were really, really popular because it was probably, I want to say, it was the same horsepower, maybe 8 miles-an-hour faster than the Super Skiff. It was actually legal to run a 90 on, under the Coast Guard formula for horsepower. Because the Super Skiff was only 15 feet long you could not support the formula the Coast Guard requires. That didn’t mean people didn’t do it, but I wasn’t going to something like that. That would not be legal.
The original Mirage was a little over 16 1/2 feet and was dead quiet. It was really the first boat that was designed from scratch to be a poling skiff, a technical poling boat from the first idea and piece of paper. I use the term “technical poling boat” because people didn’t really understand the difference between flats boats. Back then, half the people called them “flat boats.” As in “I want to get a flat boat.” You probably didn’t want to get a flat boat, you want to get a flats boat, for fishing the flats.
I don’t know if you remember, Marshall, but we came out with an ad: it was “the boat for the One in Ten.” If you had to ask why you needed it, you didn’t. We had to differentiate the product line somehow and so we talked in terms of the Master Angler series. The original Mavericks morphed into Master Anglers, and Mirages were a technical poling skiff.
If you’re going to spend all day on the pole, you wanted a boat that was technical in design for that. Those boats were carbon-fiber and Kevlar, but an open layup. We kept refining the design. We had the Mirage, we had the Mirage II, we had the HP–there’s still some of those out there, it was a great boat. The HP moniker was in honor of Harry Spear because it was for the “Holy Poler.” That’s what HP stood for.
SR: Great story.
Deal: If anybody wonders how we come up with these monikers, sometimes there’s a little back story. We designed the HP with Harry. He kept working with us to help refine our designs and try to make things better over the years.
The latest generation series of Mirages is the HPX series. We built the HPXs in V-hull, tunnel hull and sort of what I’ll call semi-V, which is the micro. These boats are all built with vacuum-infused hulls and decks. Vacuum-infusion is without question the best and most advanced way currently available to us to build boats, irrespective of cost.
SR: That’s because the amount of resin that’s required or left unused is lower, right? It lowers the weight of the boat and increases the strength?
Deal: It can do whatever it is you want it to do, depending on how you design your laminates and your core systems. You can have a very resin-rich infused boat that’s heavy, or you can have a super, super light boat that’s infused. Whatever you set it up for, it’s however you design it, it’s completely 100% repeatable every time. Meaning, if you design a laminate structure with a certain amount of fiber content, a certain amount of core content, your hull is going to take 26 gallons of resin—and it’s going to take 26 gallons of resin every time.
Whereas when you’re doing human factor manufacturing, there’s always going to be some variation. It’s what we call VARIS, which is “Vacuum Assisted Resin Infusion System.” That’s our proprietary system. The upper mold sets the tolerances so we use a flexible upper mold to get the maximum compression, and we have incredibly thin fiber on either side of high density PVC foam cores. That’s the lightest way to build a boat.
I know we’re doing a good job because I got a letter from Boeing’s legal department saying that they think we’re in violation of some of their patents related to aircraft. You know you’re on the right track when the guys in the white shirts and coats show up.
SR: What about on this structural foam side, have any changes happened?
Deal: When we first started, cross-linked PVC foam was available under the name Klegecell, which was one of the more popular types. When I got in the business, there were a lot of advancements just starting to hit the market. There was Klegecell, Aerocell, Divinycell, and what I’ll call the rigid foams, which were the PVC cross-linked foams, and now we use Corecell.
They stayed fairly much the same in the way that they’re built or manufactured, but they’ve gotten better at process control and also in density control. We use these foams in transoms, when originally we used plywood transoms back in the first couple of years– I’m going to say ’85, ’86. We still used plywood transoms back then because you didn’t have the compression strength available to you with those foams. Now you do.
We use a variety of densities in the boat depending on what it is we want, what the loads are. Is it compressive load, is it going to be under impact load, is it going to have a lot of tension? That’s how we design the laminates.
SR: A friend of mine who’s a tournament fisherman recently told me that he uses a couple different styles of skiffs for the different kinds of fishing that he does. He said when it comes to competitive fishing, there’s nothing that compares to an HPX-V with a 115 on the back.
Most people, I think, rightly assume that every boat is a compromise and there isn’t any boat that does it all perfectly for everybody in every style of fishing situation.
Deal: Certainly, you see an awful lot of them being used in the tournament circuits with the more serious guys down there. Your statement about the boats being a compromise is absolutely dead on. You’re going to have to make some kind of compromise. You can move the meter one way or the other. The compromise might be more on the draft side and that might suit one particular angler and the other one might say, “No, I need to get into six inches of water because I got to clear a bar before I can go back to where my redfish spots are.” The compromise is different for different people.
For tournament angling, we designed the 17’ HPX and to a certain degree 18’ HPX. Certainly, the 17’ HPX is the best two-man fly boat that I’m aware of on the market. It will run the chop, it will run fast and when you get there, it’s still a very, very credible shallow draft boat and is extremely nimble on the pole.
If you’re the kind of poling fisherman that goes out, looks at the sun and the wind and gets on the shoreline and poles down wind, down sun all day, you’ll never know, really, the extremes of poling like a tournament angler that is fishing a bonefish tournament. He’s got a group of mudding fish in three feet of water on the edge of a channel. He’s got to pole around those fish to get ahead of them, to get a shot when he’s caught on the edge of the current in the channel and a 15-knot wind and his pole is going down 12, 13, 14 feet in the channel to try to get around a fish without letting them know they’re there. That’s when you find out what your boat can really do when you’re poling. Not everyone does that. A tournament guide’s going to have to do that a lot. I think those guys tend to gravitate towards boats like the 17’ HPX because they need them. It’s a tool.
We like to talk about our boats as tools. They’re not accessories, they’re not gingerbread. They’re tools to accomplish a specific mission. We believe we’ve done a good job with the 17’ and 18’ HPX in that respect.
SR: You’ve done the tournament angling thing and I know you were extremely serious bonefisher for a number of years and very successful …
Deal: And redfish and tarpon. I’ve won the bonefish tournaments and the tarpon tournaments. Certainly in the Red Bone series we did very, very well.
SR: Your personal tastes, probably like everybody else’s, have changed somewhat–in what you’re doing, where you’re fishing–and so your taste in boats has probably changed too. Are there things that you look for now in a performance fishing skiff that would fit your own lifestyle?
Deal: I’m 52 now and sit at a desk a lot. That’s not necessarily the best thing for you physically. When I go out all day on the water, I feel it, especially on a littler skiff. I find the 18’ HPX that we design is much more stable than the 17’–still very easy to pole, very nimble, not as nimble as the 17, but certainly close. It’s much more comfortable. I find that if I fish in an 18 HPX all day, when I step off the boat and get on the dock, I feel a whole heck of a lot better. The boat’s designed with the deeper cockpit, so your knees are lower when you’re riding the boat. I don’t know if you follow what I mean. If you’re driving the boat, your knees are up on your ears like a clown on a tricycle, you’re probably going to be pretty sore in the back by the end of the day. We designed that boat to be a little bit more versatile, a little more angler-friendly and it still poles great, it’s dead quiet and really fast.
SR: Are there any particular aspects of boat design that you think that anglers underestimate the importance of? You’ve sold a lot of boats and you must have seen people making choices about boats that they buy and coming back to you and saying, “You know, I wish I had thought about this when I bought my boat.”
Deal: I have spent a lot of time with customers as a factory-direct builder in addition to developing into a national distribution network provider for our four lines of boats, not just the flats boats.
So I do talk to the retail consumer and have for years. I’ve spend a lot of time talking people out of stuff when I’m talking to them. People tend to focus on, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could dot, dot, dot … if I had dot, dot, dot.” They, in their mind every once in a while, “Yeah, I want to go do this,” or “I want to go do that,” and they option the boat to do all these things, but what they end up doing is messing up their 90 percent usage.
I’m always quoting the 90/10 rule that we have here, which is: focus and set the boat up for what you’re going to do 90 percent of the time and forget about the 10 percent. They’ll just mess up your 90-percent usage.
SR: Do you think that accounts for some of movement into more of a bay-boat style, which used to be, as I think you’ve explained to me before, the trash boat of the small boat industry, but has now come to the point where it has become a performance class all by itself?
Deal: The bay boats are certainly a much, much bigger part of our business and the industry in general than flats boats. Flats boats have become more and more narrowly focused and specific over the years, and bay boats have become more and more generalist and versatile over the years.
People like the idea that I’ll often have: I can get up in the morning early, in the Indian River, I can jump, possibly catch a few tarpon first thing in the morning, run out the inlet. I can throw flies if I choose to out of my bay boat and tarpon swim along the beach this time of year, the mullet schools are running right now. Weather permitting, I can run offshore, catch sailfish, which we do routinely out of our bay boats, and then I can come back in. If I got a good falling tide and a low water situation, I can take some leftover scaled sardines, live baits, and pitch them around and just have a blast and maybe catch 20 snook on the way home.
There are not a lot of boats that allow you to do all of those different things. I think that’s why people, in certain parts of the country, are really focusing on the versatile aspects of bay boats because you can do so many things with them.
SR: You’ve seen a lot of changes in the boat business and certainly it’s changing all the time. If you could look in a crystal ball and look out 30 years, or 40 years or 50 years, where do you think it’s going to be then? Can you see that far out? Are you thinking in terms where the market will be?
Deal: People are getting older. You see that going on and the demographics support the fact that boats are getting continually softer. By softer, I mean less hardcore. Hardcore is becoming the smaller and smaller percentage of the industry, and you’re seeing a lot more boats with good seating. As people get older, they want some comfort, they want to be able to sit down once in a while and do some things. You definitely are seeing that trend industry-wide.
SR: That almost sounds retro, like we’re going back to the days of the leather-cushioned seats.
Deal: I don’t know that it’d be leather. If you pick up a publication, a boating publication, and look at a lot of the manufacturers of the offshore boats, for instance, you will see that they’re much more like giant deck boats now. Not all of them, of course, but lots of them are. A large part of the market is moving towards lots of seats with backrests in them and lots of big, plushy cushions. People are getting older and not as hardcore about fishing.
On the flats boat side, I think, the technical skiff guys have remained the same demographic. Once the people come of an age where they can afford to buy a good one…they’re not 18, although some 18-year olds have them. They’re probably in their mid-20s to early 30s on the front end. By the time they’re 45, they’re probably stepping off of the hardcore skiff and doing something else. The 45-year old guy is going to be a smaller percentage of the hardcore poling skiff than the center of the market, which is probably a 35- to 38-year-old guy that’s got enough money to get exactly what he wants, and the freedom and control of his time to be able to do the hardcore fly fishing that’s done in the Keys.
As the population ages, I see the flats boat market getting smaller.
SR: The development of the flat skiff as a performance fishing boat–as a technical poling boat–has certainly influenced boat design. As you recalled, most of those hulls back in the time they were being brought down to South Florida were coming from California. They were ski boats, they were doing all these other things, but …
Deal: The Sidewinder was the hull that became the Shipoke and the Dolphin 18 Backcountry. That was a Sidewinder ski boat hull.
SR: Those changes that were made to the poling skiffs, some of those carry forward I’m assuming, into bay boats and improving bay boat design and as you said, the flat deck on the bay boat which didn’t exist in the old days. Do you think that there are other influences?
Deal: Sure, there’s no doubt. To my knowledge we’re the only guys that build bay boats that have walk-around gunnels and under-gunnel rod storage like a flats boat with rod tubes. That’s taking some of the really elegant features that were developed long before my time in flats boats that made them such a great fishing platform. You could get the rods out of the way where they were safe and protected by the gunnels and carry a brace of rods with you and not be tripping over them. We definitely used that in our systems.
Our live well systems are much more advanced than they used to be. We had to learn how to keep more bait alive in small, confined wells. I think that’s definitely moved into the bay boat market, as well as our core and lightweight construction. We don’t build and infuse the bay boats because I don’t think the market is really ready for those yet, certainly not enough of the market to justify the cost of doing the VARIS on the Pathfinders. We do everything we can to take advantage of our core technology experience to build things really light to get better performance out of them.
SR: Scott, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. Thank you for taking the time.
Deal: I can talk for hours and hours and I probably talked too much and went down way too many rabbit trails. I appreciate the fact that you gave me an opportunity. I hope that you’re able to talk to some of the guys that pre-date me that deserve an awful lot of credit and that I fear are not really going to be remembered for the huge contributions that they’ve made to inshore fishing, skiff design, rod design, lure design, fly design, fly line design over the years. There are some real, real interesting stories to be told.
SR: There really are and you’ve shared with some of those today. I hope we can follow up with you on some other topics in the near future.
Deal: Happy to do it. Call me at 888-SHALLOW anytime you want.
SR: Thank you, Scott.