The Great Skiff Hunt, Part II

Marshall Cutchin Maverick Mirage 2013 Skiff

My new skiff at the factory in the final stages of quality control.

As mentioned in Part I, I spoke to several skiff builders and their owners during my search for a new boat.   Let me say right off that all of the major higher-end skiff builders have good products, and some of them have great products.

The notable names in skiff building now–Chittum Skiffs, Hell’s Bay, Maverick, East Cape, Spear Flats Skiffs, Dragonfly Boatworks–all produce attractive boats that excel at one thing or another.  And there are a dozen or so other companies that either carry on a once-famous brand (e.g. Shipoke, Dolphin Boats, Egret), have targeted the “affordable skiff” market (e.g. Ankona, Mitzi), or are trying new and interesting blends of multi- and special-purpose skiff (Panga, Towee, Solo Skiff, Sterling, Beavertail).  Plus there are the new entrants like Skull Island, Bohemian, Bonefish and others trying to carve their own niches.

It’s enough to make the head spin.

In Part I, I listed my expectations for fishing performance, ride, price and aesthetics.  Additionally, I wanted a skiff that could safely handle big seas, have reasonably good top speed, and still pole very well.

As I refined my thinking about the purchase, I found myself also thinking about practical realities.  When I was guiding, I once calculated the amount of time spent over an entire year on boat maintenance.  It worked out to around 30 minutes a day.   Something’s always breaking.  I also thought about how I might deal with manufacturing defects.  Spending most of the year in Colorado, I didn’t want to imagine taking a boat back to the factory for fixes or warranty work.   So how well the skiff was made became a top consideration, and predictability–being sure that the boat I ordered left the factory without surprises–became as important as almost any other feature.

With all that in mind, over the winter my attention began to focus on Maverick Boat Company’s soon-to-be-released Mirage 17 HPX II (2013).  The only differences between the new skiff and the previous model are changes in cap design and storage/livewell layout, but the changes are good ones: much more storage upfront because the gas tank is shifted back under the deck, a centralized live well, no need to lift the seat cushion to access rear storage, and an easier-access rigging hatch in back.  Plus the lid troughs in all the hatches have been deepened to 3” for drier wells, and the lip of the aft deck protrudes over the cockpit bulkhead, allowing for a padded handhold for passengers.

Maverick 17 Mirage HPX  2013

Day one, early morning, ready to fish.

I had owned four previous boats in the same line, beginning with one of the original Mirages, which had been my favorite of the bunch.  Why was the original such a great boat? I’m not entirely sure, except that it was deadly quiet–probably because it had more structural foam in it than some later models.   In my estimation it also had not yet been tainted by the need to satisfy the desires of the general market.  It was a poling machine, much like the original Dolphin Super Skiff.

Maverick Mirage 2013

Maverick moved the the gas tank back under the deck in the 2013 Mirage, providing much more storage area up front.

So I was intimately familiar with the performance of the Maverick hull.  I had driven it in 8-foot seas, pushed it around in hurricane-force winds, and spent countless hours on the run in tournaments and through uninterrupted months of guiding everywhere from the Marquesas to Whitewater Bay.  There were things about it that I didn’t like: one of the earlier models got the fore/aft balance all wrong, a later model had an unpleasant pinging sound in a light chop, electronics components weren’t all that hot, and fit and finish hadn’t always met expectations.

Keep in mind too that I have fished and guided out of most of the other skiff brands over my many years on the flats: an original ActionCraft, an 18-foot Hewes Bonefisher, a Hell’s Bay Marquesa, Whipray and Guide 18, a Dolphin Super Skiff, a Shipoke,  even the original tumblehome-sided Maverick used in the movie “Tarpon.”

Maverick hatch troughs

3″-deep hatch troughs mean drier storage areas.

What I have not done (yet) is ride in the newer and redesigned skiffs from Harry Spear, Chittum, East Cape, Hell’s Bay or many of the skiffs from the new brands.  But I talked in-depth to many owners this winter, almost all of them professional guides, about performance characteristics, quirks, and their opinions of how their skiffs compared to others they had fished .  So I was looking at the new Maverick with a very educated eye, if not a PhD.  I’m not even sure that one person–with or without doctorate degrees–can know everything there is to know about current skiff design.

I carefully considered the Spear Pro V Orca, the Hell’s Bay Biscayne and Marquesa, and the Chittum Islamorada 18 in my final five.   Here’s the factor that tipped the scale for me in favor of the 2013 Mirage 17: I felt sure that Maverick could turn out a boat that was predictably well-constructed, with attention to the finer details that come with building and tweaking the same design for more than 20 years.   There were few, if any unknowns.  The Maverick build process is a marvel of predictability, while some other high-end skiffs that come off the assembly line are different–in hull and cap lay-up, assembly and rigging–than the one that came off the line the day or week before.  When you add in the desire by many trendier and custom shops to constantly improve design to what is already a complicated process, you end up with some skiffs that meet the ideal, and some that don’t.  I didn’t want that to be a part of an experiment, or discover in the middle of Boca Grande Channel that some nifty new “feature” hadn’t been weather-tested.  Meanwhile Maverick owner Scott Deal has studied and implemented controls that reduce variation in materials and lay-up to almost nil.

Maverick has improved electrical rigging and components in the past few years.  They pay obvious attention to clean rigging.

Maverick has improved electrical rigging and components in the past few years. They pay obvious attention to clean rigging.

I like my skiffs simple and clean, so it didn’t take long for me to put my order together: I wanted the basic white hull with a 4-stroke Yamaha 70, hydraulic steering, standard Yamaha controls, and wiring for multiple console batteries, run to the bow for potential trolling motor installation (more about that later) .  I paid my deposit in late January and was told that I could probably have a skiff in April.  That was later changed to March. I spent four days in the skiff in April doing break-in and permit fishing, and will be taking it back down to Key West in mid-May for a week, then fishing most of June.

In Part III I’ll give you my first impressions of the new skiff, whether there are things I don’t like or things that particularly impress me, and tell you whether I think I made the right choice.

 

  • Mel Schubert

    I saw the Maverick 17 at the Miami Boat show this year. The front hatch and gas tank is much improved, I hope the Maverick team has plans to do similar changes to their 18. I have had the same Hewes Redfisher for the last twenty years. It has been my “magic carpet” transporing me acoss Florida’s littoral zones from the Panhandle to the Keys and all the way north to the shadow of the St Augustine lighthouse. Some of my faviorate memories have been cast in that skiff. I hope that your new skiff brings you many great memories.

    • Marshall Cutchin

      Thanks, Mel. The Redfisher is a wonderful hull too, as you know as well as anyone.

  • http://homosassa-flyfishing.com earle waters

    If there is anything out there any better! I probably don’t need it! I only differ in color choice. White has too much glare for my eyes and hard to color balance when taken photos. Enjoy!

  • http://www.blackflyoutfitter.com Vaughn Cochran

    Considering the conversation, I can’t NOT say anything about our new boats that we choose at Blackfly Lodge in the Bahamas. I’ve only fished the Vantage East Cape out of their line of boats but I have to heap praise on that model as one of the best preforming flats skiffs I have ever been in. We have a unique fishing model much like what’s required when fishing Key West, crossing big water to fish skinny water. I know they had issues a while back but just looking at the boats we have now, it would be hard to beat that boat in all areas of performance…especially running in rough water conditions which we do on a regular basis. I would be just as happy if none of the other lodges had this boat because it makes us look all that much better. Still every boat is a compromise, it just depends on how you’re going to use it!

    • Marshall Cutchin

      Good stuff, Vaughn. I hope to be able to ride in one of the Vantages soon.

  • Griff

    Love your site. Have a big question.
    Is anyone making flats skiffs that are not $ 30-40 grand for what is for practical purpose a 0ne-two man skiff.
    Some of we average joe’s can’t take that bite.

    • Marshall Cutchin

      Griff,

      There are a number of options for anglers who want lower-priced skiffs, and it just becomes a matter of matching your needs to what the less expensive boats have to offer. If you are fishing near-shore flats and not crossing big water, for example, there are boats like the Ankona and Mitzi that can be had for much less money. You could even go lower in price and get a skiff like the Towee. And don’t forget the used market–there are some very nice boats to be had in the 15-20K range that are essentially the same in performance as their new brethren–hulls age very slowly.

      Marshall

  • Jimmy Spalten

    The Chittum’s are the cream of the crop! The skiff all others will be measured by!

    • Marshall Cutchin

      Hal certainly knows an incredible amount about boats, and he produces a wonderful skiff.

  • Michael Rosa

    When I first started studying skiffs I was enamored with the legendary Shipoke. I searched for over a year. Finally I came across a Dolphin BC 18 with an old Johnson 150. That was as close as I could get at the time. Unfortunately that skiff got trapped under a dock on an incoming tide the first day of a two week vacation. It was the worst vacation of my life. That skiff was perfect for me since I have spinal disease and severe arthritis. That boat really handled the chop. Stuck without a skiff I started researching skiffs again this time concentrating on a soft ride, comfort and the ability to run skinny water as well as that run to the Marquesas that I enjoy so much (when it is calm which is rarely). I rode several skiffs, Master Anglers, AC’s, Hewes and Egrets. I really liked the rod lockers on the MA and Egret along with the ride. I started shopping used Egrets. I tried to make a deal with three guys selling at the time and could not get it done. I knew I could not afford a new Egret until I spoke with Frank Afshari the owner of the company. We talked several times and finally we came up with a plan. I would buy a new demo hull with a motor he used for demo’s, a 150 HPDI VMAX with 300 hours. Frank went out of his way to finish my boat the way I wanted it. White powder coated platform,grab rails, power pole, bow mounted MG trolling motor(soon to upgrade to an Ipilot or Rhodan). After doing my due diligence I opted for the fiberglass hull instead of the carbon kevlar because it is a softer material giving a softer ride than the C/K hull and 5k cheaper. I picked up the new skiff November of 2009. Now I must admit I do not pole, although after installing a sissy bar this year I may take an occasional foray into that realm. For the most part I stake out or drift. I discovered that the Egret runs a little skinnier than the Dolphin and drafts a couple of inches less. I have run on plane through an 8” area in back of Cudjoe that I thought I’d never make it through. I was pleasantly surprised.
    Storage is unsurpassed for a flats skiff. I have to be careful to keep the weight down! I am quite happy with my choice especially today because we just bought a house on Cudjoe. I’m looking forward to learning this fishery as well as I know the Islmorada fishery where I have spent most of my time chasing my favorite fish the Tarpon. May 25 a bunch of Egret owners are heading for the Marquesas, a rally I look forward to as much as in my old motorcycling days traveling the USA. I thoroughly enjoyed the process researching the different options. It seems that the next generation of skiffs as you mentioned in part 1 have some great features that were not available as little as 3 years ago. The compromises are less compromising and folks these days are lucky to have so many choices.

    • mcutchin1

      Interesting story, Michael. Sounds like you found the perfect skiff, which just goes to show that there is a skiff that can be found or custom-rigged for almost any need.