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Contrary to what you may think, flats boats are not necessarily “flat-bottomed” boats. Their name has nothing to do with the shape of their hull, but more about where they run.
Flats boats, which are sometimes called “skiffs,” are designed for fishing in shallow water flats. Their unique setup allows them to cruise through water that’s just 14 inches deep or less.
Most skiffs measure anywhere between 15 and 25 feet in length and are usually outfitted with an outboard motor, although they are light enough to be pushed forward with a pole.
Since these vessels are mainly designed for fishing, most of them come with a front casting deck and an aft poling deck to allow one individual to cast a line while the other pushes the boat forward with a pole.
So, what are the best flats boats, and how do you choose the best one? Here’s everything you need to know about them.
The Maverick 18 HPX-V is one of the most versatile high-performance flats boats we’ve come across, bar-none. It is designed to navigate skinny shallow waters, as well as tough choppier areas in even the windiest of conditions. And it does it with amazing grace and elegance.
It delivers remarkable range and speed without compromising draft length. It can handle a wide range of activities, including poling, shallow water fishing, casting fly rods and nets, and maneuvering tight spots and sharp turns. The 18 HPX-V is nothing short of superb.
● Clean, sleek design
● Versatile and packed with loads of angler-savvy features
● High-performance in a wide range of conditions
If you’re in the market for a fully customizable skiff, then you’ll like what the East Cape Evo has to offer. Standing at 17 ft. 9 in. in length and 79 in. in width, the Evo represents the next frontier in versatile flats boats.
You can mount an engine with anywhere between 40 and 115 hp. Customizable features include getting a boat with an off-set center, center, or side console command center. You could also opt for a tiller if you like and get a tower installed while you’re at it. It’s up to you.
The Beavertail Strike has a sterling reputation in the skiff world for being extremely versatile. Seriously – very few flats boats out there match the multi-purpose nature of this vessel. It is made from high-quality components and has a host of onboard features designed to elevate your shallow-water fishing experience.
If you need to adopt a stealth approach, you will love the built-in anodized platform it comes with. The Strike also has extensive storage options that are big enough to hold your fishing accessories and personal gear. If you want to amp up the speed, the hydraulic steering wheel makes this a breeze.
● Has an anodized platform which is ideal for quiet poling
● Has plenty of fly rod tubes and rod racks
Let’s face it – the number of onboard features present in a boat is a testament to its performance capability on the water. The Chittum Islamorada 18 Legacy Edition is truly a next-gen skiff if all the built-in features it comes with are anything to go by.
Some notable ones include aft lockers that double up as dry storage, a console cooler with a 360-degree cooler seat, one locker on the front deck, and four hatches on the aft deck. It also has LED navigation lights, a 30-gallon live/release well, high capacity rod racks, and lots more amazing features.
● Comes with loads of comfort/convenience features
The Hell’s Bay Waterman 18 has, by far, the shallowest draft of all the flats boats on our list. It is specially designed for poling with the least amount of noise and frills in skinny waters. It is Livewell-ready and comes with a bilge pump that has an 1100 GPH specification.
● Ideal for shallow water poling
● No frills; no noise
● High-quality construction and finish
● Livewell is an optional add-on
Beavertail Air (Best Flats Boat for Open Water Fishing)
The hull is made from composite materials, which not only make it extremely lightweight but also solid enough for open-water conditions. It’s a definite winner in our books.Navigating rough water can be pretty tough for most skiffs. Not for the Beavertail Air, though. This particular flats boat is custom-designed to navigate the choppy waters of open bays while still being able to access shallow flats if you’re on the hunt for trophy fish.
● Built for inshore fishing and offshore fishing
● Has a stepped hull design that’s guaranteed to keep you dry even at high speeds
● Plenty of fishing-savvy features like Livewells, anchor lockers, and lots of storage compartments
Flats boats aren’t designed to carry several people at a go. Most of them have a 2-passenger limit. If you’re on a small skiff, things can get a little cramped, to say the least.
The East Cape Vantage, however, is a lot roomier than most of the flats boats in the market right now. It measures 19 ft. 2 in. in length and is a whopping 79 in. wide. So, if you’re in the market for something a little more spacious than conventional skiffs, the Vantage is an excellent choice.
● Ample seating
● Lots of storage
● Plenty of fishing-savvy features
● Slightly pricier than other boats in the same category
The overall aesthetics of a boat is equally as important as its utility value. The Sterling TR7 from American Marine Sports is quite the looker. It has a “non-slap” hull design, which makes it ideal for shallow fishing, particularly if you need to make a stealthy approach.
The inner and outer parts of the hull are separated by foam underneath and chemically-fused to bond them together. It is truly one of the best-looking flats boats we’ve seen so far.
● Comes with a poling platform
● Aesthetically pleasing
● Highly functional and versatile
● You might get wet when cruising at high speeds on windy days
2020 Mako 18 LTS
The 2020 Mako 18 LTS delivers outstanding value for its price. It comes with loads of features that make it ideal for multi-purpose use, at an amazingly affordable price compared to other boats with similar specifications.
Standard features include an 18-gallon baitwell, RPS transom, plenty of storage in the fore and aft for all your gear and equipment, and even has a provision for mounting a trolling motor.
● Affordably priced
● Ample storage
● Outstanding performance in shallow and choppy waters
● The ride can get a little bumpy from time to time
Flats boats aren’t exactly known to offer smooth rides. This is in large part due to how shallow their drafts are. The Redfisher 18 from Hewes is the exception.
This mid-sized skiff offers a surprisingly stable ride even at high speeds. Its hull is built using vacuum-infusion technology to make it lightweight and fast while giving the passengers a comfortable ride all the way.
● Offers a smooth and stable ride even at high speeds
● Can comfortably seat up to 4 people
● High-quality construction and finish
● Pricier than most boats in its category
How to Choose the Best Flats Boats – Buyer’s Guide
If you’re shopping for a new flats boat, there’s a good chance that you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the different options available. We’ve put together the top 5 factors you need to consider to help you narrow down your choices.
The first thing you need to think about is where you intend to fish 90 percent of the time. Will you use your skiff in jetties, creeks, or shallow water flats? The answer to this question will determine how close to the fish you’ll need to get, and how quiet your approach needs to be.
If you intend to fish in shallow water flats, it means that the fish will likely be hanging out close to the surface. If that’s the case, then you’ll need to get a quiet skiff. These have hulls designed to minimize the sound waves generated when water crashes or “bangs” against the boat surface.
The closer you want to get to the fish, the quieter your flats boat will need to be.
Type of Fishing
The next thing you need to consider is the type of fish you want to catch. Do you plan to go fly fishing or bait fishing? Will you throw in plugs and jigs? If you plan to catch bonefish and redfish, for instance, you’re going to need a flats boat with a 6-7 inch draft.
Keep in mind that a boat with this draft length would suffice to get you to areas with shallow waters, as well as provide the stability you need to traverse any deeper spots on your way to the fishing site.
The smoothness of a boat’s ride is directly related to the shape of the hull. Ideally, vessels that have a deep-V hull or deadrise absorb the bumps of choppy water better than those with more rounded/flatter drafts.
Now, the issue is – if you’re looking to cruise through shallow flats, a deep-V hull just won’t cut it. You just have to compromise, which brings us to the question we posed in the first point – where do you intend to fish 90 percent of the time?
If you’re going to be poling in shallow flats, then you’ll need a quiet hull, so it will just have to be flat. This, in turn, means you’ll have to contend with a rougher ride. If you’re going to be in choppier waters most of the time, you’ll need to get a boat with a deeper hull design to give you the smooth and stable ride you crave.
When choosing the best flats boats to buy, you need to look at the basic features of the boat. Skiffs are generally utility crafts. So, functionality – not luxury – is the main thing you need to be looking out for when choosing a boat.
For instance, does it have ample storage to keep items like a fire extinguisher, a throwable emergency cushion, signaling devices, life vests, etc.? Does it have enough room to store a tackle bag, spinning rods, a change of clothes, a light snack, and anything else you wouldn’t want to get wet?
Does it have rod tubes and rod holders? Does it have a fish box where you can store your catch? Does it come with a baitwell and Livewell? If so, how many, and are they enough for your flats fishing requirements?
All these are questions you need to ask beforehand to identify the must-have features you’re looking for in a vessel. That should help you narrow down your choices further.
Flats boats come in all shapes, sizes, and price points. The main thing you need to ask yourself is – Am I getting great value for my money?
For one thing, the material used to construct the boat plays a major role in how much it will cost. Skiffs with wooden components, for instance, are dirt cheap. But you also have to consider that wood rots quite quickly when constantly exposed to moisture. And you will, after all, be using your flats boat in the water…
If you come across a reasonably priced skiff, it checks all the boxes with regards to quality. Ensure that the manufacturer has used a lasting waterproof adhesive to bond the parts together.
If it has a metal boat hull, you want to check that the various components are welded together as opposed to riveting or bolting. This helps to keep the moisture out.
Only buy from a manufacturer that has a sterling reputation for creating high-quality flats boats, and steer clear of the ones that have had a history of cutting corners. Keep in mind, though, that “expensive” doesn’t always mean “high-quality” and “cheap” doesn’t always mean that something is total crap (although it does, more often than not).
Due diligence is key to make sure that you don’t end up buying a lemon – and an expensive one at that.
Quality Above Everything
The greatest asset you have when buying the best flats boats is the internet. Check online forums to learn more about what other users have to say about it. Once you have a general idea of the kind of vessel you want based on the specs you need, go to the dealer website to arrange for a demo to get a feel for it and see if it lives up to your expectations and fishing requirements.
We recommend checking out any of the 10 boats detailed in this guide. Their respective manufacturers have a long history of making high-quality and high-performance vessels.
In the meantime, if you’re in the market for a new center console boat, check out our comprehensive review on the best center console boats.
Outdoors, I’m in my element, especially in the water. I know the importance of being geared up for anything. I do the deep digital dive, researching gear, boats and knowhow and love keeping my readership at the helm of their passions.
Established in 1998, BoatSafe is your independent guide into the world of boating, fishing, and watersports. We provide expert insights and detailed guides to help you find products tailored to your needs and budget.