Technical Poling Skiffs for Fishing Shallow Waters

Fishing in shallow water from a flats boat is one of the hobby's most challenging activities, but it can be exciting too because you must go totally stealth-mode to catch something in really shallow water.

The shallower the water the more skittish the fish are and less likely to bite even if you have live bait. Fish are constantly aware of predators above and around them so the presence of your boat or your shadow across the water, movement, and sound all combine to make them very wary.

That said, it's a fun way to fish because you can see the fish under the water with polarized sunglasses and even watch them take your bait sometimes. More and more people are getting into this adventurous way to fish and are learning about technical poling skiffs for fishing in shallow water.

There are a surprising amount of details you need to know in order to take your boat out on the flats. Choosing a boat can take months, and this will likely be the most difficult decision you make about fishing in your lifetime!

There are a wide variety of choices to make when buying your boat and you'll need to learn a lot about what makes each function essential to flats fishing in your area. The size of your boat will be a really difficult choice you'll have to decide about pretty early on. The number of passengers you want to have on the boat regularly is going to determine the size in a lot of cases. The distance you'll go away from shore will also need to be factored in.

Some boats are great for technical poling, and some aren't. Make the right choice and you'll keep your boat for a decade or more. Make the wrong choice and you might have to sell it after a season.

The style, make, model, length, motor, trolling motor, and the features you decide you must have will depend a lot on the fish you will target and the depth of the water you want to be able to navigate. Each boat has tradeoffs, no one boat does it all. If you want to learn more about which boats you can use to fish in just inches of water, read on!

Technical Poling Skiffs

Technical Poling Skiff vs. Flats Boat 

It's easy to become confused about the differences between a flats boat and a poling skiff boat.

A flats boat is a boat designed to fish the flats. These small boats were designed specifically for floating in shallow water. They were first developed in the 1950's.

The flats is the shallow area around shore usually where the water can get very shallow. Flats boats can typically float in 12 inches (1 foot) of water. Flats boats are extremely light and so they can float easily in a little bit of water that regular fishing boats are not capable of.

Skiffs are even smaller, lighter, and narrower flats boats that are much more easily maneuverable in shallow areas even with as little water as 3.5". They are also very lightweight and easy to move with a pole while fishing on the flats.

The advantage of being able to move your entire skiff boat on the flats with a pole is that you are not starting a motor to spin through the water and alert the fish. You're dropping what looks like a piece of wood into the water, anchoring it in the sand or mud, and pushing the boat around to precisely locate the boat in the optimal place for catching fish.

So, a skiff is a flats boat, but not all flats boats are skiffs.

Flats boats are also known as backcountry boats. They dominated shallow water flats fishing for decades. As time went on some anglers wanted even smaller, quieter, and more easily maneuverable flats boats. The skiff was born!

One of the first considerations you'll have as you look for that perfect poling skiff is price. Being firm with your budget for boat-buying is a tough thing to do. Try to set a maximum that you won't go over for any reason. Buying a skiff boat is like buying anything of value, you're almost surely going to want more than you can afford.

There are so many options out there. I just saw a video of a kid who put a 170 hp Mercury motor on the back of his skiff.

Does anyone alive think he needs a motor that big to cruise the flats? Apparently, there is one. Be reasonable and above all put function before anything else. Buy a boat that gives you the most possibilities.

Below we highlight for you some of the various kinds of technical poling cliffs and flats boats to help you narrow down your choice to a manageable few models.

Our Best Picks for Technical Poling Skiffs

In the 1990s, a Fort Pierce, Florida boat manufacturer Maverick released the Mirage One. This was the first technically advanced poling skiff to hit the US market. Their latest 17-18' Mirage HPX line of poling skiffs features advanced construction methods, technology, and lightweight construction.

The top half of a poling skiff and a flats boat are similar. It's the bottom half that's different. The highly specialized hulls, advanced construction materials, and sparse interiors better define a technical poling skiff and make it stand out from the crowd.

Today, there are a number of skiff boat manufacturers who have proven their competence. Boats from Beavertail Skiffs, Hell’s Bay, Maverick, East Cape Skiffs, Skull Island Skiff Works, Sundance Boats, and Yellowfin Yachts are all worth looking into.

Which skiffs shouldn't you miss? Here are some great technical poling skiffs to consider purchasing.

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Best Overall: Hell's Bay Biscayne Technical Poling Skiff

Florida has 825 miles of coast line and so many square miles of shallow water. All kinds of fishing boats work well in the flats around Florida, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean. Each boat has its positives and drawbacks.

A lot of anglers are quite happy with being able to fish in one foot of water. Others aren't satisfied with that and demand shallower access.

Hell’s Bay Biscayne poling skiffs are small and well-built. They can float in the skinniest water and still enable you to catch the most aware fish in the ocean like the bonefish or permit. 

Hell's Bay Biscayne Technical Poling Skiff

Now we'll cover some of the most important parts of technical poling skiffs you need to be aware of.

Lightweight Construction

Typical poling skiffs have just one poling platform to control the boat at the stern and a casting platform at the bow. Increasingly lighter-weight materials and advances in boat construction techniques have given us skiffs that float in ultra-shallow water and yet can be fast and easily maneuverable when needed.

The featherweight carbon fiber hulls with vinyl ester resin used in the Maverick HPX models are used in conjunction with a technology called vacuum-assisted resin-infused system (VARIS), minimizing weight while maintaining strength.

A lightweight skiff may seem basic and easy to build but it is made of the most advanced boat building materials and construction techniques known to the industry.

Using lightweight materials helps to minimize boat weight and the other way to cut weight is to remove a lot of heavy equipment. There are no padded seats, and you won’t find a huge battery bank like on a bay fishing boat. Just these couple of items knock off a lot of weight. For example, the 16-foot 4-inch Hell's Bay Biscayne model weighs just 595 pounds with a 7" draft.

Minimal Propulsion Needs

Some skiffs come standard with a poling platform and a rudder, but others include an outboard motor. The lighter your boat is, the less power you need to get you out to the fish, no matter where they are. Even a 40 hp motor is going to get you where you're going fast enough.

Still, some anglers prefer 60-70 hp with their Hell's Bay skiffs. With a capacity of 3 persons, total weight onboard can vary by as much as 300 lb. so, maybe some of you do need the big motors for the big boys!

It's up for argument whether skiffs should have motorized jack plates or not. This gadget allows the boat to be raised up on plane at slower engine speeds and there is a noticeable increase in fuel efficiency using them.

The problem is, they add to the weight of the boat, and sometimes considerably. If used, the balance of the boat must also be taken into consideration. Don't just throw on any jack plates you find on sale. Find an expert to help you choose the brand, model, and installation experts to get it done right the first time.

Small and Streamlined Design 

You can choose a skiff with a small bow to safely access shallow flats where small fish may be. Technical poling skiffs are designed to be as small and as easy to steer as possible. Hell’s Bay Boatworks designs Guide skiffs as long as 18-feet 4-inches with a beam of 79" and a draft of 4.5". This allows for a smaller hull, allowing the boats to slip easily through the skinny water for hard to reach fish. 

Being lightweight and low to the water so it doesn't catch much wind is important when moored or crossing a bay in strong wind conditions. On the larger side, some technical skiffs are 18 to 19 feet in length, and on the smaller end around the 16 to 17 foot range.

The smaller and lighter skiffs are not as manageable in heavy winds while crossing open water, so there are always trade offs. If your boat is close to the water you won't be blown around as much on a windy day.

Another tradeoff is the difficulty in preventing water from splashing against the hull of the boat when it's very small. More important is that the height of the boat (smaller profile) makes it less visible to fish.

Hell’s Bay boats like the Biscayne float quietly in just 4.5" of water. Their Whipray and Eldora models can be fished in 3.5"! At drafts like these, fishing for wary flats species like big bonefish and massive permit the boat is ideal.

One of Hell's Bay Boatworks primary concerns is building skiffs that can quietly cover the water to avoid interrupting fish so they continue business as usual while you drop tasty morsels in front of their faces.

As you know, fish are quite sensitive to sound, in any water - deep or shallow, but it’s much more important in shallow water. Skiff makers aim for a very quiet boat, especially for splashes to the bottom or sides. Hell's Bay Boatworks skiffs are rounded all over the bottom and sides. This serves to cut down on the slap and reduces the pressure of the water on the boat.

If you look at boat construction over the years there has been an evolution in design leaning toward smoother, rounder, softer edges and bottoms, all for the ultimate goal of being quieter on the water. 

As we've said, boats designed for hours of poling are very maneuverable, and the Maverick Mirage HPX hulls have more of the bow stem under the hull so when the wind picks up, the skiff drifts with its bow out into the wind. This allows easier steering on windy days.

Skiffs using a technical poling system have very flat bottoms. The Hell’s Bay Professional skiff features a design eliminating deadrise at the transom. The amount of deadrise is an important feature that gives the boat owner an estimate of how well the boat will cut through choppy seas.

A skiff with a larger deadrise value will move through seas with less vibration and give a softer ride.

Best Ultra Skinny Water Flats Boats

Beavertail Skiffs based in Bradenton, Florida on the lower west coast is an industry leader in designing and building the most functional and cool looking shallow water poling skiffs on the market today. Every skiff is custom-built to the exact specs the customer requires including how you fish and the water depth you're most often fishing in.

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Here are some great ultra-skinny water poling cliffs by this legendary manufacturer.

1. BT Mosquito

Beavertail Skiffs is back with the all-new Mosquito. Beginning with a clean sheet of paper and plenty of input from its guides and owners, the company re-imagined the workhorse skiff for today’s choosy anglers.

  • Length Overall (LOA): 18' 2"

  • Beam: 70"

  • Draft: 5"+

  • Power: Up to 70 hp.

  • Live Well: 18.5 gallons (option)

  • Fuel Tank: 15 gallons

  • Gross Weight: 540 lb.

BT mosquito

2. BT Strike

The BT Strike is the boat that all shallow-water anglers would love to lay their hands on. Its goal was to combine the best aspects of Beavertail flats boats into one boat.

  • LOA: 18' 2"

  • Beam: 70"

  • Draft: 5"+

  • Power: Up to 70 hp.

  • Live Well: 18.5 gallons (option)

  • Fuel Tank: 15 gallons

  • Gross Weight: 540 lb.

BT strike

Big Water Flats Boats

Anglers who fish daily on the big water know that not all fishing takes place on at least one foot of water. Being able to get to the fishing grounds quickly & safely on a tournament day can present many challenges. Beavertail is now offering a new line of BIG water flats boats, called Air & Lightning.

1. BT Air Logo

Beavertail’s Air flat boat is the latest addition to their lineup. It’s built to handle big water in open bays, but it’s shallow enough to reach trophy fish! Featuring fishability that allows you to fish almost anywhere, the Air is the perfect fishing platform.

  • LOA: 18' 2"

  • Beam: 70"

  • Draft: 5"+

  • Power: Up to 70 hp.

  • Live Well: 18.5 gallons (option)

  • Fuel Tank: 15 gallons

  • Gross Weight: 540 lb.

BT air logo

2. BT Elite

BT worked intimately with some of the finest professional flats fishing guides in the industry to design a skiff that can take anglers to the fishing zone, quietly stalk trophy fish, and ultimately stand the test of time.

  • LOA: 17' 8"

  • Beam: 72"

  • Draft: 7"

  • Power: 70-90 hp.

  • Live Well: 30 gallons

  • Fuel Tank: 20 gallons

  • Gross Weight: 600 lb.

BT elite

3. BT Vengeance

The Vengeance was made with family in mind and can seat four passengers comfortably. The Vengeance provides great shallow water and live bait fishing. It features a 35" cockpit.

  • LOA: 18'

  • Beam: 82"

  • Draft: 7"+

  • Power: 90-115 hp.

  • Live Well: 30 gallons

  • Fuel Tank: 20 gallons

  • Gross Weight: 625 lb.

BT vengeance

4. BT Lightning

This 20′ Beavertail Lightning is truly a game-changer for tournament anglers needing speed, power, and maneuverability in skinny water. The Lightning can handle up to 300 horsepower and has a large live well and huge fuel tank.

  • LOA: 20'

  • Beam: 82"

  • Draft: 10"+

  • Power: 150-300 hp.

  • Live Well: 35 gallons

  • Fuel Tank: 48 gallons

  • Gross Weight: 1200 lb.

BT lightning

5. BT Micro

The 16’8" Micro skiff is based on the larger and popular 17' Strike skiff, which is one of the most popular poling skiffs on the market today.

  • LOA: 16' 8"

  • Beam: 60"

  • Draft: 5"+

  • Power: Up to 30 hp.

  • Live Well: 10 gallons (option)

  • Fuel Tank: 8 gallons

  • Gross Weight: 400 lb.

BT micro

Wrapping Up

If you want to improve your fishing on the flats, you can't do better than technical poling skiffs designed to get you around in the shallowest water. These boats are tough, light, narrow, and super-easy to move around with a pole, whether fishing for snook, permit, bonefish, redfish or tarpon.

Your choice is not an easy one, Hell's Bay and Beavertail are both excellent boat companies and they have a bunch of boats to choose from.

We hope this guide helps you narrow down and ultimately choose the best technical poling skiff you can afford for your fishing expeditions!

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Brian Hopkins

Brian is an outdoor writer and the youngest member of our team, but he is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to fishing and different techniques for catching different species. He shares valuable information that the younger generation can relate to. When he is not fishing, you can find him hanging with his friends and gaming on his computer.

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