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Flats Boats
by Robert Sloan



lunar phases


GCF T's are here!

Running the Skinny Water
Barkley Souders was on the poling platform of the 16-1/2 foot flats boat easing us along in about 8 inches of water on the south end of Keith Lake when a golden opportunity with fins came barreling around a grassy point pushing a wake of water a toy poodle could have surfed on.

"Would you look at that,'' hissed Souders. "Big red. Real big red!" "About another 8 feet and I'm on it," I directed from the bow, rod, reel and lure at the ready position.

The Chiquita

Souders leaned against the 18-foot push pole. The boat glided forward and into perfect casting position. The prized flats fish, with tail and dorsal plainly exposed, was casually feeding, and totally unaware of us until it felt the sting of the hook in its jaw.

That's the type of fishing more and more anglers are getting into along the Gulf Coast. And thanks to an influx of flats boats, a whole lot more anglers are now able to access skinny water that fishermen can't reach with the average boat.

In the past few years a whole lot of the established boat companies have come up with their own version of flats boats. For example Ranger, best known for metal flake bass boats, is now making an 18 foot, 11 inch flats boat designed for the needs of the flats and back-country fisherman. (See the Flatlander website at

I've fished out of a dozen or so styles of flats boats from fancy to home grown. A buddy of mine in Beaumont, Texas priced the factory made skinny water boats and decided to make his own. First he bought an aluminum flat bottom about 14 feet long with a tunnel hull. From there he designed a console, deck, elevated transom with a jack plate and even stern pontoons. It's a slick looking rig that'll just about motor up and down the street after a sprinkle.

Just about anywhere along the Gulf Coast you can find modified flat bottoms fixed up for running the flats and catching anything from redfish to snook. But I don't know of anyone that can top the job that Glen Boatright does with a tunnel-hulled flat bottom boat. Several years ago he designed the BoatRight Marine Scooter for shallow water fishermen.

 Aluminum Flats Skiff
BoatrRight Marine, Friendswood, TX - Custom Flats Boat

"They've become very popular,'' says Boatright. "That's mainly because people come to me, see the boat and design the interior exactly the way they want it. I've got the hulls from 15 to 22 feet.''

Boatright's scooters are built to last forever and the first time you step into one you'll see what I mean. They are built for rugged use and require little maintenance.

Options on the Boatright scooters are unlimited. For example you can have a rubber floor, center console with built-in fuel tank, stern pontoons, poling platform, elevated front deck, jack plate, bow rails, below deck storage, etc. I think you get the picture.

Most factory made flats boats are made of fiberglass. And in Texas, where flats fishing rules, they come in all shapes and sizes. One of my favorites is a 16 foot Mowdy. It's a V-hull with a draft of 5 inches. This is a sharp looking rig designed for outboards from 30 to 50 horsepower.

It's got a foam filled hull, fiberglass stringers, fiberglass deck and a 4 inch tunnel. This is a great flats option that'll transport up to four anglers. Cost is about $7,200. That includes the boat and trailer. Motor is extra.

If that boat seems a little too big for your style of fishing check out the Mowdy S-10. This is a flat-bottomed scooter design. It's 10 feet, 9 inches long with a beam that's 5 feet by 7 inches. Recommended horsepower is 15-30. Talk about a skinny water boat. This is it. But don't expect to keep your feet dry on this rig. Lean one way left or right and you'll most likely be taking on water.

The Mowdy S-10 is shaped like a snow sled with a turned up bow. The deck is a few inches above water level. This type of boat was invented several decades ago by Texas fishermen looking to run on very shallow water. If you're looking for a tiny flats scooter designed for one or two fishermen the S-10 is perfect. Cost of a boat and trailer is just $3,250. That's about as cheap as a good flats boat gets.

For those of you not on a budget check out a Hewes skiff. These boats are very, very popular from Florida to Texas. They've been around for about 50 years. And the people at Hewes say they invented the boat that invented the sport of shallow water fishing.

Hewes skiffs are made in several different sizes. The Redfish 18, 19 and 20 foot skiffs are probably the most popular. But the Bonefisher 16 is tough to beat.

Carlos Fernandez, Rick Ortiz and Capt. Erick Glass are all close friends of mine and live to fish the Laguna Madre in South Texas. All three own Hewes skiffs because most of the time they're not fishing in more than two feet of water.

"The Laguna is nothing but one big flat,'' says Glass, who has been working as a professional guide on the Laguna for years, and is endorsed as an Orvis guide. "I had various boats, but the Hewes I run is about the best I've ever fished from."

A Hewes, like a Ranger or Action Craft are top of the line flats boats that come equipped with everything from trim tabs to push pole holders. And the price reflects that type of rigging. You can expect the prices on these boats, when fully loaded, to begin at around $20,000. In the world of flats boats you get what you pay for.

One of the most interesting boat hulls I've ever run across is called a Flats Cat. It's made in Rosenberg, Texas and is built like no other skinny water boat I've ever seen. This boat design has redefined tunnel drive. This is a catamaran boat, meaning it rides on two hulls. Flats Cats are made in two lengths - 21 and 18 feet, 5 inches. Incredibly the 21-footer only draws 4-1/2 inches of water. And the hull draft speed when running 12 to 18 miles per hour is 1-1/2 inches. At 20 mph it's 1/2 inch.

This hull definitely delivers a unique ride. It's soft.

When a Flat's Cat passes over the water, air is injected or rammed into the large bow entrance raising the boat up out of the water allowing the boat to ride on top of the waves and gently walk from side to side on the Cat hulls, thus eliminating the pounding affect created by most mono hulls. The seemingly flat hulls push water straight out away from the boat, far enough that spray cannot be drafted up the almost vertical sides.

I really like the Flat's Cat because it's so unique. For one thing it's very easy to pole. Water flows through the two hulls helping to eliminate drag. With the absence of a keel, there's no veering or cutting from side to side.

And when you're drifting water going between the hulls positions the boat at a 45 degree angle to the wind. That allows you to drift in a desired direction.

The transom is another interesting thing about the Flats Cat. The outboard is elevated high on the raised transoms and even higher with power lifts. So once you're up and running there's practically nothing in the water but an inch of hull and the prop. Talk about getting you to the back flats.

But there is a hidden problem behind all flats boats. They can get you into serious trouble. I'm talking about getting stuck. Here's the drill. You're up and running to a distant flat, say about five miles off the beaten path. You back off the throttle and when the boat comes off plane you suddenly come to a halt. The hull is almost high and dry. That's when you've got major problems, especially if mosquitoes move in for the kill. Waiting for a high tide to float the boat can sometimes take hours.

Always be aware of water depth when running the flats. Even though you might be floating while poling the flats, that doesn't always mean you can get up. Sometimes an out going tide will play tricks on you. For example you might be fishing a flat and drifting along catching fish. But when you try to get up with the outboard there's no way. And if drifting off the flat is slower than the tide going out you're stuck.

The mythical thing about flats boats is how shallow they will run. Sure they can run in just inches of water. The big question is how much water does it take to get up. From experience it's always easier to get up in mud, as opposed to sand. And usually it's best to take off in a circle, get the boat up and then straighten out and take off.

One nifty option for power on a flats boat is a jet drive outboard. They make a lot of noise, use more fuel and are more finicky than conventional outboards, but they will certainly go where props can't.

You don't always have to go with a tunnel drive hull to fish the flats. I run a 16-1/2 foot Kenner V-hull and can get pretty darn shallow on the flats. It doesn't have a tunnel or a jack plate. It's rigged with a 90 horsepower Ocean Runner. It's got the power, and lightweight hull to get up in about 14 inches of water and mud.

That little Kenner is rigged with a poling tower and bow mounted trolling motor. I got a local welder to design the tower out of aluminum. With the help of an 18 foot push pole this little flats rig can sneak up on reds just as well as custom built flats rigs.

A trolling motor is a big help on the flats. Nowadays most flats boats are equipped with bow or stern mounted trolling motors. I prefer the stern mounts. But that can be a problem if you're flyfishing from the front deck.

As you can see there are many different types of flats boats available. And there is no way to determine which is best for your needs without a test run of some sort. The best advice I can offer is to shop around before you buy. And if at all possible test drive a few so you can see and feel the difference in each rig.

I've just covered a few of the many makes of flats boats. Others you might want to check out include Shoalwater, Redfin and Parker.

For full details on the boats mentioned call: (Tell 'em you heard about them in Gulf Coast Fisherman!)

  • BoatRight Marine in Friendswood, TX - (281) 992-4554
  • Mowdy Boats in Victoria, TX - (361) 578-0551
  • Flats Cat in Rosenberg, TX - (281) 342-1206
  • Action Craft in Cape Coral, FL - (941) 574-7008
  • Shoalwater in Port O'Connor, TX - (361) 983-4202
  • Red-Fin - (800) A RED FIN
  • Mitzi Skiffs - Jacksonville, FL (904) 270-0589
  • Hewes Boat Company in Ft. Pierce, FL - (561) 461-0885
  • Ranger Boats in Flippin, AR - (501) 453-2222
  • Parker Boats in Beaufort, NC - (919) 728-5621
  • Marine Service in Port Lavaca, TX (Flatlander Boats) - (361) 552-4975

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