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Running a Flats Boat

by Forest Canion


7 Tips for Better Flats Boat Performance...

If you like to fish the back lakes and shallow water, you more than likely own a flats boat. There's no more fun than being able to run shallow and fish shallow. But doing this requires the use of common sense, courtesy and caution.
Getting It Up
One of the most important aspects of flats fishing is being able to float without hanging up on the bottom. It does not matter that your boat will run shallow and 100 mph if you cannot pole, drift or use a trolling motor to reach an area that is holding fish. There are lots of places that a person cannot wade because of a mud bottom and let's not even talk about the bacteria in the water at certain times of the year.
Drifting shallow and getting up shallow go hand in hand. You must be able to drift in shallow water before you should even think about getting up. One tip is to start your boat going forward to load your tunnel then turn the steering wheel and increase RPM. Some say turn right, some say left. I say do what works for your boat. If the water is deep enough you should be able to get up in half a circle.

Running Too Shallow
There are two things that will help put an end to shallow water boats. People that run without clear clean water in their prop wash, and those that dig their boat out of shallow water with pure horsepower. Boats that run with mud in their prop wash or dig their way out on takeoffs are scarring the bottom and destroying sea grass.

One way to judge water depth is how much of the crab traps are visible. A little darker or greener water is a good indicator of deeper water. While running your boat if a mud trail is visible in the prop wash, move to deeper water. Chances are the water is too shallow to hold fish anyway. Try drifting or poling out to an area where your boat will jump up quickly and do minimal damage to the bottom.

Staying Dry in Rough Water
There are several ways to run your flat bottom boat to stay dry. On one occasion during a hard blowing southeast wind a friend wanted to cross to the leeward side of the bay. He was concerned about the rough wet ride across the bay. Taking a line changing from a quarter into and a quarter with the waves I was able to cross the bay very comfortably and dry. This takes a little experience but is well worth the time and effort to learn. It took a few minutes longer but we stayed dry. Learn what angles of attack your boat likes and use it to your advantage.

Getting Trim
A jack plate allows you to raise and lower the engine vertically. At the dock the engine can be lowered to help with control. Raising the engine vertically lets the boat run shallower. It can also be lowered while running choppy water to increase the angle of trim to help raise the bow. By raising the engine, fuel efficiency and speed will increase. Raising the engine to high when not necessary, will decrease speed and fuel efficiency. Find the sweet spot for your particular set up.

Running Smart
Once during a duck hunting trip we were caught in Power Lake near Port O'Connor, Texas by a norther. Running the windward side of the bay near the shoreline we stayed dry and safe. Crossing the channel of the Matagorda Island State Park, a deep-v boat came out of the harbor and headed straight across the bay. Miles later, reaching Fisherman's Cut near the ramp, the deep-v was only a hundred yards in front of us. I'm glad I was not on that ride!

Run Shallow, Run Cautious
Be aware of other boats and fishermen while running the shoreline. If you see a boat anchored locate the people fishing and avoid them. If they are wading out and fishing away from the shore it should not be a problem to run between them and the shore. Above all you should give them a wide berth! Any doubt swing out and go around. Be courteous!

Finding the Sweet Spot
My friend Dale and I left Charlie's (between POC and Seadrift) and headed for South Pass during a strong north east wind. After running out far enough that South Pass was directly down wind we turned. Dale kept saying we were running too fast. After finding the sweet spot the boat started lying softly on the next wave. Dale and I settled back for a nice dry ride running at optimal speed.

Try different speeds, trim, and angle of attack while operating your boat. The same trim, angle of attack, and speed may not give you the same ride an hour later. As your experience grows finding the sweet spot will take less time.

There's much to learn to properly, and responsibly, operate a flats boat, because there will be many different conditions and situations one will encounter over time. Lessons can come at you fast in shallow water. Just remember to always use common sense, courtesy and caution.

Forest Canion is owner of Marine Service - manufacturer of Flatlander Boats, including the popular Chiquita flats boat. Marine Service is located in Port Lavaca, Texas. 361-552-4975

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