What is the best flats boat?

July 10, 2007 by John - 2 Comments

Each month I field a question from a reader and answer it as best I can, focusing on those inquiries and responses that I believe will be of general benefit or interest…or at least of interest to me. Blogger’s prerogative. I recently received this email from sometime Florida angler Tom G. from Dayton, Ohio: “John, what in your opinion is the best flats boat on the market? I’ll be moving to Florida in the next year or so and I’ll be buying a shallow-water boat.”


Tom, I can help, but to do your question justice I’d need to write many pages in reply, which is beyond the scope of this website. Bottom line is that (contrary to the claims of several manufacturers) there is no “best” flats boat for all conditions.

If you’ll spend time offshore or run across big bays in chop quite often, it’d be tough not to recommend a 21-footer with a 200-HP (or more) motor. If you’ll primarily fish the back-country with the occasional long run or offshore jaunt, there are now quite a few 17 to 18-ft. models that will do that trick nicely. And if you’ll be targeting skittish fish in real skinny water, you’d be best served buying one of the smallish technical poling skiffs that are relatively easy to pole for hours on end. There are other options, as well, including everything from versatile bay boats down to microskiffs, depending on your primary goal. Of course, cost will factor heavily into the decision – for most of us, anyway. Just remember this: every boat that excels in one area has a drawback in another – just the way it goes.

I’m working on an eguide that will address construction-related issues such as deadrise and freeboard and the way they impact draft, ease of poling, hull slap, etc. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the annual shallow-water boat guide published by Florida Sportsman. There are no reviews in that publication (they don’t want to alienate any current or potential advertisers, I’m sure), but they do a fine job of categorizing and profiling all of the options out there.

For now, however, I’d just concentrate on defining what your primary goal is. Finding and buying a boat is great fun, but having it meet your expectations is the bottom line.

Thanks for writing, Tom.