The Shallow Water Boat: It’s All About the Hull

There are many factors to consider when choosing a fishing boat—especially a boat like a flats skiff designed for use in shallow water. How much gear are you going to carry? Will you fish with one or two other anglers? What kind of motor are you willing to buy (and maintain)? Are you going to trailer it? What species are you fishing for, and how far will you typically run?

Of course, everyone’s needs and interests are different, but the one baseline factor that influences all of these considerations is the shape, width, and length of your skiff’s hull. When you start asking yourself these questions, the answers will inevitably point you in the direction of hull design. That’s the issue that deserves the most serious research and consideration.

Last week, I had a chance to fish with Captain Brian Esposito of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He’s a guide, but also a custom boat builder. He’ll spend 400 hours or more designing, shaping, and manufacturing a flats skiff, and he was quick to explain that adding or subtracting mere inches in certain aspects of a hull can radically change the way a boat performs.

There are some important rules of thumb: First the deeper the “V” shape of a boat hull, the smoother the ride generally is. The tradeoff, of course, is that deeper hulls cannot venture into as skinny water as boats that draft less. The narrower and longer a boat is, the more nimble it is to steer, especially with a push-pole. The drawback there is that narrower boats are less stable (think in terms of a canoe). The wider a boat is, the more stable it is, and the more engine capacity it can handle, but again you sacrifice some maneuverability in that regard. Lastly, the lower the side profile of a skiff, the less apt it is to be blown off track by the wind when you’re poling. Then again, if you’re going to be in wavy situations, higher sides are a definite plus.

So factoring in the variables, if you want to pole in shallow, mostly sheltered passes and lagoons, and you aren’t making long runs through heavy waves, a nimble, narrower, longer, lighter, flatter hull design might be right for you. If, on the other hand, you’re busting out long runs through choppy water to fish in deeper tarpon flats, a wider, deeper cut hull might be the ticket.

Nobody can answer these questions better than you, and that’s all based on where you fish and how. Be sure to do your homework. With skiffs, there are very, very few off-the-shelf, turnkey answers.

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Kirk Deeter

Kirk Deeter

Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large with Field & Stream, and he co-wrote The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing with the late Charlie Meyers.